“Help me lose an inch off my thighs.”
“Why can’t I lose the padding around my bra line?”
“I just can’t shift the weight beneath my bellybutton.”
“I’m still carrying extra weight on my chest.”
(That last one is from the guys – most of the ladies I meet, like me, find their boobs are only too willing to downsize!)
I hear so many trouble spot specific complaints from clients, and these are just a few of the most common body woes I encounter. And never are these insecurities more evident than in the run up to summer. While I’m all for setting goals in your training and the desire to improve overall fitness and appearance, here are a few reasons I feel uncomfortable about this emphasis on trouble spot training:
1. The problem: Zeroing in on areas of the body we don’t like encourages self-flagellation. Exercise is meant to be an endorphin-releasing, confidence-boosting activity that makes us feel great. It is not meant to be something that reinforces negative thinking and turns up the volume on our self-doubts.
The fix: I encourage clients and friends to turn these body woes on their head and tell me instead what they love about their bodies. Then I make sure to include exercises that will improve the areas of fitness or appearance that are less loved alongside exercises that will continue to improve the features they love (because acing an exercise or drill and getting even more awesome at something is super satisfying and keeps us coming back for more).
2. The problem: Targeting a very specific muscle or region can be next to impossible. The body is a complex machine of moving, working parts, and each supports the other. In order to exercise effectively, we need to embrace this working relationship and improve functional movement through a full range of movement. Trying to isolate one area can seriously impact the benefits of an exercise regime as you can weaken one group of muscles at the expense of another or reduce your overall energy output by overlooking the more dominant calorie-burning muscles of the body.
The fix: By all means, if you want to do isolation exercises (think glute kickbacks for a peachier bum; leg lifts for a firmer low tummy; supermans for leaner looking lats), include them as part of your overall fitness regime. In fact, each of the exercises I mention above are highly beneficial for posture, alignment and muscular coordination. But each of them are far more beneficial after practising more dynamic movements before them. Get your squats, planks, rows and press-ups in without fail – these will improve functional performance and strength and stimulate your metabolism. Bigger muscles require more energy, so working from bigger to smaller muscles keeps your overall output high. Plus, those little muscles you’re isolating will be more active and receptive to the smaller targeted movements that follow.
My new ebook The Lean Body Jumpstart also uses a lot of compound exercises, which allows you to hit the biggest and smallest exercises in a single exercise. The result is improved strength, a higher heart rate and bigger calorie burn. Which leads me to my third point…
3. The problem: In order to effectively burn fat – wherever it is stored – you absolutely have to get your heart rate up. That means tough, sweaty work. That means cardio, or a faster pace of conditioning such as compound exercises and circuits. Making muscles stronger and firmer is of course desirable, but make sure to pair your strength training with roughly the equivalent amount of cardiovascular activity in order to melt away excess fat inside the body (visceral fat lining the organs) and outside (that includes those niggly ‘trouble spots’).
The fix: Stop obsessing about whether a particular workout is helping to strengthen or tone a particular muscle or area, and get out and enjoy some cardio for the sake of feeling happy, free and fit. We have to think and analyse so much in our everyday lives, and cardio is the ultimate opportunity to switch off and escape. And yes, it is working. There is no muscle in your body more important than your heart. Treat it well. I promise, it will give back just as much.
It’s not all doom and gloom for isolation work. As I said, there is a time and place for targeted training within your regime. And there are plenty of positives, too. The abs are often a focus of isolation work, and anything that helps to strengthen and tighten the muscles around the spine will ultimately lead to better posture and safer, more efficient exercise. If you choose to track your results, it can also be immensely rewarding to learn you’ve lost X number of inches from your tummy or gained X number of centimeters in lean muscle around your arms. The important thing is to keep your fitness in perspective.
Ultimately, switching to a lighter summertime wardrobe should feel awesome. You should feel proud of your body and what it can do. And those assets – the ones you work hard for and the ones with which you are naturally gifted – are beautiful because they’re yours and help to make you who you are.
I’m very excited to announce that from 11 June I’ll be hosting weekly bootcamps on Wimbledon Common. To put all these lessons into practice in the presence of a dedicated community of Fit Brit Collective bootcampers, sign up now to join me. There will be extra incentives and rewards during the launch event, including freebies from some of London’s most popular sports nutrition and fashion brands. Spaces are limited and expected to fill up fast, so find out more and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to secure your place!