Do 1,000 sit ups and POOF your six-pack is ready! 500 kickbacks and BAM you’ve got that firm butt! Love handles? 350 Russian twists and BOOM you’re good! How great would that be?? Sadly, reducing fat in our least liked body parts isn’t that simple. Spot Fat Reduction (SFR) is a myth that we can’t seem to let go because it’s so appealing. Not to mention the never-ending barrage of “Get six-pack abs in 3 weeks” ads.
At first glance, SFR makes sense. If I want to get rid of my belly fat, I should do exercises that target my belly (aka abdominals). In order to understand why this doesn’t work, we need to understand what triggers our body to burn fat.
Step 1: You NEED to be in a Calorie Deficit
I hope that, at this point, everyone’s familiar with the phrase “You can’t out-train a bad diet.” It’s popular because it’s true. You can kill yourself day in day out at the gym or your favorite bootcamp and you still won’t lose weight if you’re overeating. Check out the table below.
At the most basic level, its calories in versus calories out. If you are in a calorie surplus, no matter how much exercise you do, you will not lose weight. Quite the opposite, you will gain weight. Your BMR is the number of calories you need to consume to maintain your weight. The sweet spot for fat loss is the calorie deficit. How much? It will vary between individuals, but generally start with 200-300Kcals and gauge how your weight is changing. If you want faster weight loss, just increase the deficit. Until you have this nailed down, there’s no point stressing about what exercise program you should follow.
Quick tip: To figure out how much you’re eating, start tracking your calories for a week with the MyFitnessPal app. Then check what’s happening to your weight to see you are on the above table. Then adjust your calories until your weight start moving.
Step 2: Get Active!
When it comes to physical activity, it can be broken down into two categories: regular exercise and NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis). Let’s look at each individually.
Regular Exercise: There are various forms of exercise such as resistance training, high intensity interval training (HIIT) and steady state cardio (SSC) that burn calories. However, they’re not all equal in their fat burning capabilities. What’s essential to maximize fat loss is the strong stimulation of your metabolism and the development of muscle mass. Depending on how hard you hit your metabolism, your body can continue to burn fat AFTER your workout until it is fully recovered. Muscles, alternatively, require more energy than fat to be maintained by the body (they increase your Basal Metabolic Rate – the energy used by your body to keep you alive). This means that individuals with more muscle mass will burn more calories while they are idle. That’s why picking an appropriate training program that adequately stimulates your metabolism and helps build muscle is critical. We will how to choose the best type of workout for fat loss in a later article.
NEAT: NEAT covers all the physical activity that you do in a day that is not actual exercise (e.g. walking, standing, climbing the stairs, moving objects, playing with your children). All these simple activities that we don’t even think about can add up to a considerable amount of burned calories. A 2km walk, for example, can burn 200Kcals. Take the stairs up and down a few times at your office and you’ve burned another hundred calories. These are simple things anyone can do to boost their fat loss progress.
Quick Tip: Don’t avoid the walk or the stairs. Take them whenever you can.
Step 3: Your Body Decides Where to Gain/Lose Fat
This is a critical point for everyone to understand. You cannot consciously choose which body part will lose fat. Your body decides that based on its own chemical processes. The same goes for gaining fat. I’m certain you’ve noticed that when you gain fat, it tends to be in particular areas. The good news is that when you start losing fat, it’s most likely going from the same spots.
To sum up, if you want to lose fat, you need to be in a calorie deficit. Physical activity is useful for increasing the calories your burn and building/maintaining muscle mass.