Can you target specific areas of the body to train? Yes. Can you target specific areas of the body to lose fat? No, for the most part… This is going to be my attempt at putting the nail in the coffin on a subject that is surprising not only still relevant but, believed by many.
What is this?
Spot reduction refers to targeting and eliminating body fat in specific areas of the body. I am referring to strength training in this instance. Basically, if you work out one part of your body long enough, you will lose fat in that area. There are numerous multi-level marketing schemes out there that will tell you other wise, but the truth is rooted in science. We live in a world of 10 minute abs, fad pill intervention and magical elixirs that promise us results in a short amount of time. Want to lose belly fat? Take this pill. Want to get ripped in a month. Give me 500 dollars and I will send you the protein powder that will get you there. Lets get to the science…
The Low Down
The fat in fat cells contains this stuff called triglycerides. But, our muscles cannot use triglycerides as fuel. It has to be converted into glycerol. This enters the blood stream and our fat goes away (to overly simplify). The problem is that this glycerol can come from anywhere in the body. Just because you are doing planks and crunches for hours, that does not mean you are going to lose fat specifically in your stomach. Secondly, a lot of these exercises do not burn enough calories for your body deficit in calories. Basic principal of calories in vs calories out is in play here.
Just In Case…
A study published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal showed the results of their 12 week study. The study had 104 subjects and they were instructed to exercise their dominant arm only. When the study was completed, their arms underwent and MRI and a skin fold measurement. What they found was that results varied by gender and age. Skin fold measurement was varied due to the practitioner and the MRI results found little difference in the overall fat loss of the trained arm versus the untrained arm. Overall, the study was unable to produce a positive result for spot reduction. Simply put, genetics and other variants are at play here that are out of our control.
Kostek, M. (2007). Subcutaneous Fat Alterations Resulting from an Upper-Body Resistance Training Program. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise:, 39(7), 1177-1185.