By Chelsea Garcia, MEd, Certified Exercise Physiologist
A majority of the population probably has an area on their body that they're not the happiest with. There has been a lot of talk about spot reduction and whether or not it's possible to reduce fat mass in specific areas.
If you're struggling with a little extra around your midsection then you might think ab workouts are the way to fix that. Unfortunately, just because you do sit ups, planks, crunches, etc. every day doesn't mean you'll get that six pack. Only exercising your abdominal muscles won't do the trick. Ever heard the saying "Abs are made in the kitchen?" For the most part that holds true. Eating a healthy, balanced, and nutrient rich diet is key to reducing excess fat mass.
According to numerous research studies, a sit up exercise program does not preferentially reduce fat in the abdominal region. Your muscles will probably get stronger and possibly experience hypertrophy (increase in muscle fiber size), but sit ups won't do much for the fat tissue hiding the musculature. Other studies concluded that aerobic exercise was a better way to reduce percent body fat and overall body weight.
One study examined the effects of a cycling program and where it specifically reduced % body fat. One could logically think that because you are using your legs that is where the fat will decrease the most. According to the study fat mass decreased in the thigh region per measuring skin fold sites before and after the study. However, at the end of this study the subscapularis (back of the shoulder blade) skin fold site decreased 5 % more than the thigh skin fold site. Collectively the participants lost more fat mass around their trunk than in their legs. This could be because the subcutaneous fat cells in the abdomen mobilize easier than they do in the thigh region.
Overall, you really can't strength train one area of your body and expect to decrease only fat mass. It may make you feel better to train more upper body to decrease the extra unwanted adipose tissue, but it will only increase muscle strength and slightly increase lean muscle mass. If you put aerobic training, strength training, and eating a smart balanced diet together then you'll have the best shot of decreasing your overall % body fat and overall body weight.
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