We all have certain areas on our bodies where we seem to store more bodyfat and find it harder to shift the weight; for women this is often around the hips and thighs, and for men this is usually around the stomach. Whilst this isn’t a rule, and you may be different, this is generally what we tend to see and it’s dictated, at least in part, by your hormones (hence why it’s slightly different for men and women).
The real question though is, can we target those areas for fat loss (also known as “spot reduction”)?
Unfortunately, the answer is complicated, and whilst we can’t, technically, spot reduce (i.e. do some stomach exercises to lose fat from your stomach), we can improve our chances of burning fat from those areas.
Naturally you’ll tend to store fat in those areas as it’s a protective mechanism built-in for our survival – protect the reproductive system/internal organs. What this means for you is that hormonally, you’re set up to store more fat in those areas, and they’ll be the most difficult areas to lose it from (because your body wants it there).
Now, you’ll always gain fat all over, and lose fat all over – it might just get stored slightly quicker in those areas and take a bit longer to shift. So it’s not that it moves from their last, just that it may take a bit longer, especially if the other factors we’re about to talk about aren’t addressed.
So, what can you do about it?
The first thing is to plug the leak. Stop fat being stored. This is simply a case of getting control over your diet and exercise regime so that you’re not consuming more calories than you’re burning. Find the balance between what you eat and drink, and how active you are (this does not just mean cut calories! Read my other articles for a better understanding of how to go about doing this).
Once you have your routine in place and are burning more calories than you’re consuming (hopefully from healthy, nutritious foods), your hormonal profile should start to optimise itself and you’ll start to burn some bodyfat, but this will be from all over your body, not from any areas in particular.
However, there are a couple of things that may prevent you from burning fat from those problem areas (other than hormones) and the types of exercise you choose will play a role in whether or not the bodyfat from those areas gets mobilised and used for fuel or not.
Circulation plays a big part in this. If you mobilise fats (release them to be burned for fuel) from a problem area (your hips and thighs for example), these fats then need to make it into circulation to be burned. If they don’t get circulated, they’ll stay put and get laid back down as fat stores.
To do this you’ll need to make sure you’re not blocking circulation, sitting down for example will not encourage blood flow to your backside, hips and thighs – so sitting on a bike, rower or other machine isn’t likely to be beneficial if these are your problem areas.
Whilst exercising the area you’re trying to focus on doesn’t burn fat from that area, it does increase circulation in that area, which will help to make sure that fat from that area is being burned along with from the rest of your body.
It’s quite common for people to have under-active muscles – the muscles of the backside (glutes) and lower abs being some of the most common since most of us sit down for a large portion of the day – reducing blood flow and in effect “turning off” or de-activating those muscles. Other postural muscles tend to get weak too as a result of prolonged sitting positions and lack of use.
Ask a knowledgeable trainer for some activation exercises for these muscle groups and do these to “activate” the muscles before you start your exercises.
Then choose exercises that will work those areas whilst encouraging circulation. Large, full body exercises are better than waving your legs around Jane Fonda style (though these could be useful as the activation exercises if they hit the target muscles…).
Avoid anything sitting down and don’t use a bodybuilding type routine i.e. working one area/body part per workout.
Aim to work your upper body (to get blood flow there), then your lower body (to shift the blood flow to your legs), then upper body, then lower body… keep pushing the blood to different areas to encourage circulation (sometimes referred to as PHA – Peripheral Heart Action training). This will also improve your fitness levels as your heart is constantly having to work to pump blood to different body parts to feed the working muscles.
If you’ve ever gone dizzy after a spin class, this is because you’ve pushed all of the blood to your legs and it stays there, so when you stand up/get off the bike, you go dizzy, the same as if you’ve been sitting down for a long time and stand up too quickly. So, while spin may be fun and have its place in some training protocols, it might not be the most effective use of your time if you’re trying to lose weight and have stubborn areas.
Review your workouts and see if you can tweak the exercise order and change the exercises to ones that will encourage circulation to problem areas. Upper body/Lower body supersets will be better than 3 sets of chest, then 3 sets of legs… etc.
If you have problem areas that aren’t shifting and think your workouts need adjusting, show this article to your trainer and ask them to rewrite your workouts accordingly, or find someone who can help.