The Myth of “Shaping” and “Mass Building” Exercises

The spot reduction myth

This leads us to another mythological body process – the spot reduction. In case you haven’t heard of it, spot reduction is the term for attempting to shred excess fat from specific areas of the body simply by performing exercises that target those areas, like doing a ton of abdominal exercises to lose belly fat.This is NOT going to happen, because the body does not work the way you would like it to.

Although muscle building is site-specific (meaning that if you want to build a muscle you need to highly activate that part of the body), fat loss is most certainly not, so performing exercises that target a specific region of the body won’t lead to fat loss in that particular region. They can strengthen the muscles responsible for those movements, but their impact on the fat stored there is negligible at the very best.

The metabolic process of gaining or losing weight is a systematic  one,  happening all throughout the body and each person’s body has a natural, genetically defined pattern of where more fat is added or dropped. If you want to lose fat in one particular area, you’ll have to reduce your overall weight. Yeah, it would be awesome if spot reduction was possible – getting the perfect body would be much easier. But it’s not, so to all advertisers around the world – please cut the bullshit already.

Back to the building of muscle mass. The only way muscles can grow is by being worked with high intensity exercises (requiring forceful instead of gentle muscle contractions) such as heavy weight, high reps or a combination of both. In reality, that’s pretty much all there is to be said about that. You can either increase or decrease intensity, depending on how much growth you want to achieve – but you cannot specifically change the muscle definition without losing body fat and you cannot increase muscle separation with special exercises. Exercise can only cause muscles to grow, and the separations between muscle fibers are already there, being a matter of genetic expression.

A working muscle can only differentiate between amounts of load, to which it can only react by generating the amount of force needed for adapting to the task at hand, eventually entering the hypertrophy mode – an increase in size of skeletal muscles through a growth in size of its component cells. Hypertrophy makes a muscle thicker and stronger, therefore able to better handle the load while reducing the level of fatigue. That mechanism is a highly functional and practical one from a biological standpoint, but nowadays we use it for improving aesthetics as well.

Now ask yourself, what could be the functionality of an increased muscle definition?

The muscles simply don’t require better definition for better performance and that’s why no exercise can be used to improve definition by itself. As stated above, definition happens when you lose a significant amount of body fat and your muscles pop out.

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