There is both good and bad news about exercising to lose fat from problem areas such as the belly, legs and arms. The bad news is that where your body accumulates fat and the fat stores it chooses to use for fuel are determined by age, gender and genetics. No exercises can actually cause you to "spot reduce." The good news is that the time you spend in the gym will help you lose fat and shape and tone your body. Cardiovascular exercises burn overall fat, including fat from your problem areas. Strength training firms and tones underlying muscles, improving the appearance of your belly, legs and arms.
Cardiovascular or aerobic exercise burns fat from all parts of your body, including the belly, legs and arms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise to maintain your weight; longer duration or higher intensity is recommended for weight loss. Aerobic exercises you can do in the gym include using treadmills, elliptical trainers, stationary bicycles, stair-climbers and rowing machines. Many gyms also offer spinning, water aerobics, aerobic dance and other cardio classes.
To lose fat, you need to expend more calories than you ingest. Moderate-intensity exercises, which cause you to breathe slightly faster than normal and break a light sweat but still be able to talk comfortably, burn approximately 300 calories an hour. Vigorous activities during which you are breathing hard, sweating and can talk only in short phrases can burn at least 450 to 600 calories an hour. Although increasing intensity burns calories faster, working out at a comfortable pace you can maintain for a longer period can be more effective and safer in the long run than over-exerting yourself. For maximum calorie burn, work at a pace you can sustain for a 15- to 30-minute workout. Add high-intensity intervals of two to five minutes into your normal cardio workout for extra fat burning. Don't use exercise as an excuse for unhealthy eating. A latte and a muffin can replace all of the calories your burned off in an hour in the gym.
The two major muscle groups affecting the appearance of your belly are the rectus abdominis, the muscle running along the front of your stomach area, and the obliques, the muscles running along your sides. According to a study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise, the most effective exercises for the rectus abdominis are the bicycle maneuver, captain's chair and exercise ball crunches. The best exercises for the obliques are the captain's chair, bicycle maneuver and reverse crunches.
Many different exercises can tone your thighs and calves. Compound exercises such as squats, lunges, leg presses and side lunges firm multiple thigh muscles simultaneously. Thigh abductor machines work the outer thigh muscles and thigh adductor machines focus on the inner thighs. Use leg curl machines to firm up the hamstrings, which run along the backs of your thighs, and calf raise machines for toning calves.
The two main muscle groups in your upper arms are the biceps, which are used in pulling motions, and triceps, used in pushing motions. Work the biceps with compound exercises such as lat pulldowns and seated rows or isolation exercises such as preacher and dumbbell curls. The triceps muscle runs along the bottom of the arm, where many women develop the flab that makes sleeveless dresses a major embarrassment. Firm the underarm area with compound exercises including chest or bench presses and dips or isolation exercises including triceps extensions and triceps pushdowns.
- American Council on Exercise: Why Is the Concept of Spot Reduction Considered a Myth?
- BodyBuilding.com: You Can't Spot Reduce
- ExRx.net: Fat Loss & Weight Training Myths
- MayoClinic.com: Exercise Intensity: Why It Matters, How It's Measured
- MayoClinic.com: Strength Training: Get Stronger, Leaner, Healthier
- BodyBuilding.com: Build Muscle & Lose Fat Simultaneously?
- ScienceDaily.com: High-Intensity Interval Training Is Time-Efficient and Effective, Study Suggests
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Physical Activity for a Healthy Weight
- American Council on Exercise: American Council on Exercise (ACE)-sponsored Study Reveals Best and Worst Abdominal Exercises
- Exrx.com: Upper Arm
Carol Poster began writing professionally in 1974. Her articles have appeared in "Outdoor Woman," "Paddler," "Ski Magazine," "Women's Sports & Fitness," "Dance News," "Show Business," "The Athenian," "PC Resource" and "Utah Holiday," among other publications. Poster holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Eastern Washington University, as well as a Ph.D. in English from the University of Missouri.