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  • Writer's pictureAnatomy Of Fitness


Spot reduction is a concept that deals with the possibility and the ability to reduce fat in a particular area of the body like abdominals, thighs or glutes using targeted exercises. The most common exercises promoted for spot reduction include crunches, free weight squats, free weight lunges, tricep kickbacks etc. We have seen celebrities, bodybuilders, doctors and even some strong men promoting the idea of spot reduction but, is spot reduction possible? What does science have to say? Let’s probe.

What is spot reduction?

Spot reduction means targeting specific areas which have high subcutaneous fat content and doing exercises to help reduce the fat in those specific areas. For example, a woman may undertake certain exercises to reduce fat only on her hips or a man would want to reduce fat only on his abdominals using certain exercises. The purported idea behind spot reduction is that doing certain exercises targeting muscles directly below the fatty area helps burning fat in that area.

The burning sensation while doing spot reduction exercises:

To promote the concept of spot reduction, proponents point out the intense burning sensation while doing spot reduction exercises like crunches. However, science has proved that the burning sensation is caused by the lactic acid build-up due to exertion via the process of anaerobic respiration. Lactic acid is a waste product produced during exercising and the burning sensation has nothing to do with burning fat.

Spot reduction proponents promote doing crunches to burn belly fat.

Do Spot Reduction exercises help Burn Fat?

Fat is present throughout the body and is not attached to the muscle underneath. If fat reduces, it reduces on the entire body and if fat increases, it increases on the entire body. The point to be noted is that depending on our gender, hormonal balance and a few other factors if we gain fat, more fat (in absolute quantity) will accumulate on areas like abdominals, thighs, triceps, neck, hips etc. Similarly, when we lose fat, more fat (in absolute quantity) will be lost from these areas. However, fat remains unaffected despite rigorous training of the muscles underneath it.

Some areas of our body are metabolically more active while others are metabolically less active. More metabolically active areas will not gain as much fat as less metabolically active areas. Also, more metabolically active areas will lose fat quicker than the less metabolically active areas.

There is no scientific evidence of fat loss occurring due to training the muscles underneath it.

Fat burn can occur when the basal metabolic rate increases. To increase the basal metabolic rate we have to combine weight training and cardio with correct nutrition. The point to be noted here is to give equal importance to all the components of fitness.

Muscular development Vs. Fat reduction:

A study was conducted on two groups – a control group that exercised without intervention and an abdominal exercise group which was asked to do abdominal exercises. The abdominal exercise group was given the following exercise schedule: 7 abdominal exercises, 2 sets of 10 reps each, 5 days a week, for 6 weeks. At the end of 6 weeks, both groups were evaluated using a variety of tests and it was determined that the subcutaneous fat around the abdominal region did not decrease just with abdominal exercise. However, an increase in muscular endurance was noticed. Thus, spot reduction exercises may help in muscular development but never in reducing fat.

Why is the concept of spot reduction so famous?

Spot reduction as a concept has been promoted extensively using advertisements, infomercials, celebrity endorsements, social media, internet trainers etc. When we are bombarded with information from all directions, we start believing it. The same is true with the concept of spot reduction. Consider the example of the world-famous bodybuilder, Arnold Schwarzenegger who believed in spot reduction, practised spot reduction exercises and also preached spot reduction exercises. A common man who does not understand fitness sciences or nutrition sciences will easily fall for his advice and start believing in spot reduction.

The verdict:

Spot reduction is a myth. Reducing fat in a particular area of the body is impossible as fat belongs to the whole body and has no relation with the muscle underneath it. Thus, no spot reduction exercise works to reduce fat over the muscle.

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