We have all heard the infomercials or seen the online articles… “Reduce tummy fat with this one food” and “do this one secret exercise to tone your legs and slim them down”. Unfortunately, all of these doctors on talk shows and tv ads are out to get your money and aren’t afraid to stretch the truth to get it. It is always going to be around, the idea that doing a certain exercise or eating a certain food will magically solve all of your weight loss problems and give you the body you want. For guys, the stubborn fat that seems impossible to lose is usually around the midsection, while in gals it is usually around the thighs. In this article, we will be discussing why it is very difficult to burn fat around these areas of the body (for most) as well as how to actually burn this stubborn fat off the real way.
Why Is Stubborn Fat Hard To Burn Off?
To understand why spot reducing fat isn’t as easy as working out the muscle you want to “tone”, it is important to know why this fat is harder to lose in general. Body fat is stored in subcutaneous cells (found right under the skin), and visceral cells (found deeper in the body, usually around organs). When we think of subcutaneous fat, this is the fat we want to burn off as it is what hides our definition and makes us look soft. Unlike popular belief though, this fat is not inherently unhealthy and we actually need a certain amount of this fat to live a comfortable, healthy life. Visceral fat is not noticeable from outside of the body, but is a large risk factor for many obesity related health complications and is definitely unhealthy.
All fat cells have two different kinds of receptors in varying ratios, known as alpha-2 and beta-2 receptors. The fat cells that contain a higher amount of beta receptors are easy to mobilize into the bloodstream (to be burned off and used for fuel) and are found mainly in the upper body (arms, shoulders, chest, back), sometimes legs in men, and sometimes the midsection for women along with the upper body. Alpha receptors are the opposite, and fat cells that have a higher amount of them encourage your body to hold onto fat as long as possible. As you might’ve guessed, stubborn fat is higher in alpha receptor heavy fat cells. Along with a higher amount of alpha receptors, stubborn fat also has less blood circulating through it making this fat more difficult to mobilize into the bloodstream to be used for fuel.
When Stubborn Fat Cannot Be Burned Off
When you think about it logically, there is no reason why doing 1,000 sit-ups in a day will help your body burn high alpha receptor fat cells above the abdominal (or any fat for that matter). Doing ab exercises will help build a stronger and thicker midsection, which can show off your abs at a higher body fat level and make them pop more, but other than this unrelated technique the evidence isn’t strong for spot reducing. Contracting the abs will send more blood into the muscle but the layer of fat on top will not receive the same effect. Working out your abs will also have no effect on the high alpha receptor fat cells and any fat you do burn will come from a part of the body with higher beta receptor fat cells first. The same goes for doing hip adductor/abductor workouts or triceps workouts to try and lean out those muscle groups. To condense all this info into one sentence: Contracting muscles where you wish to lose fat will grow your muscles and possibly show them a higher body fat level, but this will never force your body to burn fat from those areas.
While it may be hard to accept, the biggest factor for how you will burn fat off your body will come down to a combination of a calorie deficit and genetics. These two factors have an interesting relationship, as you can burn stubborn fat easier with genetics that naturally has a body lower in alpha receptor fat cells, but you can also burn stubborn fat just as well with the right calorie deficit and inferior genetics. The individuals who have good genetics and a proper calorie deficit can achieve a better physique with relative ease, while the rest of us (myself included) will need to work much harder to get the same result through our diet and exercise. It’s not fair, but it’s just how it is.
For those of us who have to work hard to get abs and a toned body, there are a few steps to take before worrying about stubborn fat. If you are above 20% body fat (closer to 30% for women as they naturally have more body fat), more than likely you have a good amount of fat all around your body and should focus on eating slightly below maintenance and a combination of cardio/weight lifting until you can get yourself to around 12-15% body fat (around 22-25% for women). It is also important to mention that the more muscle you have, the higher your body fat levels can be and still achieve your ideal body (therefore making dieting easier overall).This means anybody who is just starting out their diet and exercise routines and also have relatively low level of muscle mass should be focused on building a solid base before worrying about dieting down to show definition and tone (six months of proper lifting and eating should be adequate). This leaves the rest of us who are generally pretty lean and muscular, maybe a hint of a four pack and a bit of vascularity (around 10-12% for men and 20-22% for females).
In this article we discussed different types of fat, their receptors, and the simple reasons why some individuals can get lean and lose their stubborn fat rather easily while the rest of us have to worry about many more variables (and why working out a certain muscle group does not help burn fat above that muscle). In the next article, we will be going over tips and techniques successful fitness professionals use (that don’t have good genetics) to get lean and defined. Stay tuned as part two will be highly informative…