Have you ever picked up a magazine because it promised a fix for a “problem area” in your body? One hundred crunches for a flat stomach, maybe, or 50 curls for toned biceps? Spot toning is such a great sell—and one that the fitness industry relies heavily on—but it’s not real. In fact, when it comes to shaping a specific part of your body, there’s no magic formula. The good news? Switching your focus from one isolated area to whole-body health will do wonders for both your body and mind.
Why Spot Toning is a Myth
The main reason spot toning doesn’t work is that muscle strength is only one part of the equation for your body’s overall health. Other key factors, like how you fuel and nourish your body, how you manage your stress levels, how well you sleep, and genetics all play major roles in how your body looks and feels. Even the most toned abs won’t appear that way if your body is fatigued, bloated, overworked, and under-nourished.
The other reason spot toning isn’t the answer has to do with body balance. To understand this one, it helps to think about how the body functions. Muscles don’t work in isolation. Their job is to move joints and stabilize the body, and they work in conjunction with other muscles to do this. Strengthening one muscle out of proportion to the others can create an imbalance that could become dangerous to your body’s overall function. For example, your bicep and tricep work together to move your elbow, and they should be equal in strength. If you put hyperfocus on strengthening just your biceps, you’re going to jeopardize the way they work with your triceps (not to mention your lats and your core). You’ll also compromise flexibility and mobility.
So What’s the Answer?
Research tells us that the best way to strengthen your body is with multi-action moves. This doesn’t mean you can’t work a specific area of your body, just that when you do, it’s best to consider the larger network of muscles and how they function in your body.
Your core is a great example. When people want a flat stomach, they often assume they need to break out hundreds of crunches—but these only strengthen one section of your core. Because your core is made up of 40 muscles, you’re better off taking a 360° approach. Working your mid-core with crunches is great, but you’ll also want to work your obliques, your glutes, and your back body, and incorporate moves that get your blood pumping (hello, Bridge Lifts!). By working multiple muscles at once, you strengthen your body and posture, rev your heart rate, and help create mind-body connection—another intangible that spot toning doesn’t tackle.
Think Beyond the Studio
If you feel like you have a “problem” area that simply won’t go away no matter how much you exercise, take a look at other aspects of your life. Ask yourself: Is there anything I can do to be healthier beyond my workout? Am I nourishing my body with whole foods? Making time for sleep? Surrounding myself with people who make me happy and support me? These factors might not seem directly related to, say, toned triceps, but they all affect whole-body health—and that’s the most important part of this equation.
And if you find that you can’t stop obsessing over one particular area of your body, we encourage you to dive even deeper. Ask yourself: Why am I fixating on this one body part? Is it all about living up to an unrealistic ideal? Would my life truly be more enriched if I looked different in the mirror? When you shift your focus from the external to the internal, it can help you put your thoughts into perspective. Instead of focusing on how you want your body to look, focus on what it needs. Maybe today that’s not another burner of a workout, but something that fuels you in a different way, like a calming cup of tea or a soul-nourishing hang-out session with your friend.
Ultimately, it’s about living your best life, not about reaching some arbitrary goal the fitness industry has set for you. Perfection doesn’t interest us. Healthy, balanced living does. We’ll take that over magazine-cover abs any day.