By Steve Steinberg
The Rumor: You can spot-reduce to lose body fat
Legend has it that, by targeting specific parts of your body through exercise, you can laser-focus where your body burns fat. Heck, the guy in the TV commercial for that abs thing lost 60 pounds around his midsection by doing three minutes a day on what looks like an assisted twerking machine. And popular wisdom says there's no problem getting washboard abs if you do enough crunches. But are the rumors true?
The Verdict: You can't control where you lose fat
Sorry, but where your body loses fat has more to do with genetics than with that weekly "Six-Pack-A-Palooza" class at your gym. "Asking your body to lose fat in one area is like trying to remove a cup of water from one corner of a filled bathtub," says personal trainer Lecia Whitlock, an instructor at The National Personal Training Institute. "The overall water level will go down, but there won't be a divot in one corner of the tub."
A 2013 study measured the effects of exercise on the fat mass of a targeted body area. Subjects did a ludicrous number of leg presses using their nondominant leg over the course of 12 weeks. Despite performing between 960 and 1,200 reps (!) three times a week against very light resistance, participants saw no significant change in fat mass in the exercising leg. There was a decrease in fat mass in the upper body, but nada in the leg that did all of the work.
So, where does this leave you if you want to lean out through the middle? First off, we just saved you anywhere from $19 to $199, because now you won't be tempted to go out and get the latest "fat-burning" abs gizmo. And that's only the beginning of the good news. If you're serious about losing your gut and are following a sound exercise and diet program, there are some things you can do to decrease the appearance of your waistline while your body leans itself out.
"Strength training the muscles of the upper body -- especially the shoulders and back -- will improve your posture and change your body's proportions," says Whitlock. "This will make your waistline appear smaller." Your improved posture will get you standing taller and appearing thinner, and the added muscle you'll be building will help increase your overall metabolism and speed up the rate at which your body is burning calories and shedding body fat.
Ultimately, the key to a more ripped midsection isn't doing a zillion crunches. It's working the entire body and eating correctly. Strength training will increase the calories you burn 24/7. High-intensity cardio will let you burn big chunks of calories in a small amount of time. And a healthy diet will ensure that you're taking in the proper number of quality calories. You might not lose three pants sizes in a week like the guy in the ad, but you will eventually reach your goal. "And as a bonus," says Whitlock, "the rest of your body will look and feel better as well."