Spot Reduction and Fat Loss – The Truth About a Fitness Myth

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Fat loss is the primary goal of many gym goers and fitness enthusiasts and spot reduction is what nearly every fat loss seeker wants to achieve, but what exactly is spot reduction, does it actually occur and is it even possible?

What is Spot Reduction?

Spot reduction refers to the ability to reduce or remove body fat from specific regions (spots) of the body. For example, a lot of people assume that if they want to lose abdominal fat, they do so by performing direct abdominal work. Or, by performing tricep kickbacks and tricep pushdowns one will be able to get rid of their bat wings (the flab that wobbles on the underneath of the upper arm).

In this article I want to address the training aspect of spot reduction and not cover the nutritional or hormonal aspects. I am not a qualified nutritionist or hormonal specialist, so I will not speak on those matters, but I will address the training aspect.

Let’s begin our discussion on spot reduction by talking about a friend of mine here in Los Angeles who I am training at the moment and explain his recent visit to a watch repair shop to have a link removed from his watch because this will provide an analogy when it comes to spot reduction.

spot-reduction-watch

The reason he had to get a link removed was because his wrist had shrunk! Yes, he’s losing fat from his wrists and forearms. I asked my buddy how many wrist or forearm exercises we had done over the last few weeks. The answer was of course, zero! You don’t need to directly work a certain region of the body in order to reduce fat deposits from that region.

A lot of exercises we perform will tax the forearms in an indirect way, as we are always grasping a dumbbell, barbell or chin up bar, that’s exactly my point. Why would you need to do additional “isolation” work on the wrists and forearms when they are indirectly getting enough stimulation from everything else you are doing in the gym.

My friend has very little control over where the fat loss will come from. He has to accept that fact and deal with it. He obviously, like most people, wants all the fat loss to be coming from his abdominal area. I am trying to educate him and have him understand that if he wants to lose body fat locally (from a specific region of the body) then he has to train “globally”, meaning he has to train his entire body.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not against anti-isolation exercises at all. However, isolation based exercises have a specific time and place for the majority of people who are just starting their fat loss efforts. Full body resistance training, or upper body and lower body split routines, are definitely the better option.

For fat loss, we need to train metabolically and this means performing exercises and training routines that will have a great impact on your overall metabolism, not just during the session, but in the many hours between training sessions. We need to focus on training for “ABE”!

If I haven’t introduced you to “ABE” before, he is the fat loss seekers best friend. ABE stands for “After Burn Effect” which is also called EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption). The best way to train for the after burn effect is to perform routines that target and hit the body’s metabolic hot spots and hit them frequently. Usually 3 times per week will do the trick. The body’s main metabolic hot spots are the large areas of the body which include the back, chest and legs which are the spots of the body with the most muscle mass.

No matter how hard you hammer your arms on arm day, it doesn’t really matter since you still have a limited amount of muscle mass to train. Once again, I’m not bad mouthing isolation exercises or having a specific arm training day, but an arm day is not what someone seeking fat loss, or a newbie just starting out, really needs or benefits from. Like I said, there’s a time and a place for everything.

My buddy that I’m currently training is doing really well. He has lost a total of 17 pounds in one month and a total of over 43 pounds since mid July, so the progress is there, it’s just not where he would ideally like it to be, but the abdominal fat loss will occur. In fact, he has lost a couple of inches from his waistline so it’s just that he has another 10-12 inches to go!

My Face and Spot Reduction

Here’s another quick example for you to better grasp the idea of spot reduction and how it is out of one’s control. Below is a picture of me at 7% body fat at the start of April of last year. Now, of course I look lean, but when it’s time for a physique contest, I need to lower my body fat and drop down to about 5% or even lower. The problem with that is my face!

spot-reduction-ian

When I start dropping below 6%, not only do my abs start to get seriously lean, which is great, but my face begins to get too lean and I end up looking gaunt, which is not great at all. I don’t do any facial exercises except grimacing when lifting heavy loads, and then my facial muscles also get taxed when I perform certain neck exercises (neck bridges and head supported planks). I don’t do anything special in an attempt to shrink my face. Maybe I should get some fat injections into my cheeks before my next competition 🙂

What I really want people to understand, especially heavier set people who have a lot of weight to lose, is that you have to train metabolically for fat loss and that means staying clear of direct exercises for the region of the body that you need help with. The best exercises for your trouble spots are multi-joint compound exercises that work multiple muscles simultaneously while taxing those metabolic hot spots we talked about earlier and allowing you to leave the gym with your new best friend, ABE (After Burn Effect).

Spot Reduction and The Pool Analogy

Here’s another analogy for you to think about. If I take a bucket and place it into the corner of a swimming pool and scoop water out of the corner of that pool, the water comes from the entire swimming pool. It’s not just being removed from the corner, right? You have to train your entire body to reduce body fat. Your blood stream supplies the energy (in the form of fat) to your muscles, correct? The bottom line is that you cannot select where the fat comes from, your body does!

spot-reduction-pool

I know it seems logical for your body to take fat from the area closest to the muscle being trained, but it doesn’t! The blood is flowing! It circulates around uncontrollably and the fat that happens to be taken up by the working muscle may just have originated in your midsection or your booty! You don’t have control over this aspect of fat loss! Metabolic type training and a clean diet is the key to fat loss, so it doesn’t matter where the fat is! Train the right way and it will come off!

I hope you found this article informative and hope it has educated you to better understand the concept of spot reduction and the reality of fat loss. So, remember that the importance of training the whole body (globally) in an attempt to reduce stubborn body fat (locally) and to do so by engaging in whole body metabolic type training routines. Best of luck to you with your fat loss and physique development goals!

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About Author

Ian Graham

My training philosophy is to always train individuals like they are athletes. Even if they are not competing in any sport, they can gain from this athletic approach. We are all designed to perform like athletes. The athletic approach can help anyone achieve their health and fitness, fat loss and muscle building goals! See my profile page for more information!

1 Comment

  1. This is a good article that makes a very good point about wasting time doing bicep curls or pressdowns and crunches. When people are overweight and “untrained”, multi-joint exercises are the key to fat loss and muscle gain. HIIT type workouts are also great for “ABE” (After Burn Effect).

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