How to target fat loss: The spot reduction myth

When it comes to fat loss, we all have our trouble spots. Weight loss goals are often focused on targeting those trouble spots. For example, people want to learn what exercises can burn stomach fat or give them “wedding dress arms”. The idea that we can achieve spot reduction is one of the biggest fat loss misconceptions.

The spot reduction myth is a lie propagated by infomercials and websites that promise a few simple exercises will achieve fat loss in a specific area. This sales pitch works because it targets what consumers want. A quick fix to our one problem. The truth is there that there is no specific exercise, workout routine, pill or supplement that can target one area for fat loss over another area of your body.

Just as men and women store fat in different places in their bodies, individuals store fat in their own unique places as well. It is a matter of individual genetics.

We don’t get to choose where we store our fat, so what makes you think we can choose where we burn it from?

When people hear this from me, they often get upset. That is not what they want to hear. No one likes finding out they’ve been lied to.

The good news is, you absolutely can lose fat in your trouble spot, but simply targeting the muscles underneath the fat will not help with fat loss in that area. This is why doing endless crunches and ab workouts will not give you a flat stomach. Crunches work your abdominal muscles, but do nothing to burn the fat on top of them. The results of your ab workouts will go largely unnoticed if you try to burn fat this way. Instead of just doing crunches, start an integrated exercise program, begin eating healthily and start burning more calories than you consume. Then you will see fat loss.

Dr. Mike Clark of Sharecare Fitness says, “To lose fat, you need to burn more calories than you consume, putting your body in an energy deficit forcing your body to use your excess fuel (ie fat) to keep you moving throughout the day.”

Understanding your caloric deficit is fundamental to losing weight. A Calorie Counter does a great job explaining this concept. But in a nutshell, the woman who wants to burn fat from her thighs and the man who wants to burn it from his stomach will both have a similar path to achieve their goals. Diet and exercise.

Part of the reason the spot reduction misconception is so persistent is because we can successfully target body parts when we do resistance or weight training. For example, there are exercises we can do to can make our legs or arms stronger and more muscular. So, if your goal is to lose fat from your thighs, doing leg exercises can help you achieve your goal of having strong, sexy legs. However, don’t think that doing squats will remove the fat on your thighs just because it is a leg exercise.

If you exercise, your body will burn fat, and if you maintain a caloric deficit, you will lose weight. Your overall fitness will improve. Fat will be lost. If you are committed to a lifestyle change — not a quick fix — you can transform your trouble spots, but it will be part of an overall transformation, which is what your body really wants anyway.

Mark Spurbeck

5 Comments on “How to target fat loss: The spot reduction myth

  1. Makes perfect sense although I have to admit that I’ve previously believed that you could target trouble spots. Your blog is so helpful and inspiring. It has been a definite help with my return back to working out. I feel great about my new and better choices and have more energy! Thank you! Thank you!

    • Yay, Tara! Thank you for your kind words. I really appreciate it! I’d like to hear more about what you are doing with your workouts sometime. Maybe I can help even more.

  2. Why do I feel like this is directed at me? Haha. Thanks for the article. I got on the treadmill last night for the first time in a while. Felt great. I’ve also been keeping my diet healthy for the most part. Now for someone that gets intimidated lifting weights in the gym, what are some of the best arm exercises to do there? I try to get in push-ups and various lifts with the 5 lb hand weights I have several times a week, but are there some great arm workouts I’m missing out on?

    • Although I did get the phrase “wedding dress arms” from you (thanks to Becky), the post itself was actually the culmination of several conversations I had about the topic this week! So you’re only partially to blame!

      Firstly, let me say way to go on hitting the treadmill! I’m excited to get running outside with the weather getting better. Do you prefer treadmills or running outdoors?

      Getting more serious with your weight training is a great idea. I’m considering writing a post about another big myth, that if women lift heavy weights they will bulk up. It’s not true. Men bulk up because of testosterone and other differences in genetics. But by lifting you can “tone” your arms and improve your strength. I mention all this because my first suggestion is to use heavier weights. You’re a strong woman. You can handle it. Don’t worry about bulking up.

      My second tip would be to try to incorporate full body exercises rather than arms only. Next time grab 10 lbs weights and try doing a squat to curl to press. Watch this video to learn how. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qj7FyS2hrQQ (You can try to do sets of 10. If you can do that and it’s too easy grab heavier weights!)

      Not only does this exercise use your whole body and incorporate weight training, but this exercise works really well in a circuit training routine. By mixing in other exercises with short rest breaks, you will burn more calories.

      Lastly, without knowing the arm exercises you are doing currently, it’s hard to say what you might be missing out on. Try doing the ones you are familiar with using heavier weights. It should be a challenge to finish each set of 10-12. Keep up the push-ups and healthy eating! (Eating is the hardest part for me.)

      Thanks for commenting and let me know how these suggestions work out for you!

  3. Thanks for the tips. I will definitely try lifting heavier weights. I prefer to run outside, but I’m hesitant to run downtown because I usually workout after work when it’s dark, and I get scared easily. I’m looking forward to the days getting longer so I can run in the light. I’m trying to get back into running shape by starting on the treadmill so I can be ready for some road races this summer!

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