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Abdominal Muscles and the Myth of Spot Reduction by Matthew Romans

The mainstream fitness industry is famous for peddling all kinds of worthless products, pills, and drinks. If you're above a certain age, most of the following inventions should sound familiar from late night infomercials: Shake Weight, 8 Minute Abs, Ab Rocket, Vibration Belts, and the Thigh Master (which was developed by the same man who marketed the Mood ring in the 1970s). While I believe in the concept of "let the buyer beware", I also believe that the sellers of these products prey upon the ignorance of an unsuspecting public. Most of these products have little to no scientific basis whatsoever, but are dressed up in colorful packaging, shrewd marketing, and outrageous claims. Another source of confusion is the concept of spot reduction, and the role of the abdominal muscles in fat loss.

Spot reduction is the idea that you can exercise certain muscles in the body to reduce body fat in that area. Just as body fat percentage can vary from one person to the next, how and where that body fat is stored (and in what amount) is also individually-based and multifactorial. These factors include, in no particular order, diet, genetic predisposition, lifestyle factors, and exercise. The popular notion is that if you want to reduce body fat in your midsection or your hips, you should perform exercises that target those specific body parts.

Please allow me to explode this myth: there is no such thing as spot reduction! The concept has no biological basis whatsoever. The fitness vultures have been trying to sell this for years, and it is false. Doing sit-ups, crunches, or any number of other abdominal exercises is not going to reduce visceral fat. While it is certainly true that building lean muscle through progressive high-intensity weight training (exercise) is a very important ally in the pursuit of fat loss, you cannot lose fat specifically from just one area of the body. When fat is metabolized, the liver has discretion over where it comes from. If fat loss is your goal, you need to create a caloric deficit by eating fewer total calories, while minimizing the consumption of excessive grains, sugars, and other processed foods. Regular strength training will do more to increase your metabolism and change your body's shape than any other form of activity; while a pound of muscle and a pound of fat weigh the same amount, muscle is more compact and takes up less space than does fat.

Please don't misunderstand me and think that the abdominal muscles are not important. The abdominals are very important; their functions are to flex the trunk (bend forward at the waist), tilt the pelvis, and they are heavily involved in breathing. Keeping your abdominal muscles strong is very important for maintaining functionality and protecting against injury, however they don't need as much direct stimulation as you might think. The abdominals are very much involved in every exercise of a Total Results workout, even when they are not targeted directly. Think about exercises like the Pulldown, Chest Press, and Overhead Press that involve the torso slump at the end of the positive movement phase; that is trunk flexion performed by the abdominal muscles. By the time we get around to targeting them directly on the Linear Spine Flexion or the manually-resisted crunch, those muscles are pretty fatigued. All of these exercises engage the abdominal muscles as a unit, rather than just working the upper or lower abdominals.

There is no such thing as spot reduction, and doing a million abdominal crunches is counterproductive. Don't fall prey to scam artists and exercise products with no scientific basis. The Total Results exercise philosophy is grounded in the classical sciences and an ancestrally appropriate nutritional approach. We have nearly 20 years of experience in helping people become stronger, fitter, and get more out of life, and we challenge ourselves to increase our knowledge every day. Our goal is to pass that knowledge on to you. Schedule an appointment today!

Posted August 29, 2019 by Tim Rankin