So we all have those specific areas of the body that we want to improve, to target that belly fat, maybe we have our sights set on increasing the size of our arms, bum or legs, maybe there is a specific area you just want to tone up?
These areas can suddenly add pressure and stress to us, especially if we have an event or holiday coming up which is going to put them on show.
So you begin to focus on these specific areas, but can it be done? Can you focus on one area? And SHOULD you?
Target fat loss
For many of us, we simply want to lose fat in one or a couple of areas, some may LIKE where some fat is on the body and not others. So the question many want the answer to is “can you spot target fat loss?” Well unfortunately the simple answer here is no.
When you think about it logically, every physical action with your body uses energy and your body will burn calories to provide you with energy. Your body isn’t even picky where it gets this energy from, fat or sugar, (though sugar is easier to use for the body, and it will try to use that first). So your body will use energy and burn fat from wherever it can.
There is SOME evidence that the body will burn fat in a certain order, and this seems to be related to areas of high blood flow. Areas with a greater amount of blood flow will burn fat first as an area of the body where it has easy access to the energy. So think arms, legs, neck, basically your extremities, but this means that areas of lower blood flow will find it harder to burn fat as the body has a harder time accessing those areas for resources.
I’m sure many have noticed that when they start to lose weight, the first place they tend to lose weight around the face/neck, arm and legs first, and it takes longer to lose it from the belly and the back. For women it is slightly different due to their bodies increased need for hormonal stasis, and it will naturally store around 8-12% more fat compared to men and the addition of breast tissue as well.
You can see examples of this in professional sport, where one part of the body has a more dominant part compared to another, for instance a tennis players forehand arm, or a cricket bowlers/ baseball pitchers throwing arm, you expect these areas to have a lower body fat percentage compared to their “weaker arm” however, though the muscular development may be different the body fat % remains virtually the same.
This study by Yale university does a great Job of explaining this: http://www.yalescientific.org/2011/04/targeted-fat-loss-myth-or-reality/
Target the muscle
So we can’t target fat loss, but can we target a muscle? HELL YES YOU CAN! Often when we start out in the gym we quickly find areas in which we excel and areas in which we lag behind, and this is perfectly natural. Depending on what we do for hobbies, jobs etc. our bodies may have developed to have certain areas that dominate others. This often means that we MUST train out weaker areas to get a much more well rounded body and also to address a muscular imbalance.
After all when the whole body is operating at max efficiency you will be able to burn the most calories in the shortest time and in turn burn fat faster.
Targeting muscles is very much doable and this is often a key staple of the body building industry where athletes will try to address areas of weakness to develop and achieved that “perfect” physique. The trick here is to not sacrifice other areas in the pursuit of a singular focus.
You need to treat the body as a whole project and not get too hopped up on a single area.
If you want to get great abs, it’s not all about hundreds of crunches, doing squats and deadlifts will also help develop that area, as heavier weights need a stronger core. Having said that those exercises will also help develop other muscle groups as well.
In the gym though there are many machines that will allow you to isolate a particular muscle to ensure that it is getting the most possible development.
An interesting illusion that can be seen especially in the body building industry is that through developing muscle you can actually create the appearance of less body fat, as your body shape begins to change. Obviously fat will reduce naturally if you are a caloric deficit but if your developing muscle mass, the fat has to “stretch” to cover more mass making it appear less.
So should you target a specific muscle?
If you are addressing a specific muscular imbalance or weakness then yes, it goes without saying that that particular area will require more focus, BUT this doesn’t mean you should ignore any other area of the body, what this means is you will simply have a greater workload added to your current workload. Don’t sacrifice or ignore certain areas of your body, just because you want to focus on one area.
I actually have had experience with young men in the gym who just train chest and arms, I enjoy calling them “chimps” as their bodies begun to hunch and they take on a chimp like stature, these guys rarely train back and NEVER train legs. This is to their detriment, because they want that wide looking chest and to make the chest look wide you MUST train back to pull you into a good posture and prevent you from hunching forward looking narrow.
Ignoring legs is foolish as these lads think they aren’t important as “people won’t see them unless I’m on the beach”. Aside from the fact your stopping yourself being able to wear shorts without looking ridiculous, your ignoring nearly half your bodies muscle mass. This means that by ignoring this your reducing your bodies need to produce testosterone, the main muscle growth hormone in adults, in turn reducing your ability to build the arms and chest you want.
So YES feel free to add a specific focus to a desired body part, but don’t do so at the cost of the rest of the body.