Spot Reduction: One Final Attempt to Kill the Myth
The attempt to spot-reduce body fat. It should be dead and buried, but it lives on. It’s a pursuit that just doesn’t go away. Consumer ignorance, keen marketing, and blind faith keep it alive, but past research shows it’s impossible.
It’s time to add one more nail to the coffin.
For those of you who are not familiar, spot reduction means the attempt to remove subcutaneous body fat stores from specific areas of the body by performing exercises that target those areas. In example, a person who has an inordinate amount of fat stored on their sides above the hips ("love handles") may use a side-bend or an abdominal side-to-side twisting exercise in the attempt to torch those fat cells. By now we should know the reality of this endeavor. Performing those exercises may strengthen the muscular responsible for those movements, but they have negligible impact on reducing the amount of fat stored there, all other factors being equal.
A disclaimer is required at this point. I firmly believe all Breaking Muscle readers are smart cookies. You're probably thinking, "Why am I reading this article when I'm well aware spot-reducing fat is a waste of time?" I agree, and I commend you for knowing that fact. However, will you allow me to present one more study to confirm what you already know?
Yes, yet another study was performed in the attempt to disprove fat spot reduction was effective. The purpose of the study was to analyze the effects of a local muscle endurance resistance program on total body and specific area tissue composition. It's interesting how they did this, but in the name of practicality, it made sense.
Seven men and four women, averaging 23 years old, trained their non-dominant leg on a leg press device over a twelve-week period. Three sessions per week were used and each consisted of one set of repetitions using a resistance equivalent to 10-30% of their one repetition maximum (1RM). Now, are you ready for this? The one-set protocol resulted in the performance of somewhere between 960 to 1,200 reps each session! Talk about endurance training and supposed fat burning.
Before and after training the following measurements were taken:
- Body mass
- Bone mass
- Bone mineral density (BMD)
- Lean mass
- Fat mass
- Body fat percentage
Measurements were determined by dual-emission x-ray absorptiometry. Additionally, energy intake was documented with a diet recall questionnaire.
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 decreased by 5.1%. Pre-exercise it was 6.1 pounds and post-exercise it was 5.8 pounds. No significant 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 decrease 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.
And in case anyone is wondering there were no significant changes in energy intake pre- and post-exercise intervention (meaning before and after the study protocol began). Pre-exercise the calories were 2,646 ± 444 and post-exercise the calories were 2,677 ± 617, respectively.
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.
Caveat Emptor. Switch television channels when you stumble upon a gimmick program or specious gadget purported to "tone," "trim," or "sculpt" a specific body part. Fat cannot be specifically expunged solely from that area.
1. "Q: Why is the concept of spot reduction considered a myth?" www.acefitness.org.
3. "The Fallacies of “Spot Reducing” and Truth About Fat Loss," www.sportsmd.com.
4. "Trailblazing Thursdays: Toning’ Isn’t Real. Spot Reduction Isn’t Real. Any Questions?" www.wellnessfx.com.
5. R Ramirez-Campillo et al., "Regional fat changes induced by localized muscle endurance resistance training," Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 27:8 (2013):2219-24.