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Spot Fat Reduction and How to Get It

Target abs, arms, butt and legs

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Updated January 24, 2013

Crunches for Abs

Crunches for Abs

(c) Paul Rogers

'Spot fat reduction' is the notion that you can selectively reduce body fat in a part of the body selectively. This implies that you lose fat somewhat exclusively from that area -- the abdominal region for example.

If you want those washboard abs, then perhaps you can target the layer of fat over the abs with special exercises? Well no; the mainstream view is that fat loss occurs when your energy intake (food and drink) exceeds your energy output in physical activity and basal metabolism, and that fat loss is distributed throughout the body. However, it may be that certain body types (and gender) have a propensity to store fat preferentially in particular areas such as belly, butt, legs and arms.

Body Fat Norms

Here are the healthy waist sizes for men and women based on the International Diabetes Federation consensus of metabolic syndrome. Risk for chronic disease increases above these measurements.

  • Caucasian men: 37 inches (94 centimeters)
  • Caucasian women: 31.5 inches (80 centimeters)
  • Values for other groups may be different; Asians' may be lower while those for Pacific Islanders may be higher.

This is a better measure of fatness than the Body Mass Index (BMI), which can discriminate against highly muscled individuals.

In bodybuilders, and also endurance running and cycling athletes, body fat levels of less than 7% for men and 12% women are common. Footballers and baseballers may carry more fat and athletes in other team sports and individual events will vary in ideal body fat levels.

Target Muscle Building Not Spot Fat Reduction

What you can do, is target muscle growth in specific areas so that muscle shows through and helps to achieve a leaner, shaped look. If you exercise sufficiently and aim for overall fat loss, fat will be lost from body regions of concern. If you add muscle growth and definition to those areas, you can start to reshape that region. Here are 11 muscles that can make you look shredded.

  1. Pectoralis - chest
  2. Trapezius - neck
  3. Quads - thighs
  4. Calves - back of lower leg
  5. Biceps - front of upper arm
  6. Triceps - back of upper arm
  7. Gluteus - butt
  8. Hamstrings - back of upper leg
  9. Latissimus - back
  10. Deltoids - shoulder
  11. Rectus - abdominals

Women should not worry about looking bulky. Unless you are especially gifted genetically, you will not build huge muscles, but you do need to get beyond the idea that what you want is 'toning.' In a practical sense, toning is non-existent. You want muscle growth.

How Much Muscle

It's best not to believe the outlandish claims for muscle growth through legal supplements. The variables are many, including size, age, gender, physical condition, genetics, diet quality, and of course, a training program. And there are limits. The increases you achieve in three months may not be sustained over six or twelve months.

Most estimates put the possible range at from 1.5 to 5 pounds of muscle per month, depending on the factors listed above.

Ultimately, you can't spot reduce body fat, but you can lose fat in the regions you are concerned about, and add muscle in an integrated fat loss and muscle building program.

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