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Battle of the bulge: How to blast back fat

Overweight people in Glasgow City Centre
Back fat isn't as dire for your health as belly weight, but it sure isn't pretty.Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

How can you battle fat bulges on your back? And is it better to jog in walking shoes, or walk in jogging shoes? Smart Fitness answers your questions.

Have an exercise question? To e-mail us, click here. We’ll post select answers in future columns.

Q1: I have a spare tire but it's not the usual around-the-belly tire. It's above my bum. It's like a lump that goes from one side to the other. Is there an exercise that can get rid of this?
Q2: I had a huge stomach for years and I started dieting and exercising in my mid 40s. I am now 50-something, my gut has gone down a great deal but I have flab on my lower back that just won't move, almost like a bra-strap crease – and I’m a man. I can't afford liposuction and have been doing every ab and back exercise that I know of but I still have this crease. Is there any help for me?

A: Back fat may seem like a particularly stubborn beast, but it’s the same stuff that appears on bulging bellies and buttocks. And just like fat elsewhere on the body, there isn’t a single exercise that can specifically target it.

“There is not a way to ‘spot reduce’ these fatty areas,” explains exercise physiologist Gerald Endress, fitness director of the Duke University Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, N.C. “Our body will decide where it wants to store fat.”

But while there is no single magic exercise to banish back fat, a diet and fitness plan aimed at burning more calories can help, he says. Eating less and exercising more promotes weight loss all over, including the back.

For people like the second reader who are trying to shed back fat through exercise but not getting the desired results, Endress suggests shaking up your fitness routine, particularly if you have been doing the same exercises for a long time. Try some different activities — maybe swimming or a new sport — to challenge your body in fresh ways and rev up the calorie burn.

Another fitness approach to breaking a weight-loss plateau is to incorporate interval training into your exercise regimen, says Endress.

“Interval training is a way to spice up your exercise and safely increase your intensity at the same time,” he says. “Bring interval training into your aerobic workouts by speeding up your pace, after warm-up, to a difficult intensity that you can only maintain for one minute. Slow down for three to five minutes, and repeat four to five more times.”

Besides aerobic activity, strength-training exercises that target back muscles can give the back a more toned appearance that minimizes flab. Yoga and Pilates also can strengthen the core, while burning some calories, too, notes Endress.

And if it’s any consolation, a little back fat isn’t the world’s worst villain, from a health standpoint anyway.

“Fatty tissue on the back area is much less concerning than fat in the abdominal region, which puts you at a greater risk for diabetes and heart disease,” says Endress.

Q: I have embarked on a walk/jog routine on the treadmill, and plan to eventually move it outdoors. My question is whether it is better to jog in walking shoes, or walk in jogging shoes?

A: Opt for the jogging shoes, advises David Davidson, a podiatrist in Buffalo, N.Y., and president-elect of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine (AAPSM).

Jogging is the more demanding activity, he says, so it’s best to stick with the shoe that’s up for the bigger task. This applies whether you’re exercising indoors on the treadmill or outside, by the way.

Your question is a good one, since stepping out with a good sports shoe can help prevent aches and pains of the foot, ankle, leg and even the hips and back, experts say.

“It does matter what fitness shoes one wears as there is no one shoe that serves all purposes,” Davidson says.

“My best advice is to visit a reputable sport shoe store, make sure your feet are measured and purchase a sport-specific shoe,” he adds.

And don’t forget to regularly inspect your shoes for wear, and replace them periodically. Running and walking shoes, for instance, last about 350 to 500 miles, according to the AAPSM.

Jacqueline Stenson is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. A former senior health producer for, her work also has appeared in publications including the Los Angeles Times, Health, Shape, Women’s Health, Fit Pregnancy and Reuters Health.