Ask the Experts: Virtual Fitness Q&A
Have the opportunity to ask our certified personal trainers any fitness question you may have below or on our Instagram on Mondays and Wednesdays!
We publish responses to questions with the Experts' best practices, advice & recommendations on Wednesdays.
All questions are anonymous.
Click on questions below to view responses
- "How can I target my glutes when working lower body? I want to avoid overworking my hip flexors and quads."
The so-called "glutes" reside on the back part of your hips and consist of three muscles: The gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus and gluteus medius. The primary function of the gluteus maximus -- the largest and strongest muscle in your body -- is hip extension (driving your upper leg backward); the main function of the gluteus minimus and gluteus medius is hip abduction (spreading your legs apart). The hip flexors -- the psoas major, psoas minor and illiacus (collectively, the illiopsoas) -- are not an issue in working the glutes since those muscles are involved in hip flexion (bringing your upper legs toward your torso).
Exercises for the Gluteus Maximus (with disadvantages)
The main exercises that are used to target the gluteus maximus include the barbell squat, ball squat, deadlift, leg press, lunge and step up. All of those exercises are multiple-joint movements with action at the hip and knee joints. A disadvantage of multiple-joint movements is that they have a "weak link"; in this case, specifically, the quadriceps (the muscle located on the front part of your upper leg). This means that your quadriceps will fatigue before your gluteus maximus which is the real target of those exercises.
Solution: Try these instead!
One option to circumvent this is to pre-fatigue your glutes with some sort of single-joint movement prior to a multiple-joint movement. Arguably, the best way to do that is to do hip abduction, either on a selectorized machine or with the aid of a partner applying manual resistance. In the event that a machine or a partner isn't available, you can do hip abduction while wearing an ankle weight.
Another great exercise to do is the floor bridge. It targets the glutes without working the hip flexors. The quads are slightly involved.
- "What are the best exercises to slim down upper back fat?"
In exercise science, the belief that exercise can produce a localized loss of body fat is known as spot reduction. Researchers have been investigating the idea of spot reduction since at least 1962 with findings pointing to the fact that spot reduction isn’t possible.
When you exercise, fat (and carbohydrates) is mobilized from throughout your body as a source of energy, not just from one specific area. Upper-back exercises certainly involve upper-back muscles. But upper-back exercises have no preferential effect on upper-back fat. So although you can “spot train” muscle, you can’t “spot reduce” fat. For that reason, you can do upper-back exercises until you pass out but that will not automatically trim your upper back
However there are exercises that will strengthen and tone the upper back which helps reshape that area. Exercises for your upper back -- your lats -- include lat pulldown (underhand and overhand), seated row, bench row and bent-over row. If you're looking to train the area a bit higher up on your back, upright rows, shoulder shrugs and lat/rear delt rows and rear delt flys are effective exercises. Proper diet, cardio and strength training will help reduce body fat overall.
- "Best exercises to slim & tone legs, not make them bulky with muscle?"
According to the research, you can't selectively train for "tone" or "bulk" by doing certain exercises or by using different set/rep schemes or anything else. It's yet another piece of gym myth that's been repeated for so long that it's accepted as fact.
What can you do?
Try these exercises:
front, side and rear lunge variations
isometric wall sits
The leg muscles will respond by increasing the size of muscle tissue but at the same time improve the shape of the legs.
- "Best way to cut down visceral/stomach fats without having to strictly do cardio?" / "What exercises and foods should I focus on to flatten my stomach?"
In general, there are two types of body fat: subcutaneous (located just beneath the surface of the skin) and visceral (located around the major organs of the torso which are collectively referred to as the viscera). It’s well known that visceral fat – which, as noted, surrounds major organs (especially those of the abdomen such as the liver, kidneys, stomach and intestines) – is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. Similar to other types of physical training, strength training can produce a loss of body fat (visceral as well as subcutaneous). But neither exercise (strength training and cardio) nor diet (eating) can selectively target fat loss from specific areas of the body. In exercise science, that belief that exercise can produce a localized loss of body fat is known as spot reduction. A litmus test for evaluating spot reduction is to determine whether a significantly greater change occurs in an active (or exercised) muscle compared to an inactive (or unexercised) muscle. The research shows that spot reduction isn’t possible.
In a classic study, 19 subjects were assigned to two groups. One group performed a sit-up program for 27 days, amounting to 5,004 sit-ups per subject. The other group acted as a control and didn’t do any abdominal training. The experimental group significantly decreased the diameter of the fat cells in their abdominals, subscapular and gluteals. However, there was no significant difference between the three sites with respect to the rate of change in the diameter of the fat cells. In addition, after doing 5,004 sit-ups over the course of 27 days, the abdominal skinfold was unchanged; in fact, it was exactly the same. This means that exercising the abdominals didn’t preferentially affect the fat in the abdominal area more than the subscapular or gluteal areas.
What can you do?
There are three ways to lose weight:
You can (1) decrease the number of calories that you consume and maintain the same amount of activity that you do; (2) maintain the same number of calories that you consume and increase the amount of activity that you do; or (3) decrease the number of calories that you consume and increase the amount of activity that you do.
The third way – decrease the number of calories that you consume (eat less) and increase the amount of activity that you do (exercise more) – is the preferred way. Why? Well, suppose that your goal is to lose 10 pounds of fat in 10 weeks. This represents a rate of one pound of fat per week. Since one pound of fat has 3,500 calories, you’d need to create a deficit of 500 calories per day. Eating 500 less calories per day can be quite a challenge; the same can be said about using 500 more calories per day. And don’t forget, this 500-calorie deficit would need to be achieved every day for 70 consecutive days.
The best way, then, is to do a combination of the two: Eat a little less and exercise a little more. And it doesn’t have to be a 50-50 split. In this example, you could achieve a deficit of 500 calories by eating 200 less calories and using 300 more calories. Same result but less overwhelming.