One of the most common questions we get from clients is, “how can I lose fat from (insert body part here)?”
The answer is simple and definitive—you can’t choose where you lose fat. The notion of spot reduction originates from the belief that working out a specific muscle directly stimulates fat loss from that area. That would mean that exercising your abs or triceps would reveal your 6-pack abs or reduce the fat on the backside of your upper arms, respectively. Unfortunately, you can’t crunch your way to trimmer abs!
This fitness myth has been debunked by research for decades. In the late 1970s, researchers compared girths and fat skin folds of high caliber tennis players’ forearms. The studies showed that the athletes’ dominant arms had larger girths than the non-dominant arm. However, measurements of skinfold thickness (fat measurement) showed that regular and chronic exercise of the dominant arm did not reduce the subcutaneous skin-fold relative to the non-dominant arm.
A similar study had participants perform sit-ups for 27 days. Skin folds were performed on the abdomen, subscapular region (shoulder blade), and buttocks. After 27 days of training, no differences were found between the abdomen and control regions of the buttocks and subscapular regions leading researchers to conclude that spot reduction of fat did not occur.
The reason this belief has been perpetuated is due to self-labeled “expert trainers” and fitness companies selling programs claiming they’ll get you a trim stomach and jiggle-free thighs with their expensive home gym equipment. Unfortunately, since shortcuts and lies in the fitness industry sell, (and make a TON of money, by the way) these claims and beliefs continue.
Undoubtedly, caloric expenditure from exercise contributes to fat loss. However, exercise stimulates the mobilization of fat throughout the entire body—not just the part being worked!
Jared Freeman is a Fitness Practitioner for Applied Fitness Solutions. He received his Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Health Promotion/Exercise Science from Oakland University in 2008. He holds certifications with the National Strength and Conditioning Association as a Certified Personal Trainer and with Applied Fitness Solutions as a Certified Fitness Practitioner. Jared has worked with a diverse population during his career as a personal trainer; spanning general population clients looking to improve fitness and manage weight, to athletes looking to improve their sports performance. Jared has a strong academic and clinical interest in exercise science, but his primary interests lie in continuing to work with a diverse population to enhance fitness, wellness, and manage weight.
Photo credit: Rich115