Can You 'Spot Reduce' Body Fat?

Wouldn't it be fabulous if you could take one area of your body, like your butt, your abs, the back of your arms, or your thighs, and make all the fat in that area disappear by doing one magical exercise?
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Wouldn't it be fabulous if there was a way to take one area of your body, like your butt, your abs, the back of your arms, or your thighs, and make all the fat in that area disappear by doing one particular, magical exercise? Unfortunately, there isn't.

(And if there was, then you could do just a few hundred crunches a day and have magazine cover model washboard abs.)

But with a few tweaks to your exercise regimen, you actually can "spot reduce" (that's reduce, not eliminate).

Before you learn how to spot reduce, you should know how fat burning actually works.

Imagine you have a big barrel of oil in the trunk of your car. Even though your car's engine uses gasoline, and oil is used to make gasoline, all that oil in your trunk isn't doing you a bit of good unless it somehow gets converted into gasoline and put into your engine!

Think of all that fat around your waistline like the oil in that car's trunk. You can't just take the fat and burn it right where it is. Your body must first convert the fat into a form of fuel that it can actually use for energy. That is done by mobilizing the fat, sending it to the liver, and breaking it down into free fatty acids, which can be then used for energy.

Now, here's the frustrating part: When your body needs energy, it doesn't take it from a single body part. Instead, it takes fat from all over your body and converts it into those usable fuel. So if you're trying to get rid of fat on your stomach by doing hundreds of crunches, you might be using a little bit of fat from your waistline for energy, but also a bit from your thighs, your calves, your forearms, and your chest.

So to target fat loss in one body part, you need to include a few extra steps in your workout regimen:

#1: Tone
Perform exercises that specifically work the muscles of the body part that you are trying to spot reduce. So for the back of your arms, you could add circuit of dips, narrow-grip pushups and kickbacks several times per week.

#2: Burn
You also need consistent fat-burning cardio sessions and intervals, preferably a mix of long slow cardio sessions on an empty stomach and high intensity cardiovascular intervals.

#3: Don't Constantly Fuel
In the same way that your car is going to stay completely full of fuel if you stop at every gas station you happen to pass, your body is going to stay full of fuel if you have no dietary moderation or you're frequently snacking. You must enable yourself to tap into storage fat by limiting calories and frequent eating (and yes, it's a myth that "snacking" increases your metabolism -- check out what Nutrition Diva has to say on the subject).

By combining these three steps, you tone the muscle that is buried underneath the fat, then mobilize your fat stores to be used as energy, and finally, ensure that you don't have more fat coming in while you burn the stuff you already have. This three-step method is incredibly effective at spot reducing, and will leave you with far fewer carpet burns on your back from doing all those useless crunches.

Ben Greenfield is a fitness and triathlon expert and host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast on the Quick and Dirty Tips network. His book, "Get-Fit Guy's Guide to Achieving Your Dream Body -- A Workout Plan for Your Unique Shape," will be published by St. Martin's Press in May 2012.