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Why spot reducing doesn't work.

In the world of fitness, abs, buns, thighs and arms are big business. But take heed. "Doing hundreds of leg lifts won't make your thighs thinner," says Michele Vivas, M.S., R.D., an exercise physiologist at Columbia University of New York City. In fact, by overexercising any area of your body in an attempt to get rid of the fat, otherwise known as spot reducing, you might make the "spot" more muscular, and therefore make it look larger, she warns.

Fat and muscle are two different kinds of tissue. Technically, exercise will only tone your muscles, and exercise alone won't improve their appearance. To notice any muscle definition, you must combine exercise with a reduced-calorie diet, advises Wayne Sinning, M.D., professor of Exercise, Leisure and Sport at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. With the right combination of exercise and diet, your body will be forced to burn the fat that may be covering your muscles. This will result in you being able to see the muscles that were there all along.

Spot reducing is futile for another reason. Regardless of how much you diet and exercise, where your body chooses to draw fat from for fuel generally depends on a genetic parameter known as fat patterning. For example, if you're seeking sleek and muscular Linda Hamilton arms, you would do the number of push-ups necessary to burn more calories than you take in. Even though you would expect your arms to eventually become leaner, that may not be the case. Depending on how your body is programmed to burn fat, your efforts could lead to fat loss someplace else, such as your waist. In addition, as a general rule, "The fat that goes on last comes off first," Sinning says.

According to Vivas, spot reducing is pointless because many of us try to reduce areas that are just a natural part of our physical package. "Even many thin women have something of a belly," explains Vivas.

To get a quick idea of how much body fat you have, Vivas recommends exercising in front of a mirror. You may think that you have big hips or large thighs, "but if you can see your muscles moving, you probably don't have much body fat," says Vivas. Otherwise, if you'd really like to target trouble spots, remember to slightly reduce your calorie intake and tone muscles with regular exercise. Vivas adds, "Then pray to the gods and hope that some of what you think is fat actually comes off where you want it to."


You need to adopt a broad focus to tone your muscles and reduce the body fat that may be covering them. Follow these suggestions for a well-rounded plan of attack.

Maximize muscle definition by challenging your muscles with resistance weight. Aim for a weight that allows you to consistently perform a particular exercise with excellent form.

Keep up the cardiovascular exercise. Do anything that uses large muscle groups rhythmically, such as walking, stair climbingo riding a bicycle or following an aerobic video. Cardiovascular exercise makes your heart pump harder to bum calories and oxygen. Strive for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three to five times a week.

Pack in the produce. A diet that contains three to five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, as well as plenty of grains and legumes-such as oats, beans and peas-is packed with nutrients and naturally low in fat. Since these high-fiber foods will satisfy your appetite faster, you'll be consuming less food in general.

Don't rush a reality check. Expecting overnight change can sabotage your good intentions. It takes about a month before you'll notice any increase in muscle definition and energy level. Although it gets easier once you've built a solid muscle base, you'll still need to keep exercising to burn fat.

Sandra Gordon is a freelance writer residing in Scarsdale, New York.
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Title Annotation:includes information on toning tips
Author:Gordon, Sandra
Publication:American Fitness
Date:Sep 1, 1998
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