How to Fight That Stubborn Fat

There are always parts of your body that seem more "resistant" to losing fat than others. For women it tends to be their hips, thighs, belly or arms. For men it's usually the chest, belly or lower back.

Most people approach the problem in the same way, which is to exercise the area of the body where the fat is located.
You’ll see men attempting to “burn off” the stubborn fat from their stomach with hundreds of sit-ups, or trying to lose their “man boobs” with dozens of sets on the bench press and cable crossover machine. To get slimmer hips and thighs, many women seem prepared to spend what seems like hours on the inner and outer thigh machines.
There is, however, a better way. And it’s one that actually works.

First, let’s take a look at a study that reveals why the conventional approach to toning up those “problem areas” doesn’t work as well as most people think...
The study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, tracked a group of 31 women during a 6-month training program . At the beginning and end of the study, body fat levels were measured using a sophisticated technique known as dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA for short).

Eleven of the women, selected at random, also underwent MRI scans of the thigh. This allowed the research team to establish precisely WHERE any lost fat was coming from.

The training program consisted of 90 minutes of training, five days each week. The routine was designed to enhance the performance of military-specific tasks, much of the program involved various military drills, running, and multi-joint exercises (such as the squat, bench press, and barbell press).

All training sessions were directly supervised by NSCA Strength and Conditioning Specialists who oversaw the entire program, monitored subject progress, and modified the workouts as needed.

And the results?
The first thing I should point out is that the women lost an average of just 5.7 pounds of fat, dropping from 24.7% to 22.1% body fat. That’s a pretty poor return, especially when you consider the fact that they were exercising for over 7 hours each week for 6 months.

Why such a slow rate of fat loss?
The main reason is that the women weren’t following any kind of structured nutrition plan. No amount of exercise is going to make up for a poor diet. For optimal results, you need good nutrition and exercise.

But here’s where it gets interesting...
As I mentioned earlier, the researchers used DEXA and MRI to track WHERE the lost fat was coming from.
The women were doing a LOT of exercises for their legs — running, squats, leg curls, and so on.
If doing hundreds of exercises for a particular body part was the best way to strip away fat from that area, then the women would have lost most of the fat from their thighs. But they didn’t. In fact, of the 5.7 pounds of fat lost, NONE of it came from their legs. What’s more, almost half (2.4 pounds) of the lost fat came from the arms. That’s despite the fact that the women did NO arm isolation exercises until week 20 of the 24-week program.

Trying to lose fat from specific parts of your body by performing hundreds of repetitions for that area simply doesn't work. If it did, the women in this study would have lost the majority of fat from their thighs.
But they didn’t. Instead, average fat loss was greatest in the arms and trunk.
Based on these findings, along with data from a similar study of men , there is a "hierarchy" of fat loss that differs according to gender.

  • Men lose fat first from their trunk, then their arms, followed by their legs.
  • Women lose fat first from their arms, followed by their trunk, then their legs
Of course, this is just a generalization, and there are going to be variations from person to person. But this research does illustrate the important point that you don't have a great deal of control over where lost fat comes from.

So, if you want to lose fat from your belly, chest, thighs or arms, what should you do?

Firstly, you will need to exercise. It’s true that 30 or 40 minutes of cardio in your so-called "fat-burning zone" a few times a week won’t produce much in the way of meaningful results. But that doesn’t mean that exercise is a waste of time. You just need to make sure you pick the right program. Forget about doing hundreds of pushups or sit-ups to strip away the fat from your chest or stomach. On their own, these exercises simply don't burn enough calories to have a significant impact on body composition. Abdominal exercises do NOT burn fat away from your abs! This can only be accomplished through a much more effective full-body training routine that maximizes both your metabolic response and your hormonal response to your workouts.

You'll also need to eat the right foods. If you want to drop fat at a decent rate, you need to get your diet right.
No matter how much you exercise, you can't lose weight if you eat yourself into a calorie surplus. Just because you start an exercise program doesn't mean you have free license to abandon all restraint and freely indulge in eating anything you want.

The most important principle to keep in mind when it comes to nutrition and weight loss is losing fat requires that you take in fewer calories than you burn. Don't be seduced into following an overly complicated diet masquerading under the guise of a "new and revolutionary" approach to weight loss.

Finally, you'll need to be consistent. Eating right and exercising regularly will need to become a habit, not just something you do when you can be bothered or when you "have the time." There are no quick fixes or easy answers. The only effective way to lose that "stubborn" fat is a combination of hard training, good nutrition, and a decent dose of persistence.

- Christian Finn

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