A 2007 study concluded that, “An acute bout of exercise can induce spot lipolysis and increased blood flow in adipose tissue adjacent to contracting skeletal muscle”(1). Some have attempted to use these results to demonstrate that targeted fat mobilization is physiologically possible, therefore spot reduction (i.e., localized fat loss through specific exercise) is a valid training method.
Even if targeted fat mobilization is a real physiological phenomena that can be taken advantage of by contracting the muscles adjacent to that fatty area to increase blood flow to the fatty area; if you’re already using a comprehensive resistance training program that hits all of your muscles (whether it be via a body-part split program or using full body workouts throughout the week) consisting of compound and isolation exercises, than you’re already benefiting from the targeted fat mobilization benefits resistance exercise can produce at each area.
In other words, you’re already contracting all of the muscles in your body, and therefore increasing the blood flow to them, by regularly using a comprehensive resistance training program that includes compound and isolation exercise for each muscle group in the body.
Now, if someone wishes to claim that a certain type of training method (i.e. certain exercises along with specific set/rep/rest ranges) are more effective than others for the purposes of spot reduction, then they would have to demonstrate that scientifically in a controlled comparative environment. Remember: As I said in my 6 Negative Thinking Strategies for Positive B.S. Detection post, “The burden of proof remains solely on the person(s) who are asserting the claim(s), not on the skeptics to disprove it.
Additionally, we must avoid cherry picking research and consider the other scientific evidence that’s investigated spot reduction. Such as…
- The 2007 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, which concluded “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” (2).
- The 2013 study that investigated spot reduction in the legs, which concluded, “The training program was effective in reducing fat mass, but this reduction was not achieved in the trained body segment” (3).
- The 2011 study, which looked at the effect of abdominal exercise on abdominal fat and found that “Six weeks of abdominal exercise training alone was not sufficient to reduce abdominal subcutaneous fat and other measures of body composition”(4).
- The 1984 study where the results demonstrated that “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.” (5)
The Final Word on Spot Reduction Exercises and Fat Loss
While you may be able to mobilize the fat nearest to the working muscle, research has repeatedly shown that this work fails to be significant enough to make any changes in isolation. Therefore, although spot reduction may not be a complete myth, spot training exercise is still a waste time.
1. Stallknecht B, et al. Are blood flow and lipolysis in subcutaneous adipose tissue influenced by contractions in adjacent muscles in humans? American Journal of Physiology. Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2007 Feb;292(2):E394-9.
2. Kostek MA, et al. Subcutaneous fat alterations resulting from an upper-body resistance training program. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007 Jul;39(7):1177-85.
3. Ramírez-Campillo R, et al. Regional fat changes induced by localized muscle endurance resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Aug;27(8):2219-24.
4. Vispute SS, et al. The effect of abdominal exercise on abdominal fat. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Sep;25(9):2559-64.
5. Katch, F.I., et al. Effects of sit-up exercise training on adipose cell size and adiposity. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 55(3): 242-247, 1984.