One of the most common reasons clients hire a personal trainer is to address some sort of so-called “trouble zone” – can you get me abs? I hate this squishy part of my upper arms. I need to slim down these thunder thighs. What can we do about my back fat?
My answer to all of this is actually quite reassuring, IMO: you can slim/tone/lean out any part of your body that you want, and it’s all done the same way.
What do I mean by that? What I am telling you is this: 1000 crunches a day won’t get you a six pack. Doing squats on squats on squats may make that booty pop, but it won’t reduce the size of your lower body. Push-ups will make you stronger but they won’t take away your batwings for good. Repeat after me: there is no such thing as spot reduction (though there IS such a thing as targeted training, which I will address below).
Spot reduction is the (pervasive, misguided, eternal-struggle-of-every-trainer-to-explain-to-clients) myth that by overtraining a certain body part, you can reduce the amount of body fat covering just that body part and in turn see more muscle tone and “results” from that body part alone. Sounds a bit nonsensical, eh? That’s because it is.
The only way to achieve a leaner appearance from any part of your body is to reduce the amount of body fat all over your body. You can absolutely train a specific muscle for hypertrophy (increase in size), but unless you address the fat on top of that muscle, you will not get the visible definition you are probably looking for – and may even see overall size gains to boot.
So what’s a gal (or guy) to do?
First of all, toss your scale. I mean, if you have one, I suppose you can keep it, but tuck it away in a drawer somewhere until you need to weigh a piece of luggage or something. For now, focus on getting yourself a body fat measure – I recommend calipers (cheap, easy, accurate), an Omron handheld (less accurate but more easy), or if you want to go whole hog, an entire BodPod tank (kidding guys, kidding – but if I was rich, I’d totes have one).
Measuring your body fat is the most important way to keep abreast of your body composition progress and make sure you are training the “right” way (gaining lean muscle, not just losing weight). The image below is helpful for figuring out where you are and where you want to be in the body fat world:
As you’ll notice, different folks have different levels of “definition” at different levels of body fat – to get abs, fellas, you’re gonna want to drop down to the 8-10% range; ladies, for those super-toned and ripped upper arms, 14-15% is where it’s at. That being said, there are perfectly healthy and happy bodies at much higher levels of fat for both sexes, and being at a suitable BMI for your height and weight is the first step to getting there.
The next step is what I mentioned above – targeted training. While you’re working on reducing body fat (which comes 80% from what you eat, 10% from how you train, and 10% from your genetic makeup, an issue I’ve addressed time and again on this blog), you can absolutely work on building lean muscle in the areas you’re trying to transform – the aforementioned squats to make the booty pop, push-ups for strong, cut arms, stability training for a ripped core, and pull training for a muscular back and good posture are all focused training programs that will help accelerate visible results as you lean out overall.
Remember, in fitness as in life, there are no shortcuts. To achieve results you must change your overall lifestyle – not just overwork one little body part. When you reduce body fat all over, strengthen your body with weight-bearing exercise, and clean up your diet, the benefits will go far beyond a measly thigh gap – I promise. 😉
What’s your favorite body part to train (I gotta admit – I’m an arms girl)?