A common fitness myth is that training a particular muscle group will burn body fat for that targeted area of the body, otherwise known as spot reduction. An example of this is performing crunches to decrease subcutaneous abdominal fat. Countless people focus on performing hundreds of crunches hoping to develop washboard abs. However, empirical data indicates this is a false presumption.
The reduction of body fat is a cumulative effect through restricting caloric intake, increasing caloric expenditure or both. Therefore, while crunches may improve the size and shape of the underlying abdominal muscles, they will not specifically trim fat in the midsection. In fact, males in particular generally have a predisposition to store abdominal fat and it will often be the last removed from the body as one gets progressively leaner.
The same concept is true for fitness enthusiasts striving to ‘tone’ their muscles: the theory that using lighter weights and higher repetitions (15+) will burn more body fat from one specific area, such as the back of the arms. Increasing repetitions does have its place in an exercise program as it helps improve muscular endurance. However, if your goal is to define your muscles, then you should aim to decrease overall body fat. Muscle tone refers to the involuntary, constant state of partial contraction your muscles are in; the type of weight lifting you do is not going to change that.
Reducing body fat from the triceps, abdominals or any other area of the body happens by expending more calories than consumed, creating a calorie deficit. Reducing body fat for a particular area is entirely up to your physiology. So, when evaluating your weight loss goals, it is important to be consistent with cardiovascular and resistance training in conjunction with following sound nutritional guidelines. Continually track your progress with body composition measurements to help stay motivated and know if you are headed in the right direction with your fitness program. Above all, stay positive and focused on your vision for a healthier you!