SERIES: On Behalf of the Fitness Industry - "Whoops, My Bad": Part 1 - Spot Loss

Updated: May 15, 2018


I was thinking of titling this series "THE LIES".

A bit aggressive? Yah, perhaps. Someone’s a littttttle sleep deprived (this momma) so this post is going to be blunter than my usual disposition. If sleep deprivation has taught me something (other than how truly remarkable, special, and life-changing a full night's sleep can be), it’s to not waste any energy when it’s unclear how much you have in your reserve tank.

Before I get into the nerdy-detail posts, I want to open the discussion on a few general misperceptions that are continually perpetuated in the media (and even “professional” certifications but we’ll get into that dirty-detail another time. Fun fun.) Some of the points may rub the wrong way but my intention is only to encourage you to rethink what you’ve been told about exercise and movement. As always, discussion is the goal. You might think about what is said here and ignore all of it and that’s okay.

In the research community and the, ah, real-life community, these "facts" have been proven to be myths (and even injury-inducing) over and over again yet they show up in the latest fitness magazines and online articles and…well, that’s confusing. It’s truly unfair for the majority of the population who do not sit around chatting with their inner circle about quality movement but genuinely want to improve movement and health. I’ve written another article about quality control in the “professional world of fitness” but I’m still debating if that will see the light of the internet. (Maybe we’ll have to wait for another sleep-deprived morning…?)


What is it? The idea that by training a certain area of the body or the muscles within it, you will decrease the size or ”burn the fat” of that specified area.

Physiologically, this simply is not how the body works.

With the amount of texting that goes on in North America, we’d be a society riddled with gangly little thumbs if exercising a certain area decreased fat locally. The key player that dictates where body fat (re: stored energy) is distributed throughout your body is hormones. The amount of body fat stored on your body is primarily influenced by hormones (again) and nutrition (NOTE: not “calories” per se but nutrition).

(I know – “hormones” and “nutrition” are massive blanket terms and I promise we’ll get into the details another time. In the meantime, check out this article re: the physiology of body fat:

Let's give this some context. One of the most common “spot reduction” culprits: abdominal work.

Sexy abs - here I come!

Thankfully in 2016, fewer and fewer articles claim to shrink your waist and burn the belly fat. However, it’s rarely the glaring, in-your-face message that does the most damage. The subtle ones are truly sneaky (and, well, subtle).

Have you attended a yoga, resistance or cycle class that finishes with abs-isolation work? Absolutely. It’s probably the #1 request I receive from new people to my classes. Yes, a smaller waist circumference is linked to increased overall health and lower stress on your heart. But crunches (and the like) do zero (nada) for decreasing abdominal fat (aside from expending a handful of calories which, I'm talking, half-a-drop-in-the-bucket for creating a shift in body composition). In theory, abdominal isolation exercises would make the area thicker as muscle builds but you’d have to do a gazillion repetitions so that’s not really a common outcome. As for isolation exercises changing shape or appearance, sure this happens BUT it is only visually apparent in populations that are super lean to begin with.

But, Jess, what is the harm in me doing my crunches and jack knifes if my abs burn and I feel like a sexy little ab machine?

I want to dissect two points here:

1. Are all abdominal isolation exercises categorically terrible? No. There is a time, place and value to abdominal exercises but these times and places have little to do with obtaining a leaner or smaller outcome. “Core training” (a term thrown around a little too haphazardly) is about function, activation, alignment, pressure and control. Now, an article titled, “Reignite your core function with these simple activation techniques!” is not nearly as grabby as “Six-Pack City!!!”. I get it. And that is why I’m a coach and not an editor.

2. What is the harm? Mostly alignment, well, misalignment. As a society, it is safe to generalize that we are bent out of shape. Chairs. Desks. Driving. Dinner tables. Our core muscles (muscles that should technically be doing their stablizing job all day long, not on the mat after a strength class) have been programmed incorrectly due to postural position, daily compensation habits and maybe because you built a baby in your abdominal space.

Common physical outcomes: tight hip flexors, internally rotated upper arms, forward head posture, tight chest, dormant core muscles. I would challenge you to find an “ab burning exercise” that doesn’t reiterate these patterns.

One might be performed in spandex and the other in a pencil skirt but same position = same message to your body = super tight hip flexors, sore back, neck stress, blood smashing into vessel walls.

I digressed but I feel that "digressing" will end up being more the rule than the exception with these articles.

OH! One more thing. The reason why I chose to highlight the whole stomach area (instead of back of arms, inner thighs, glutes...) is for my fellow new mommas. The midsection takes a bit of a hammering when carrying a baby (understatement). It is critically important that we do not focus our health efforts on getting pre-baby shape via typical/traditional abdominal exercises. Aside from the fact that these aren't Grade A exercises (understatement) and time is not exactly plentiful, these exercises can worsen injuries you may have sustained (example, diastasis recti) or create more damaging issues as your body heals. Much more on this another time. Teaser: Diastasis Recti - What a Bummer (But Completely Manageable!). In the meantime, getting outside and going for a walk will be one of the best things we can do for our heads and our bodies.

Ask yourself: Do I perform certain exercises with the intention of whittling down or leaning out a specific area of the body?

If you answered "Yes" and then quickly followed it with, "So what am I supposed to do instead? I want to decrease my body fat for my health as well as my physique. That's not a bad thing, right?" Of course not. Join us on Instagram @ uninhibited.strength to get weekly tips on quality movement and healthful nutrition.

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I am unbelievably impressed by the resilience and strength of the human body and spirit.

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