The Myth: Spot Reduce Body Fat

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OH…That Question

Who doesn’t want a flat stomach, sculpted arms and defined legs? We all want to be fit. The question is, how do we get there? Do we do a bunch of crunches, curls and squats? These exercises will strengthen and grow our muscles. Vigorous workouts will help us shred fat, giving us a more chiseled look, but can we choose where we lose that fat? Being able to spot reduce body fat would be great, but is it possible?

What Does it Mean to “Spot Reduce” Body Fat?

This is the false belief that you can work on a particular area of the body and reduce body fat in said area. The most common example of selective training is believing that doing countless ab exercises will give you abs. Isolated ab workouts, like weight training, will strengthen and build your muscles. They will not, however, guarantee fat loss in that specific area. Performing crunches consistently will build your abs up, but will not necessarily cut the fat down. I say necessarily because working out does burn calories, in turn, burning fat. The point is we cannot choose where that fat burns first. Every human body is made up of bone, muscle, and fat but we all have different bone densities, various muscle size/tone and body fat percentages. Likewise, everyone has abs, it’s just a matter of how much fat we have on top of them.

The belief that you can “spot reduce” your body fat is largely due to the marketing ploys by companies with the “quick fix”. These companies like to make you believe that their product will solve all your problems. NEWS FLASH: They just want your money. “Here, just use this AB Wheel for 4 weeks, don’t worry about changing your diet or anything but we promise you’ll have abs by the end of the month for just 4 low payments of $19.99.” I wish I was exaggerating… If being fit was that easy, would anyone still have a weight problem?

Genetic Predisposition (not the end all)

Genetics play a huge role in our body type. This is not to say that if your parents are overweight that you will be too (and vice versa). Generally obese children come from obese parents due to learned lifestyle behavior, not “because it’s genetic”. Working out and eating appropriately is crucial to living a healthy life. With that being said, the structure of your body and the places you’re more likely to carry your weight do come from a genetic predisposition. What do I mean by this? I’ll use myself as an example…

I carry the majority of my extra body fat in the sides of my hips and the back of my arms. This isn’t from anything that I’ve done (other than pack on a few extra pounds… that IS my fault.) I workout my lower body once and sometimes twice a week. I don’t neglect my triceps when working out. Exercise doesn’t have an effect on where I hold my weight. It’s just in my DNA. Some people carry extra fat in their legs. Others carry their weight in their belly. That’s just how it is. So what can you do about it?

The Solution

It’s very simple really, and totally not exciting. The best way to burn fat is through proper diet and a well balanced exercise regimen. I know, I know, you were hoping it was something simple and quick. There is no quick fix. While you can’t target specific areas, consistent effort will melt the body fat away. If you can keep it up, you will eventually see your abs!

My reason for writing this post is not to discourage you. Keep doing your ab exercises. A strong core can go a long way. The important thing here is that you don’t miss out on the bigger picture. I’ve had several clients in the past that only wanted to do ab workouts because they thought that was their ticket to look good at the beach. If you’re too focused on that, you won’t burn nearly enough to actually transform your body.

Following a balanced workout program will get you the biggest bang for your buck. What do you think will help you lose fat quicker, crunches or compound movements like squats and deadlifts?  The more muscles recruited in an exercise, the more calories you’ll burn. It really is as simple as that. Compound movements are exercises that use more than one muscle group. I think you’d be happy to hear that all of the main lifts recruit your core musculature.

Stop doing the hip adductor machine everyday. It won’t give you thigh gap. You don’t have to do tricep extensions after every workout if you want your arms to slim down. That was another popular one with my female clients. It was most often referred to as “lunch lady arms.” Tricep extensions are great and will firm up your triceps but they will not take away the extra fat that resides there.

Be Cautious

I promise I’m almost done ranting. My last major point about why I don’t want you to get too caught up in selective training is because it can lead to injury and imbalance. This is something that we covered last week. (If you missed it, you can find it right HERE.) In reiterating my previous point, putting too much focus on one or two body parts can lead you to injury and imbalance. This can come from a lack of flexibility, overtraining, or joint stress. When one muscle is too weak, compensations occur. Likewise, if one muscle gets too strong, it can start compensating for another. It’s a vicious cycle that can go real bad, real fast.

Be smarter than the quick fix, gimmick companies. Don’t buy their crap anymore (figuratively and literally). No one can do the work for you. It’s going to take consistent effort. It’s going to be hard at times… but you can do it! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “If you can stay in a caloric deficit each day through diet and exercise, you will see changes in your body.” You can’t spot reduce body fat. The quicker that you can accept that, the quicker you’ll start to see REAL progress.

I want to help you! Do you need a custom workout program to keep you on track? With the new year rapidly approaching it’s the perfect time to start working towards a healthier you! Don’t put it off any longer.

Until next time…


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I'm an NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist. I worked in a gym setting back in Florida for over 2 years, training one-on-one clients and leading group fitness classes. I absolutely loved it, but once we moved across the country to Colorado, I decided to take the opportunity to pursue a slightly different career! My obsession with exercise and love for writing collided, which is how I became a fitness lifestyle writer.

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