Fitness myths: The science behind spot training


One of the most common fitness myths is spot training, sometimes called spot reduction. Spot training is the idea that you can cause weight loss or muscle definition in one area without affecting other parts of the body. This myth is particularly persistent because everyone wants it to be true. Everything would be so much easier if only the infomercials promising “rock hard abs” and “buns of steel” after just a few minutes with a specific product were telling the truth! What’s the science behind spot training being labeled as a myth? And how can you achieve real and healthy muscle definition? Let’s break it down a bit:

How muscle and fat work. Understanding how both fat and muscle function will help you understand why spot training is anatomically impossible. Fat makes up a layer between your muscles and your skin. Although it is true that fat is used as fuel during exercise, your body doesn’t care where the fat it burns for fuel comes from — and muscles do not take fuel from just the fat immediately around them. Weight loss is a result of total body metabolism. Often, factors that are beyond your control, such as genetics, determine where on your body you will lose weight first.

Muscle definition, then, is a balance of muscle growth and weight loss. When people dedicate themselves to one form of training or focus all of their efforts on one muscle group, they are doing themselves a great disservice. For example, many people set out to have “six pack abs” and commit themselves to doing enormous amounts of situps. This will give them very strong and large abdominal muscles, but unless they change their diet and lose the fat that obscures those muscles, the six pack will never be visible.

 

Image

 

What science says. There are no reliable studies that support the idea of spot training. There are, however, several that discredit it. One of the most well-constructed studies to provide evidence against the concept of spot training was conducted by researchers at the University of Massachusetts in the 1980s. During the 27-day program, 13 male subjects were required to perform 5000 sit-ups. Fat biopsies were taken from the subjects’ abdomens, buttocks and upper backs before and after the study. Although the subjects only trained their abs during the course of the study, the results showed that fat decreased similarly at all three test spots.

In commenting on this study, the American Council on Exercise (A.C.E) suggested that these results highlight a possible reason why spot training sometimes seems to occur. When the exercise is difficult enough to burn a significant amount of calories, weight loss occurs evenly around the body — including the target area.

How to really tone up. The spot training myth can become a discouraging stumbling block for people who want to increase their muscle definition. Although it’s not possible to tone just one specific area or muscle group, it is very possible to increase your overall muscle definition. Doing so is simply a matter of decreasing the amount of fat on your body, while increasing the amount of muscle.

One extremely effective method for accomplishing this balance is circuit training. This workout method involves a fast-moving strength workout that incorporates every muscle group, with no rest between exercises. This keeps your heart rate up, working your cardiovascular system much more than traditional strength training.

Spot training is a fitness concept that is simply not supported by any scientific evidence. Don’t let that discourage you, though: you can safely and realistically achieve a lean, defined body through a balanced routine of diet and exercise.

Related Articles

Ask an Expert: When Should I Strength Train?
Strength and Cardio Training: Should They Mix?
Interval Workout Basics


Seven Fitness Myths Busted

If I had a dollar for each time someone told me “running is bad for your knees”, I’d have enough money for a pretty nice vacation.

Luckily for me and all of the other runners out there, this information is outdated and inaccurate. It turns out that running may actually protect your knees from health problems, such as degenerative knee issues. A runner’s risk of knee injuries is only increased if they had a previous knee trauma, or if they have a family history of knee problems.

That certainly isn’t the only fitness myth out there. Here are the real stories behind other common exercise misconceptions:

Myth 1: You can eat whatever you want as long as you exercise. This may hold true for professional triathletes, but not for the rest of us. If you weigh 150 lbs. and run 3 miles, for instance, you’ll burn about 300 calories. That’s approximately the number of calories in a cup of oatmeal and a banana. Unfortunately, exercising doesn’t give you a license to eat whatever you like. You need to burn as many calories as you take in if you want to maintain your weight.

Myth 2: Weight training will bulk you up. Not true. Lifting weights will actually help you tone up and slim down: the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. Only people who do intense strength training workouts and have certain genetic factors are able to build large muscles.

Myth 3: You can “spot reduce” certain areas of your body. Nope! You can do all the crunches you want, but that won’t necessarily get you six-pack abs. You’ll also have to do cardio exercise and eat a healthy diet, losing fat all over your body, before those toned abs will show up.

Myth 4: Yoga is an easy workout. Some styles of yoga, and certain postures, are both mentally and physically challenging. Yoga is generally a safe workout, but injuries can occur, so if you’re new to yoga you should start slowly and respect your body’s limits. Also, if you have any health issues, check with your doctor before you hit the yoga mat. “Hot” or bikram yoga isn’t safe for pregnant women, for example.

Myth 5: You have to exercise intensely to get results. There is no truth behind the “no pain, no gain” mantra. In fact, working out too hard can lead to injuries and burnout. Never exercise through pain. You can gain plenty of benefits through moderate workouts.

Myth 6: It’s always best to stretch before you exercise. Experts have long studied and debated the potential benefits of stretching. One thing is for sure, though: it’s safest to stretch after your muscles are already warm. So take a warm-up lap and then stretch, or save it for after your workout.

Myth 7: Machines are safer than free weights. There is a small but real risk of injury regardless of what type of weights you lift. Machines may seem safer because they put you in the correct starting position, but they’re only effective if they’re adjusted for your weight and height. You can still use incorrect form on many machines. Ask a trainer to show you how to use equipment so you can make sure you have the right technique and settings.

What’s your favorite — or least favorite — fitness myth?

Sources

http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/top-9-fitness-myths-busted

http://sportsdoc.runnersworld.com/2012/05/how-bad-is-running-for-your-knees.html

http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/nutrition/healthy-eating/workout-myths-debunked-i-can-eat-anything-if-i-exercise.html

http://ww2.wcmh.com/story/13957346/5-common-myths-about-exercise

http://www.everydayhealth.com/fitness-pictures/separating-fitness-fact-from-fiction.aspx#/slide-1