Fit Family: Spot Reduction, Myth or Reality?

by Mike Levinson

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 4.03.17 PMI hear it all the time from people, “How do I lose my love handles?” or “I want to just work my stomach and lose my belly.” This whole notion of target training or spot reduction should be dead and buried, but it lives on. It’s a pursuit that just doesn’t go away. Consumer ignorance, keen marketing and blind faith keep it alive, but past research shows it’s impossible. It’s time to add one more nail to the coffin.

For those of you who are not familiar, spot reduction means the attempt to remove subcutaneous body fat stores from specific areas of the body by performing exercises that target those areas. For example, a person who has an inordinate amount of fat stored on their sides above the hips (“love handles”) may use a side-bend or an abdominal side-to-side twisting exercise in the attempt to torch those fat cells. By now, we should know the reality of this endeavor. Performing those exercises may strengthen the muscular responsible for those movements, but they have negligible impact on reducing the amount of fat stored there, all other factors being equal.

Ultimately, fat loss comes down not to targeted exercises but to the basic principle of how many calories you expend versus how many you take in. Doing 100 crunches a day can effectively strengthen your abdominal muscles, but it probably will not make them any more visible unless you also take other steps to reduce your overall body fat. If you combine cardiovascular exercise with weight training and sensible nutrition, however, those fat cells will not stand a chance.

  • Again, you cannot blast a specific body area (i.e., abs, triceps, inner thighs) with a plethora of exercises and prescriptions (i.e., 100, 500, or 1,000 reps) and realize fat loss only in that area.
  • Training programs that do incorporate high reps on any exercise, whether it’s total body (burpees) or a specific muscle group (leg extensions) can be effective in reducing fat mass, but the fat loss will be over the entire body, contingent, of course, on caloric intake.

Caveat emptor! Switch television channels when you stumble upon a gimmick program or specious gadget purported to “tone,” “trim” or “sculpt” a specific body part. Fat cannot be specifically expunged solely from that area.

Mike Levinson, a Calabasas resident, is a former amateur bodybuilding champion and registered dietitian who holds dual degrees in sports nutrition and physical education. He has worked extensively as a nutritionist with the California Angels baseball team and with famous athletes such as Charles Oakley, JT Snow and Sean Rooks. He also worked as a nutritionist for the Chicago Bears and the Oakland Raiders.  


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