If you’re looking to reduce the fat in a specific area of your body, you’re going for “targeted fat loss.” Some people say it’s possible, some say it’s not. Who’s right?
Targeted fat loss, or “spot reduction,” has long been–and still is–a hot button pushed to sell fitness books, magazines, DVDs, supplements, and more.
One workout is for “slimming” your thighs and another is for “sculpting” your midsection. This food is supposed to reduce belly fat and that food can somehow make your hips leaner.
Is any of this actually possible, though? Are we actually able to influence where our bodies pull fat from?
Well, the answer is no…and yes. Let me explain…
Pick up just about any fitness magazine and you’ll find workouts for getting a six pack, slimming the thighs, getting rid of love handles, and the like.
I wish it were that simple.
While research has actually shown that training a muscle results in increased levels of blood flow and lipolysis in the area (the breakdown of fat cells into usable energy), it’s not in a large enough quantity to matter.
The reality is training the muscles of a certain area of your body burns calories and can result in muscle growth, both of which certainly can aid in fat loss, but it doesn’t directly burn the fat covering them to any significant degree.
You see, fat loss occurs in a whole-body fashion. You create the proper internal weight loss environment (a calorie deficit) and your body reduces fat stores all over the body, with certain areas reducing faster than others (more on why in a moment).
Ironically, if you want an area of your body to be leaner, training the muscles without also ensuring you’re reducing your body fat percentage will only aggravate the problem. The muscles will grow and the layer of fat will remain, which will only result in the area looking bigger.
I run into this fairly often with women that get into weightlifting without also addressing their body fat percentage. This is why many women believe weightlifting makes them “bulky.”
You see, when you start out with your body fat percentage too high, lifting weights without also dieting properly only makes you look a little bigger. Some guys welcome this as it’s better than just being skinny fat, but most women hate it. They got into weightlifting to look lean, toned, and athletic, not to have even more trouble fitting into their clothes.
This is why I often repeat a simple rule of thumb: the more muscle you build, the leaner you have to be to avoid looking big and bulky. (Click here to tweet this!)
A woman that has built an appreciable amount of muscle (1+ years of weightlifting) will want to stay under 20% body fat to maintain the type of look most women want (toned arms, tight stomach, shapely legs, big butt, etc.). For us guys, we need to stay under 10% for the look we’re usually after (abs, small waist, vascularity, “dense”-looking muscle, etc.).
And now we come to why I added the “or is it?” question to the title of this article.
While you can’t do a bunch of squats to get leaner thighs or crunches to get a six pack, you can utilize some training and supplemental strategies to help those areas get leaner faster.
How is that possible?
Well, if you’ve ever tried to get below 20% (women) or 10% (men) body fat, you’ve probably noticed that a few areas of your body lost fat a lot slower than others. If you’re a woman, your hips, thighs, and butt were probably the last to really tighten up. If you’re a guy, it was almost certainly your lower abs, obliques, and lower back.
This isn’t a genetic curse–it’s simply a physiological mechanism.
You see, your body uses chemicals known as “catecholamines” to break fat cells down into usable energy. Catecholamines travel through your blood and “attach” to receptors on fat cells, which then trigger the release of the energy stored within the cells so it can be burned off.
Fat cells have two types of receptors for catecholamines, however: alpha-2 and beta-2 receptors. To keep this simple, beta-2 receptors speed up fat mobilization, whereas alpha-2 receptors hinder it.
The more alpha-2 receptors a fat cell has, the more “resistant” it is to being mobilized by catecholamines. On the other hand, the more beta-2 receptors a fat cell has, the more “receptive” it is to the fat-mobilizing molecules.
As you’ve probably guessed, the areas that get lean quickly have a lot of fat cells with more beta-2 receptors than alpha-2, and the areas that don’t have a large amount of fat cells with more alpha-2 than beta-2.
Another problem with these “stubborn fat” areas relates to blood flow. You may have noticed that fat in areas like the lower back and thighs are slightly colder to the touch than fat in other areas of your body like the arms or chest. This is simply because there’s less blood flowing through the areas.
Less blood flow = fewer catecholamines reach the fat cells = even slower fat loss.
So we have a double-whammy of fat loss hindrance here: large amounts of fat cells that don’t respond well to catecholamines and reduced blood flow to keep the catecholamines away.
Fortunately, there are a few things we can do to overcome these barriers and noticeably speed up the loss of fat in these “stubborn” areas of our bodies.
How to Lose Stubborn Fat Faster With Fasted Training
Your body is in a “fasted” state when insulin is at a baseline level, and your body is relying on its energy stores. If you eat a moderate-sized meal, it takes 4 – 5 hours for your body to finish processing the food and enter this state.
Exercise done in this state accelerates fat mobilization and weightlifting in a fasted state is particularly effective.
In addition, blood flow in the abdominal region is increased when you’re in a fasted state, which means the catecholamines can reach this stubborn fat easier, resulting in more mobilization of it.
Fasted training first thing in the morning has an added benefit, as fasting for longer than 6 hours increases your body’s ability to burn fat.
There is a downside to fasted training, however.
When you exercise in a fasted state, muscle breakdown is dramatically increased.
Fortunately, you can prevent this with proper supplementation.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I want you to know that the supplements I recommend in this article are not just what I personally use but they are from my supplement line, LEGION.
As you probably know, the supplement industry is notorious for its lies and shenanigans. The truth is the majority of the supplements you see in the magazines and on the shelves aren’t going to help you reach your goals faster.
That’s why I decided to create the products I myself have always wanted: science-based formulations, clinically effective dosages of all ingredients, no fillers or unnecessary junk, and natural sweetening and flavoring.
And if you like what you see and decide to support my work…you’re awesome. 🙂 It’s because of people like you that I get to spend my time writing articles like this that help others get into the best shape of their lives.
HMB and Muscle Preservation
The supplement β-Hydroxy β-Methylbutyrate (also known as HMB) is a substance formed when your body metabolizes the amino acid leucine, which is an amino acid that directly stimulates protein synthesis.
HMB is often sold as a muscle-building aid but the research purported to demonstrate these benefits is shaky at best, hindered most by design flaws. Thus, I’m not comfortable making any claims about muscle growth.
There is one benefit of HMB that’s well established, however: it’s an extremely effective anti-catabolic agent.
That is, it’s very good at preventing muscle breakdown, which means you will recover faster from your workouts and experience less muscle soreness (and the free acid form shows the most promise in this regard).
It also has no effect whatsoever on insulin levels, which means it can’t break your fasted state.
This makes HMB perfect for use with fasted training. Its powerful anti-catabolic effects and non-existent insulin effects means you reap all the fat loss benefits of training fasted without any of the problems relating to muscle loss or insulin secretion.
It’s also worth noting that HMB is superior to leucine in suppressing muscle breakdown because it’s more anti-catabolic than its “parent” amino acid.
In terms of which specific HMB supplement I recommend, I’ve included a clinically effective dosage in every serving of my pre-workout fat burner FORGE.
FORGE is a fat burner made specifically for use with fasted training and it contains clinically effective dosages of…
- HMB. As you now know, HMB is very good at preventing muscle breakdown, and this means you will recover faster from your workouts and experience less muscle soreness.
- Yohimbine. Research shows that yohimbine enables your body to reduce fat stores faster, and it’s particularly useful as you get leaner and are battling with stubborn fat holdouts.
- Citicoline. CDP-choline (also known as citicoline) is a chemical that occurs naturally in the brain that increases levels of another chemical called phosphatidylcholine, which is vital for brain function.
Research shows that supplementation with CDP-choline improves attentional focus, and I included this in FORGE because most people find fasted training more mentally draining than fed training and CDP-choline can help counteract this.
The bottom line is FORGE helps you lose fat–and “stubborn” fat in particular–faster, preserve muscle, and maintain training intensity and mental sharpness.
High-Intensity Interval Cardio and Fat Loss
In case you’re not familiar with “high-intensity interval training” or “HIIT,” it’s very simple: you start your workout with a warm-up, and then alternate between bouts of all-out exertion and low-intensity “cooldown.”
For example, you might warm up and then do 30 seconds of sprinting on a bicycle, followed by 45 – 60 seconds of slower pedaling, and you would repeat these intervals for 20 – 25 minutes.
Now, why do this form of cardio instead of the traditional steady-state type?
Well, studies such as those conducted by Laval University, East Tennessee State University, Baylor College of Medicine, and the University of New South Wales have conclusively proven that shorter sessions of high-intensity cardio result in greater fat loss over time than longer, low-intensity sessions.
In fact, a study conducted by The University of Western Ontario showed that doing just 4 – 6 30-second sprints burns more fat over time than 60 minutes of incline treadmill walking (one of the staples of “bodybuilding cardio”).
Furthermore, keeping your cardio sessions shorter means you better preserve your muscle and strength, which is vitally important when it comes to building a physique.
My Favorite Type of HIIT Cardio
I do all of my HIIT cardio on the recumbent bike for several reasons.
I like the stable position, which allows me to bring my iPad and read or watch a movie or show, but cycling also has particular benefits to usweightlifters.
You see, a study conducted by Stephen F Austin State University showed that different types of cardio affect your ability to build muscle and strength differently. The study subjects that ran and walked gained significantly less strength and size than those that cycled.
Why is this?
Well, the researchers believed that the main benefit of cycling was that the movement itself imitates weightlifting exercises that grow your legs, like squats and lunges. So if you can, hop on the bike for your HIIT cardio sessions.
Will HIIT Cardio Place Too Much Stress on the Body?
The idea that doing HIIT while dieting for weight loss is a bad idea because it places too much stress on the body has been kicking around for years. But it’s completely anecdotal–I’ve yet to see any clinical research that supports such a position.
I’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of people of all ages and fitness levels, and I can’t actually think of one person that burned out on 3 – 5 weightlifting sesions and 3 – 4 HIIT sessions per week (which is what I recommend in my books).
That said, if you do start to feel overtrained, start replacing HIIT cardio sessions with LISS (low-intensity steady-state) and see if that helps.
Start by replacing one HIIT session with LISS and see how you feel that week. If you’re still having issues, replace another and see if that does it. Continue this until you’re feeling better or all HIIT sessions are now LISS.
Caffeine Helps You Lose Fat Faster
As weight loss boils down to energy consumed vs. energy expended, caffeine helps you lose fat by increasing your body’s daily energy expenditure.
Part of maximizing the fat loss benefits of caffeine is preventing your body from building up too much of a tolerance, however. The best way to do this is to limit intake, of course.
Here’s what I recommend:
- Before training, supplement with 3 – 6 mg caffeine per kg of body weight. If you’re not sure of your caffeine sensitivity, start with 3 mg/kg and work up from there.
- Keep your daily. intake at or below 6 mg per kg of body weight. Don’t have 6 mg/kg before training and then drink a couple of coffees throughout the day.
- Do 1 – 2 low-caffeine days per week, and 1 no-caffeine day per week. A low day should be half your normal intake, and a no day means less than 50 mg of caffeine (you can have a cup or two of tea, but no coffee, caffeine pills, etc.).
Personally I get my caffeine from my pre-workout PULSE, which contains a dehydrated and concentrated form of caffeine (caffeine anhydrous) shown to be more effective for improving performance than what is naturally found in beverages like coffee.
PULSE also contains clinically effective dosages of 4 other ingredients scientifically proven to improve workout performance:
- Beta-Alanine. Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid that reduces exercise-induced fatigue, improves anaerobic exercise capacity, and can accelerate muscle growth.
- Citrulline Malate. Citrulline is an amino acid that improves muscle endurance, relieves muscle soreness, and improves aerobic performance.
- Betaine. Betaine is a compound found in plants like beets that improves muscle endurance, increases strength, and increases human growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor 1 production in response to acute exercise.
- Theanine. Theanine is an amino acid found primarily in tea that reduces the effects of mental and physical stress, increases the production of nitric oxide, which improves blood flow, and improves alertness, focus, attention, memory, mental task performance, and mood.
The bottom line is if you want to know what a pre-workout is supposed to feel like…if you want to experience the type of energy rush and performance boost that only clinically effective dosages of scientifically validated ingredients can deliver…then you want to try PULSE.
Yohimbine Is a Great Stubborn Fat Loss Aid
Yohimbine is made from the Pausinystalia yohimbe plant, and it helps the body “tap into” fat stores.
(Not a very technical explanation, I know–if you want to know exactly how it works, check out this article of mine on how to lose stubborn fat.)
I’ve cut both with and without fasted training and yohimbine and I can say with absolutely certainty that with is noticeably faster. So much so that I think the biggest benefits of fasted training are that it lets you use yohimbine and it makes the other supplements discussed in this article more effective.
By itself, fasted training will make a slight difference in how quickly you lose fat. Combined with these supplements, however, it’s quite dramatic.
In terms of dosages, research has shown that .2 mg/kg of body weight is sufficient for fat loss purposes, and that ingesting it prior to exercise is particularly effective.
Some people get overly jittery from yohimbine, so I recommend you start with .1 mg/kg of body weight to assess tolerance. If you feel fine, then increase to the clinically effective dosage of .2 mg/kg.
Furthermore, yohimbine can raise blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, I don’t recommend you use it.
In terms of which specific yohimbine supplement I recommend, you’re probably not surprised that I’ve included a clinically effective dosage in every serving of my pre-workout fat burner FORGE.
A Fat Burner That Actually Works: PHOENIX
And for the same reasons it’s also no surprise that fat burners are some of the most expensive supplements on the shelves and feature some of the loudest marketing claims, often making big promises of “scientifically proven” rapid fat loss.
The reality is most “fat burners” are junk but there are a handful of natural, safe substances that have been scientifically proven to accelerate fat loss. And that’s why I created PHOENIX.
PHOENIX’s caffeine-free formulation is helps you burn fat faster in three different ways:
- It dramatically increases metabolic speed.
- It amplifies the power of fat-burning chemicals produced by your body.
- It increases the feeling of fullness from food.
It accomplishes this through clinically effective dosages of several ingredients, including…
- Synephrine. This increases both basal metabolic rate and lipolysis, inhibits the activity of certain fat cell receptors that prevent fat mobilization, and increases the thermic effect of food (the “energy cost” of metabolizing food).
- Naringin. This stimulates the production of a hormone called adiponectin, which is involved in the breakdown of fat cells, and that it activates a type of receptor in fat cells that regulates fat mobilization (the PPARα receptor).
Through these mechanisms, naringin also works synergistically with synephrine and hesperidin to further accelerate the basal metabolic rate.
- Hesperidin. Like naringin, this also stimulates the production of adiponectin and activates the PPARa receptor. It also improves blood flow and reduces the inflammation of blood vessels.
- Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). This inhibits the activity of a different enzyme also responsible for breaking down neurotransmitters that induce lipolysis. It has also been shown to reduce abdominal fat in particular.
- Forskolin. This increases blood plasma and intracellular levels of a molecule known as cAMP. When cAMP is high, it signifies a lack of ATP (the most basic form of cellular energy in the body) and thus initiates a process to make more ATP by burning through energy reserves (body fat).
- And more…
The bottom line is if you want to lose fat faster without pumping yourself full of stimulants or other potentially harmful chemicals…then you want to try PHOENIX.
How to Use These Supplements Properly
Here’s what I take before my fasted training sessions:
(NOTE: Taking green tea extract, which is in PHOENIX, on an empty stomach can make some people nauseous. If that happens to you, take it with food and you’ll be fine.)
When I’m dieting for fat loss, I lift weights in a fasted state 5 days per week and do 25 to 30 minutes of HIIT cardio in a fasted state 3 to 4 times per week.
On the days where I’m doing both weightlifting and cardio, I take the above before both training sessions and have no issues.