The world of health and fitness is plagued by an endless stream of myths, fads, and fallacies of logic that never seem to go away.
One of the biggest myths still splashed across magazines, ads, and fitness blogs lies in regards to spot fat reduction.
We all have the pesky “trouble spots” on our body where fat seems to accumulate more easily and seems like it will never go away. Be it your thighs, arms, glutes, or love handles, each of us has some particular area on our body we’d love to spot reduce, but it’s not going to happen (and it’s not due to a lack of trying).
The human body simply doesn’t work that way and in this article, we’ll explain the myth of spot target fat burning and what you can do to see results.
The Myth of Spot Fat Reduction
The theory of spot reduction holds that if you exercise the muscles in an area of your body where fat is stored, your muscles will use that fat for energy, and thereby burn it off.
A common example of this occurs when people perform thousands upon thousands of repetitions of sit ups and crunches hoping to “blast belly fat” and get the six-pack they’ve always wanted.
If you’ve ever tried this for yourself, you know those endless reps of crunches did nothing to reveal your six-pack. All it did was leave you with really sore abs and an aching neck.
The reason performing thousands of crunches didn’t spot reduce belly fat is that our bodies don’t use the fat stores in immediate proximity to the muscle being worked as an energy source.
When we exercise with intensity, blood sugar and muscle glycogen serves as the primary sources of energy our muscles use. The reason for this is the process to oxidize fat for energy is slower compared to that of blood glucose and glycogen.
Our bodies rely on stored fat when we are lounging around or engaging in low-intensity forms of physical activity (grocery shopping, walking the dog, etc.). And this “fat burning” is a whole body process, not a localized one, meaning you can’t spot reduce or target fat loss in one specific area of your body.
Where, when, and how fast fat is burned from a given region of the body depends on a number of factors including your age, genetics, and hormones.
For proof that targeted fat loss is a myth, you need look no further than a study that investigated changes in body fat induced by resistance exercise.
For the study, researchers had 11 individuals (seven men, 4 women) perform 1 set of leg presses using their non-dominant leg. Individuals used between 10-30% of their 1-repetition maximum (1-RM) and each set contained somewhere between 960-1,200 repetitions (talk about some serious DOMS)!
Study participants performed this single set of leg presses three times per week for 12 weeks.
At the end of the 12 weeks, researchers compared the subjects measurements of whole body mass, bone mass, bone mineral density, lean mass, and body fat percentage to the baseline measurement and did not see a significant change.
Somewhat paradoxically, researchers observed a significantly greater reduction in fat storage in the arms and torso than the fat stored in the trained leg.
As you can see, spot fat reduction and targeted fat loss simply is not going to happen.
What You Can Do?
When you want to lose fat in a specific area, specific exercises aren’t going to accomplish that, but a proper fat loss diet will. In order to lose fat in your “trouble spots”, your overall body fat must be reduced.
And, to lose fat, you need to be in a calorie deficit, where you are burning more calories than you consume consistently. When you are in a calorie deficit (negative energy balance), your body will pull from its stored energy reserves (body fat) in order to get the energy it needs to keep running since it’s not getting it from food. We give a full access to your own personalized diet HERE
Do this consistently, while performing resistance training, and you will lose fat, build muscle, and get the lean, toned look you want.
Don’t get lured into another “targeted fat burning” gimmick.
Follow a reduced calorie diet complete with fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Lift heavy weights using compound exercises. Sleep 7-9 hours per night and you will lose fat everywhere, including those trouble spots!
- Ramirez-Campillo, R., Andrade, D. C., Campos-Jara, C., Henriquez-Olguin, C., Alvarez-Lepin, C., & Izquierdo, M. (2013). Regional fat changes induced by localized muscle endurance resistance training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(8), 2219–2224. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e31827e8681