A question I have been asked a lot recently is can you target a specific area for fat loss? The most common example of this is doing hundreds of sit ups hoping to reveal your six-pack abs. TV adverts and fitness magazines would certainly like you to believe so. Scientific studies, however, suggest otherwise.
It seems perfectly reasonable to assume that the fat you burn while exercising comes from the area around the muscles you are using. However this is not the case. Tests have been done on a number of athletes over the years and most recently a study was done on over 100 participants who completed a 12 week resistance plan on just one arm. MRI assessments of the total fat in the body before and after revealed that any fat loss tended to be generalised, rather than only occurring in the trained arm.
The body burns fat by breaking it down into glycerol and free fatty acids, which then enter bloodstream. As a result, the fat broken down to be used as fuel during exercise can come from anywhere in your body, not just the part that is being worked the most.
If you are not burning enough calories, you are not going to lose much fat from anywhere in your body. (Bare in mind there are 3500 calories in one pound of fat.) you are more likely to shed your love handles by taking up a running/weight training program than by doing sit-ups everyday simply because this type of exercise burns more calories. High intensity interval training is very good because it can lead to an after burn (increase in metabolism) for up to 48 hours after training. Weight training can also provide this after burn. It is important to maintain muscle mass because you will not achieve a toned look if you lose lean muscle along with fat. Finally good nutrition is essential. After all there is no point burning 500 calories by exercising and then consuming 500 more calories than usual.
Ultimately, fat loss comes down not to targeted exercises, but to the basic principle of how many calories you expend versus how many you take in. Doing a 100 crunches a day can effectively strengthen your abdominal muscles. But it will not make them any more visible unless you also take other steps to reduce overall body fat. If you combine cardiovascular exercise with weight training training and sensible nutrition, however, those fat cells will not stand a chance!