If you open the internet, be it YouTube, or other social media sites, or some fitness and health sites, belly fat reduction or some other body part spot reduction is the most discussed and in-demand topic. What’s worse is that the self-proclaimed fitness experts and gurus have the ready solution too. This is not the end, ‘how to reduce arm fat’, ‘reduce face fat instantly’, ‘reduce back fat’, you name it, these gurus have an instant solution for everything. What better, they are enlightening you too with their wisdom, they have gained over the centuries, meditating deep in the Himalayas.
BULLSHIT! In capitals.
The Internet, specially YouTube is full of such crap, and there is no end in sight. I think I should make a video on ‘how to reduce brain fat’ because that might give these dumb heads some power to use whatever is left in their brains.
Spot reduction is basically an attempt to reduce subcutaneous fat, from specific areas of the body, by means of certain exercises. These areas are also what we call as problem areas. So, someone with excess fat on the sides, or the ‘love handles’, will use various side exercises like side-bends to reduce them. People with excess belly fat, will be asked to do abdominal exercises, like crunches, sit-ups and leg raises, along with twisting exercises. Similar recommendations are there to reduce face fat, chest fat, back fat, and almost the entire body.
Spot reduction or also called ‘target fat loss’, is a phrase which appeals to people’s intuition. It’s a dream phrase, with no meaning. But please understand the stored fat stores in the body, in the form of triglycerides, do not just break down and get absorbed by the body, from a particular area. The word ‘tri-glycerol’ means there are three fatty acids attached to the glycerol molecule. When the fat breaks, these three free fatty acid molecules, get detached, and enter the bloodstream, and is thus used by the body for energy. But where this fat comes from is not decided by what part it is stored in. It can come from anywhere.
If you’re stupid trainer is telling you to do 200 side bends every day, to reduce side-fat, then he is simply passing time. You won’t burn fat from sides like this and reduce their size. On the other hand, most of the exercise which people perform to reduce fat from a particular are very miniscule and do not burn enough calories. For e.g. what would burn more calories, a 100kg squat, or 100 side bends and 100 crunches?
Time and again, I have been harping upon the fact that there is nothing called spot reduction. When you lose fat, you do that from the entire body. There are certain areas which are genetically defined in men and women, which store more fat than others. These are called ‘problem areas’. It’s not that you don’t lose fat from these areas, but simply the effects are slower to come by, i.e. you may take more time to lose fat from these areas as compared to the other body parts. But these areas will also be affected. That’s why it takes time and effort to achieve your dream physique.
There is no exercise in the world or diet which makes you reduce fat from any particular area in general. Whether you are a woman, who is more concerned about the excess fat in your buttocks, thigs and arms; or you are a man with a family pack instead of six-packs and a double chin as a cherry on the top. You will always lose fat from the entire body. Anyone telling you that ‘x’ supplement or exercise will help in doing spot reduction, sorry, they are stupid.
Most important and above everything is your genetics. You are born with a body structure, a height and a skeletal frame. You can’t change them, except through extreme surgical procedures, which again have a very low success ratio. Your face can be chiselled or fat depending on the amount of fat in your body, and your genes which decide whether there would be more fat on your face or not. You cannot make your face like anyone. It’s going to be best in its own self. You cannot lean a fat bulldog down and turn it into a pug. It will surely lean down, but will still remain a bulldog.
Also, physiologically these problem areas, take more time to get rid of their fat stores. In a 1990 study in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, a Swedish research team, led by P. Amer, found that in the human body, catecholamines lead to lipolysis. Catecholamines are a group of similar hormones released into the bloodstream in response to physical or emotional stress. The primary catecholamines are dopamine, epinephrine (adrenaline), and norepinephrine. Catecholamines cause general physiological changes that prepare the body for physical activity (the fight-or-flight response). Some typical effects are increases in heart rate, blood pressure, blood glucose levels, and a general reaction of the sympathetic nervous system.
These catecholamines, attach themselves to the receptors on the fat cells. There are two types of fat cell receptors, alpha-2 and beta-2. The major difference between the two is that beta-2 receptors speed up fat mobilization and alpha-2 prevents it. The areas in the body, from which the fat burn is difficult is because of the presence of more alpha-2 receptors. On the other hand, the areas which lose fat quickly, have more beta-2 receptors.
These stubborn fat areas are also the ones where the blood flow is limited. So lesser the blood flow less will be the number of catecholamines reaching them, so less fat burn.
The number of studies, since the early seventies have proven ‘spot reduction’ to be a myth. Let’s see what the studies say:
- In a 1971 study, in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, a US research team led by Dr. Grant Gwinup, in order to analyse the concept of “spot reduction” to critical examination we have compared the circumference and the thickness of subcutaneous fat at specific sites over the right and left arms of a group of tennis players.
Researchers found that there was an average difference in circumference of 2.25cm between hypertrophied and less active forearms of male tennis players and a 1.15cm difference between hypertrophied and opposite forearms of female tennis players. The difference in circumference of the upper arms was 0.95cm in men and 1.05cm in women. These values were significantly different from those of control subjects.
There was, however, no significant difference in the thickness of subcutaneous fat over the muscles of the arm receiving more exercise as compared to the arm receiving less exercise. Which simply means that ‘spot reduction’ is not possible.
- A 1978 study in the journal Research Quarterly for Exercise & Sport, by researcher Melody Noland & Jay Kearney, investigated the viability of spot-reduction, in a 10-week study using 56 college women. The 27 women assigned to the localized exercise regimen performed callisthenic-type activities concentrated on the abdomen, hips, and thighs while the generalized exercise group participated in a variety of typical aerobic activities. Exercise sessions for both groups were conducted 3 days per week for 30 minutes.
The results indicate that although either general aerobic or localized exercises are effective in altering the anthropometric characteristics of females, neither exercise regimen was shown to be more effective, specifically in terms of spot reduction.
- A 1983 study in the journal Research Quarterly for Exercise & Sport, by researcher Frank Katch & team, evaluated the effects of a 27-day sit-up exercise training program on adipose cell size and adiposity. Fat biopsies were taken from the abdomen, subscapular, and gluteal sites in 13 experimental and 6 control male subjects before and after a five days/week training regimen. The total number of sit-ups done was 5004.
The results demonstrate that (1) the conventional sit-up exercise does not preferentially reduce adipose cell size or subcutaneous fat thickness in the abdominal region to a greater extent compared to other adipose sites, and (2) significant changes in fat cell size may occur in the absence of changes in fat-folds, girths or total body composition.
- In a 2007 study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, a US research team, led by, M.A. Kostek, compared subcutaneous fat measurements before and after resistance training among 104 subjects (45 men, 59 women). Subjects participated in 12wk of resistance training of their non-dominant arm. MRI found a generalized subcutaneous fat loss independent of gender, supporting the notion that spot reduction does not occur as a result of resistance training.
- In a 2011 study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, a US research team led by S.S. Vispute investigated the effect of abdominal exercises on abdominal fat. Twenty-four healthy, sedentary participants (14 men and 10 women), between 18 and 40 years, were assigned to 1 of the 2 groups: control group (CG) or abdominal exercise group (AG). The AG performed 7 abdominal exercises, for 2 sets of 10 repetitions, on 5 days/week for 6 weeks.
Researchers found that there were no significant effects of abdominal exercises on body weight, body fat percentage, abdominal circumference, abdominal skinfold, etc. measurements. Thus, six weeks of abdominal exercise training alone was not sufficient to reduce abdominal subcutaneous fat and other measures of body composition.
- In a 2013 study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, a research team from Chile, led by R. Ramirez Campillo, examined the effects of a localized muscle endurance resistance training program on total body and regional tissue composition. Seven men and four women, averaging 23 years old, trained their non-dominant leg on a leg press device over a twelve-week period. Three sessions per week were used and each consisted of 1 set of 960-1,200 repetitions (leg press exercise), at 10-30% 1 repetition maximum.
Researchers found that, at the end of the study, at the whole-body level, body mass, bone mass, BMD, lean mass, or body fat percentage was not significantly changed. Body fat mass significantly decreased by 5.1%. This is whole-body fat, not from any particular area. No significant changes in bone mass, lean mass, fat mass, or fat percentage were observed in both the control and trained leg. In conclusion, the training program was effective in reducing fat mass, but this reduction was not achieved in the trained body segment.
- A 2015 study in the Journal of Manipulative & Physiological Therapeutics, by an Iranian research team, led by R. Kordi, compared the effect of diet and an abdominal resistance training program to diet alone on the abdominal subcutaneous fat thickness and waist circumference of overweight and obese women. The study included 40 overweight and obese women divided into 2 groups: diet only and diet combined with 12 weeks of abdominal resistance training.
After 12 weeks of intervention, the weight of participants in both groups decreased; but the difference between the 2 groups was not significant. Similarly, other variables including abdominal subcutaneous fat, waist circumference, hip circumference, body mass index, body fat percentage, and skinfold thickness were reduced in both groups; but there were no significant differences between the groups. This study found that abdominal resistance training besides diet did not reduce abdominal subcutaneous fat thickness compared to diet alone in overweight or obese women.
So, all these people making videos on YouTube, on how to reduce face fat, belly fat, side fat, chest fat, lower chest fat, back fat… ‘testes fat’ (is that there); for god sake, wake up! Do not spread false and misleading information in the public, as there are already tons of it.
Doing chest exercises will build good chest muscles, but won’t burn chest fat. Fat will go from the entire body, for which you will have to do heavy intense exercises for the entire body. Side bends are one of the most useless exercises you could ever do. In my gym Body Mechanics, this and many such stupid time-pass exercises are banned. It doesn’t reduce your love handles. For that matter, nothing reduces your love-handles. When the overall body fat percentage drops, love-handles will also reduce.
Exercise increases overall energy expenditure. Higher the intensity and volume more will be the total energy expenditure. But that doesn’t mean the energy is coming from fat from a particular area in the body. According to writer Menno Henselmans, “If you burn more calories across the day than you consume in your diet, your body will burn some of its own energy stores, like those in your fat tissue, to make up the difference. Some of this fat may come from the areas you exercised, but you may have lost the same amount of fat if you had performed a different form of exercise with the same energy expenditure. This energy balance principle is undeniable physics.”
Professor and writer, Chris McGrath, says, “Spot reduction doesn’t work because it usually targets muscles that are relatively small through exercises that are relatively insignificant in terms of enhancing overall fitness, strength and energy expenditure—regardless of how much you “feel the burn” when training them. Overall fitness, not small muscle fatigue, is a stronger determining factor of your body’s fat-burning effectiveness… You can try to cook a turkey with a candle, or you could use the oven. Prioritizing the smaller muscles without addressing the bigger ones is a pennywise and pound-foolish way to train. But if it makes you feel better to train the smaller muscles, save it for the end of your workout if you have time and energy. If you run out of time, you haven’t neglected anything, and if you run out of energy it’s because the other exercises worked!”
There have been some studies which do prove that spot reduction may be possible. But some of the studies are studies promoting a topical fat burning oil, or cream, on the other hand, other studies are short term and small. However, acc. to the physician and author Dr. Dave Tate, “in 2007, a study published in the American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism by Dr. Bente Stallnecht confirmed that spot reduction does indeed occur. In the study, an intense localized exercise in one leg burned significantly more fat than in the non-exercised leg.
So, this study answered the question once and for all. Yes, spot reduction does occur. Only one problem: it occurs on such an insignificant scale as to be useless. The amount of extra fat burning from the working leg in this study was like taking a few drops of water out of a lake.
Spot reduction technically does occur, but at such a marginal level that it’s essentially insignificant. I like to say that trying to do spot reduction of fat with targeted exercise is like trying to change a tire with a pencil. It’s practically impossible.”