Losing Fat and Showing Muscle Requires a Total-Body Effort and Good Nutrition

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(U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Christian Clausen)

Do you want to improve your flabby arms or see your abs again? You can do biceps curls, triceps extensions and tons of core exercises to build the muscles in those problem areas. However, if you want to see the enhancements, reducing the fat around those areas involves more than just working the muscle under the fat.

It's a common misconception that you can spot-reduce fat around the arms by lifting weights or reduce fat around the stomach by doing core exercises. Unfortunately, this is not true; spot-fat reduction does not exist. However, spot improvement of muscle growth is part of the solution.

You can lift weights to grow the muscle, but you must also eat well. If you want to see the muscle, burn more calories than you consume daily. Fat loss is a global process that happens throughout the body. The most effective way to lose fat is following a balanced diet and exercising the entire body (not just arms and abs).

People tend to make this mistake when building muscle and losing fat in their "trouble regions." Instead, focus on following a nutritious diet of real food and drinking water, exercising consistently to burn calories by doing calisthenics, lifting weights and adding cardio activity regularly (even if it's just walking). This will help burn more calories and lose fat in a healthy and effective way.

There are consequences when attempting only to spot-reduce fat with weight training and ab exercises. At the end of each day, the goal is to accumulate calories burned. You can do this more effectively by working bigger muscle groups, such as the legs, glutes and back. Adding cardio activity is a great way to continue to burn calories throughout the day (not limiting the time spent to just working arms and abs).

By adding a 10-minute walk to each meal and additional cardio time later in the day, the calories burned at the end of the day will be much more than just working in a few sets of arms and abs for 15-20 minutes.

Also, working only the abs and arms can lead to serious imbalances and potential injury. These imbalances can lead to joint problems, overuse injuries and other soft-tissue pains. This means that you could be putting in a great deal of effort to target a certain area, only to find that it has little to no impact on the fat in that area.

So, if you want to build muscle and lose fat, the best way is with a more balanced approach that involves calisthenics, weight training and extra cardiovascular activity. Adhering to the broader, more consistent approach will help you build muscle, burn fat in all areas of your body and help you improve your heart health and overall wellness.

Here are five practical examples of how to do this and not waste your time and efforts.

1. Resistance Training

Focus on compound lifts like deadlifts, squats and bench presses to target multiple muscle groups in one exercise. But you can also use calisthenics, dumbbells, kettlebells, a TRX suspension trainer and machine weights to build muscle if you are not into lifting barbell weights.

2. Include Cardiovascular Exercises.

Walking, running, cycling and swimming will burn calories, reduce fat and increase muscle tone.

3. Incorporate Body-Weight Exercises.

Push-ups, plank poses and pull-ups will strengthen the arms and core muscles. Adding in PT Reset Exercises will help with core imbalances of the lower back and upper back.

4. Incorporate Isolation Dumbbell Exercises.

Biceps curls and triceps extensions target specific arm muscle groups and balance out opposing muscle groups.

5. Eat a Balanced Diet -- and Track It.

Include lean proteins, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates. Make sure to get enough calories to support your weight training goals.

You can effectively build muscle and lose fat by using the right tracking tools because if you are not tracking or assessing, you are merely guessing. Keeping track of your food intake and physical activity is key to ensuring you are on the right path to building muscle and losing fat. Set up a tracking system to monitor your progress and adjust your plan, based on the data.

A Food Diary

Writing down what you eat is a great way to add a layer of discipline to your eating habits and ensure that you eat the right foods in the right amounts. If you are not assessing your food intake, you are only guessing how many calories you consume a day. Ultimately, this matters just as much as how often you exercise.

A Fitness Program

Get help designing or creating a fitness program, focusing on weight training and cardio that meet your abilities. This will help you build the muscle you need and burn more calories at the end of each day.

Measure your neck, arms, waist, hips and legs to see whether you are indeed losing inches. You may see more progress in inches lost or gained than total weight lost, as the process of building muscle and losing fat often yields a loss of zero pounds in the first few months.

A Nutrition Plan

Hire a nutritionist or create a nutrition plan that includes a balanced diet of healthy whole foods and adequate amounts of protein, carbs and fats. Accumulate multiple days of calorie deficits (burning more calories than you consume), and you will burn fat throughout the body.

By understanding this concept, you will be better equipped to reach your goals regarding building muscle and losing fat. You may seek assistance from a nutritionist and trainer to start the process going in the right direction. With the right plan, you can see the results you are looking for.

Success comes down to having the right mindset going into the journey to build muscle and lose fat, as it takes consistent effort with resistance training and watching how much and what you eat the rest of each day. Once you understand this mindset, you are now equipped with the ability to start your journey toward a healthier lifestyle and improved body image.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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