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Is Spot Reduction Really Possible?

Aug 05, 2019
Ashley Lawrie

Author: Riley Pearce
Social Media Director

We have all developed areas of our bodies that we don’t love as much as the others. Try as you might, it always seems that when you have one too many cheat days that that area is the one to show it the most. 

Many magazines on the grocery store checkout racks would have you believe that in two weeks you can get Michelle Obama’s arms, Kim K’s bum, and Hugh Jackman’s abs. Despite these claims obviously being outrageous (Rome wasn’t built in a day, people), is the larger idea of targeting specific areas of the body possible? 

The research is pretty clear that targeting fat deposits in specific areas of the body is pretty tricky. One study had participants train a single leg on the leg press and keep the other leg completely untrained.

In the end, researchers actually found that more fat mass was lost on the upper body, and there was almost no difference between the trained and untrained leg.

The legs are full of some of our largest muscles, so their calorie-burning potential is huge, which could explain why there was some weight lost, just not in the legs specifically.

So what about that classic problem area – the abs? Another study has half of their participants complete 7 abdominal exercises for 2 sets of 10 reps 5 out of the 7 days per week. The other half did nothing but ate a diet with the same amount of calories as the abs group. 

In the end the group that worked out was able to do a few more crunches than the non-exercising group, but their group saw any difference in their abdominal fat content. 

One of the initial studies on spot fat reduction looked at professional tennis players. In the study they examined the fat content in the tennis players dominant arm, which on the outside looks more muscular and “toned” than the non-dominant hand. The research revealed that the fat content between the two arms was actually very similar, therefore proving that spot fat reduction is likely not possible.

Most (if not all) of the research seems to tell a similar story. Training a specific area to try and target the fat content of that area won’t actually work to reduce fat in that area. What you will see is an endurance adaptation, where that area that you have worked more than other areas will be stronger and more resilient to repetitive exercise.

Spot reduction may not be possible to help deal with stubborn fat in problem areas, but what about targeting specific areas of the body to plump them up, and add more definition? 

There is good news here. Muscle growth, or muscle hypertrophy, follows a dose-response relationship, meaning that the more your dose it, or the more you provide the stimulus, the greater the response you will get. 

If you have ever been in a big box style gym you will probably have seen the gentlemen with very large biceps, back muscles, and pecs, but their legs are still quite lean. Some women can also be seen with very strong things, and glutes, but their upper body has a modest amount of muscle on it. Their body shape is a good indication of where they have been focusing their training.

So although you may not be able to spot reduce fat on your body, once you have reached a happy and healthy overall body fat percentage, you can target specific muscle groups to create greater definition and highlight the areas of the body you love.

Resources used for this article:

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/targeted-weight-loss

https://greatist.com/move/truth-about-spot-toning#3

Mechanisms of resistance exercise‐induced muscle hypertrophy: ‘You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs’

The effect of training volume and intensity on improvements in muscular strength and size in resistance-trained men


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