Spot Reduction: Myth Or Does It Really Work?

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For people who aren’t very familiar, spot reduction means the attempt to remove subcutaneous body fat stores from specific areas of the body by performing exercises that target those specific areas. A very good example is a person who has an inordinate amount of fat stored on their sides above their hips (otherwise known as love handles), may use a side bend or an abdominal side to side twisting exercise in the attempt to torch those fat cells. The reality is that performing those exercises may strengthen the muscle responsible for those movements, but they have negligible impact on reducing the total amount of fat stored, all other factors being equal.

Seven men and four women, averaging 23 years old, trained their non-dominant leg on a leg press device over a period of twelve weeks. They had three training sessions per week, and before and after training the following measurements were taken:

  • The body mass
  • The bone mass
  • The bone mineral density
  • The lean mass
  • The fat mass
  • The body fat percentage

At the end of the study period, total body mass, bone mass, BMD, lean mass, and body fat percentage did not significantly change. Body fat mass reduced by 5.1%. Pre-exercise it was 6.1 pounds and post-exercise it was 5.8 pounds. No important changes in bone mass, lean mass, fat mass, or body fat percentage were noted in either the control or the trained leg group.

Interestingly, a significant decrease in fat storage was seen in the upper-body extremities and torso area (10.2 and 6.9%, respectively). The reduction in fat in the upper extremities and torso was significantly greater than the fat store change in the trained leg, but not in the control leg.

What can you take from this study?

  • Again, you cannot blast a specific body area (i.e., abs, triceps, inner thighs) with a plethora of exercises and prescriptions (i.e., 100, 500, or 1,000 reps) and realize fat loss only in that area.
  • Training programs that do incorporate high reps on any exercise, whether it’s total body (burpees) or a specific muscle group (leg extensions) can be effective in reducing fat mass, but the fat loss will be over the entire body. Contingent, of course, on caloric intake.
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