Localized Fat Loss: The Myth that Sells

Claims made by the experts: There exists a disregard for physiological facts on the part of those profiting from the sale of "muscle-specific" exercise devices claiming their use to result in localized fat loss. For example, performing abdominal exercises using any one of the currently marketed "ab-isolating" devices, or even doing appropriately prescribed sit-ups for that matter, does little or nothing to rid the waistline of fat as is so often claimed.

These devices and the above stated exercise has value in conditioning muscles in the abdominal region but constitutes only a small part of an effective overall fat loss fitness prescription. Understandably, the overweight and unfit want so badly to find a "quick fix" that little can be done to discourage their purchase of inappropriately marketed and only marginally valuable devices. In the face of professionally produced infommercials and advertisements touting credible endorsements, it is an uphill battle to educate consumers to the contrary.

Common Sense vs. Spot Reduction 

 There is simply no such thing as localized extramuscular fat loss, no matter how biomechanically correct the device, the credibility of the endorsement, or the form/type of exercise prescribed. Consumers are in desperate need of insight through fitness education that dispels otherwise believable myths such as these localized fat loss claims. Fitness education leads to understanding, and understanding leads to the design of no-nonsense, effective overall fitness programs.

Any learned and experienced personal fitness trainer would tell you that resistance exercises performed for a specific muscle group will not result in fat loss only in and around the target muscle group area. Take, for example, the misguided, overweight beginning resistance trainee who religiously performs biceps curls and no other resistance exercise. After several months in the gym will this now seasoned trainee boast lean, hard biceps attached to an otherwise fat, sloppy physique?

Imagine running, being one of the most researched and long-practiced type of fat burning exercises, resulting in localized fat loss. If indeed localized fat loss were possible among runners, why aren't runners who started off overweight now sporting unchanged, overweight upper torsos balanced atop lean, well conditioned and muscular legs? After all, aren't the lower extremities solely involved in this type of activity?

There is no difference between these ridiculous considerations and the claims made that training abdominals results in fat loss around the waistline. It just doesn't work that way. Period.

The Physiology of Fat Loss

The entire fat loss process is initiated by a biofeedback mechanism, triggered by various stimuli as a result of an imposed energy requirement. When stimulated, hormones and enzymes are synthesized and/or released directly into the bloodstream as a required precursor to fat mobilization. Within just a few short seconds of their synthesis and/or release, these various hormones and enzymes achieve an even concentration throughout the entire bloodstream, to include the collateral circulation (smallest of capillary beds). It is in this collateral circulation where the body's adipose (fat) tissue cells are positioned.

To reiterate, by the time these hormones and enzymes reach collateral circulation they have already been effectively diluted to the extent that their concentration in the blood is consistent throughout the body. In the collateral circulation they are generally perfused and distributed evenly in and around the fat cells of the body with little exception. Thus, all adipose (fat) tissues are stimulated simultaneously to release fat in the form of previously stored triglycerides, fatty acids, and glycerol. This equal distribution and provision of lipolytic hormones and enzymes result in the release of fat energy generally throughout the body, dispelling the myth that localized fat release occurs which is contradictory to this described biofeedback mechanism.

Body Fat Distribution

Those exercise participants with excessive fat deposits in different areas of the body are victims of gender and genetics. For example, most overweight women seem to have greater fat deposits covering the glutes and thighs while overweight men typically store excessive fat deposits around the midsection. Where genetics and overweight conditions are concerned, it is generally accepted that an endomorphic (large frame; slow metabolism) genetic body typing will be passed down to siblings causing, to varying degrees, a lifelong struggle with bodyweight management and fat reduction.

In lay terms, when excessive fat is stored in a localized area, it is generally the first to go on, and the last to come off (hypothetical-possibly due to poor collateral circulation, and minimized proliferation of lipolytic agents in these areas).

Fat Loss Progression

Since fat is lost evenly throughout the body, the areas where the least fat has accumulated will be the first areas of the body to show visible results. For example, rings and watches will become lose first, vascularity in extremities will become more pronounced, face and neck areas will become noticeably thinner, etc.. These occurrences do not mean that these areas are losing fat faster than in any other area of the body, it simply means these are the areas where fat loss will be most visibly noticeable. In reality, as mentioned earlier, the fat loss is occurring generally throughout the body. For example, removing an initial 1/4" layer of fatty tissue from the entire body will understandably result in a dramatically greater "proportional" circumference change in those areas of the body with the smallest beginning circumferences.

Moreover, it is interesting to note there is a point during fat loss, unique to the individual and from bodypart to bodypart, that when reached, fat loss progression slows dramatically. Earlier discussed genetic and gender predispositions relative to bodyfat proportion and distribution are usually not confirmed and/or realized until this point in the fat loss program. In other words for example, while pursuing fat loss, a 250 lb. woman who has possibly spent her entire life thinking she is genetically trapped in her unsightly overweight body and therefore not made a serious attempt at fat loss before, may have been wrong all along and not even reached the above point of "slowed" fat loss progression until, for the first time in her life, she is being fitted for a size 5 dress! Keep in mind, as personal fitness trainers, that these occurances are generally exceptions to the rule, and should be conveyed as such.

Overview

Concentrating on the performance of exercise that involves the musculature currently hidden by fatty tissue in an effort to "burn away" the localized fat and expose the reshaped and toned musculature you have recently developed, is clearly no different than the vain attempts to rid the waistline of fat by performing abdominal work (previously discussed). While the exercise will benefit the musculature involved, until a significant amount of fat loss occurs as a result of pursuing an effective overall fat loss program, the improvements in the "tonus" of this newly revived, yet still hidden musculature, will never amount to anything more than "your little secret."

Achieving fat loss can sometimes be a very stubborn, or shall we say, a very challenging proposition, especially among those previously discussed with uneven fat distribution, slow metabolisms, and/or a genetic predisposition to gain weight. Any way you look at it, short of liposuction surgery, the localized "spot reduction" of fat is a physiological impossibility.

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