Core exercises will build up your abs, but they do nothing for the layer of fat on top of them. Likewise, no leg exercise can give you slimmer thighs. And yet headlines and tweets about shrinking specific body parts abound — even when the articles themselves contradict the headline.
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For example, this health.com article is headlined as a "10-Minute Love Handle Workout". It begins by saying that a traditional ab workout won't get rid of your love handles (true) so you need to target your oblique muscles specifically (uh, that's no better). Then there is a brief moment of clarity:
That being said, it's a myth that you can spot reduce fat loss. Yes, you can target your obliques to maximise toning, but fat is lost through cardio and diet. We've all heard that abs are made in the kitchen, and (unfortunately) it's true. You can do crunches until the cows come home, but unless you get rid of your excess fat through healthy eating, your toned abs will never be seen. So here's the best strategy for kicking your love handles to the curb:
The strategy has three steps. One is to diet, described in four words: "Eat lean. Eat clean." Uh, thanks. The second is a mention that you should do some cardio. The third is the promised "love handle workout". Of these three, only the first two can shrink your love handles. And yet the headline and bulk of the article are about the third item, which can't.
Or take this shape.com article on the "Best Inner Thigh Exercises for Women". They asked 16 trainers to "share their go-to move for slim, sculpted hips and thighs", even though there is no move that can make your hips and thighs slimmer. (You can exercise a muscle to make it larger.) The first seven trainers dutifully offer exercises that strengthen the inner thighs. The eighth objects: "If you want to reduce the size of your thighs and look more toned, then your goal is really fat loss since you can't spot reduce."
But then he offers an exercise anyway, and so do all the rest.
I am sure the trainers, many of them impeccably qualified, understand the difference between losing fat (which happens all over) and strengthening a muscle (which you can target). Several of the others mentioned that they chose exercises that burn a lot of calories, which seems like a nod to the truth. But then the article gets written anyway, and packaged with a headline that directly contradicts the facts on exercise physiology.
This story has been updated since its original publication.