I have taught group fitness classes at gyms, athletic clubs, wellness centers, dance studios, resorts and corporate locations in Florida and Colorado, and one of the most popular questions I get from participants about wellness goals is: How do I get rid of the excess weight around the troublesome areas on my body?
I wish I could say there is a magical exercise or workout that focuses on spot reduction, but that’s not the case. While there are plenty of as-seen-on-TV fitness gadgets, trending diets and diet pills that promise to target weight loss in specific areas, you likely won’t get the results you expect. And most important, those options typically are not healthy or safe strategies to successful weight loss.
We come in all shapes and sizes, which means we all carry weight differently. Women generally carry excess fat around their hips, thighs and backside — especially during childbearing years. Men generally carry excess fat around their midsection. And that weight can shift as we get older — especially as our metabolism slows. Metabolism is the way our bodies convert food into energy. I will address maintaining a healthy metabolism in more detail in a future column.
Specific areas on our bodies become troublesome because that’s usually the first place we store fat. And it will be the last place you’ll lose excess weight.
So how do we lose this stubborn weight? By combining cardiovascular exercises, strength training workouts and a balanced diet.
Cardiovascular exercises involve moderate- to high-intensity activities (jumping, biking, swimming, stair climbing, running or brisk walking) that elevate the heart rate and breathing rate. These exercises, commonly known as cardio, help strengthen the heart. Cardio also increases our lung capacity and stamina while burning fat and calories. American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that most adults start with moderate-intensity exercises for at least 150 minutes per week. To maintain weight loss, ACSM recommends adults increase moderate-intensity exercise time to 300 minutes per week. The rate of progression will depend on your age, fitness level, overall health status, personal preferences and wellness goals.
Combining strength training or weightlifting with cardio is the most effective way to burn excess fat, no matter where it is stored. When doing any strength- focused workout, exercise all the major muscle groups within your upper and lower body to get the best results. A common misconception among many novice fitness enthusiasts is that doing only abdominal-focused exercises will eliminate the excess weight around their midsection. While you will strengthen your midsection by doing ab exercises, you won’t see the muscles reveal themselves until you get rid of the excess fat that surrounds the muscle. So doing only sit-ups will not eliminate that spare tire or muffin top.
When working out with weights for the first time, start with light weights and gradually increase the load over time. If you feel unsure of where to begin, join a group fitness class focused on strength training or reach out to a personal trainer to guide you on proper and safe weight-lifting techniques. These fitness professionals also will ensure you’re strengthening and toning all your muscles to help protect your joints while burning excess fat no matter where it is stored.
If you don’t have a balanced diet, all those cardio and strength workouts will be a waste. What you put on your plate plays a vital role in how successful you will be on your weight-loss journey. Many fitness professionals say healthy weight loss consists of 80% nutrition and 20% exercise. So how we fuel our bodies is priority No. 1 while maintaining a healthy weight. A balanced diet must consist of proteins, vegetables, healthy fats, carbohydrates and water. Understanding which foods to eat from these food groups can be confusing and even seem overwhelming — especially with so many trending diets that promise quick results. This is where most people fail in accomplishing their weight-loss goals. Since nutrition can seem complex, I will address it in more detail in a future column.
Ultimately, the best way to target problem areas on your body is to make sure you combine cardio and strength workouts that focus on exercising the entire body and not just the areas where you carry excess weight. Also, eating a balanced diet and drinking plenty of water will give you energy to complete those workouts while you burn excess calories.
Before starting any workout regimen, be sure to consult your doctor — especially if you have any major health concerns.
Stephanie Swearngin teaches group fitness classes at VillaSport Athletic Club and Spa and at VASA Fitness in Colorado Springs.