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Spot reduction: Does it work?

There still remains a belief that spot reduction works, but why? We separate the fact from the fiction. 

Does it work?

Spot reduction is the belief that by performing isolated exercises that target specific, smaller muscle groups that have extra fat on them, namely your belly, thighs, and arms, you will lose fat in the targeted area.

Although many fitness practitioners have dispelled this myth, it doesn’t seem like it will go away any time soon. One of the main reasons why spot reduction has had so much staying power is as a result of fads and television shows that speak to the consumer’s inherent want for instant gratification and a way to easily eliminate fat without putting in the hours in the gym and focusing on your diet.

The main problem with spot reduction is two-fold: 

1)    It promotes training smaller muscle groups over improving your overall fitness

2)    It doesn’t take into account the role that your diet plays 

The only time when “spot reduction”, using the term as loosely as possible, can be effective is if you are already fit and have little body fat and you intend to strengthen and define a specific muscle group. Due to you being fit, you will see benefit in these exercises as you are simply defining the muscle that is already built.

What are the alternatives?

First and foremost, your focus should be on total body fitness. Your body burns fat all over when you exercise and doesn’t only burn in the area that you are training. For this reason, you should aim to do full body exercises, such as bodyweight exercises, when you’re starting out and then move towards weighted variations to amplify your workout.

Woman doing squats | DNAfit Blog

In terms of strength training, you should do more compound movements that work multiple muscle groups at once. These include squats, deadlifts, pull ups, chest press and lunges. By performing exercises such as these you will put your body in a “fat burning state” where your metabolism is burning calories.

Another way to burn more calories is by employing cardio, but not just any kind of cardio. You may have heard about it before, but we’ll say it again: HIIT. High intensity interval training takes your cardio to the next level as you alternate between, for instance, 60 seconds maximum training intensity and 30 seconds rest. You will repeat this from 10 to 20 minutes, or whatever you can manage if you’re starting out. This can be applied to running, cycling, swimming, rowing, and any other cardio-based exercises.

Man running on the pavement | DNAfit Blog

Being mindful of your calorie intake and the types of food you are consuming is the final step, and often considered the most vital. Yes, your body needs to use food as fuel to burn in order to be able to work out at a high level, but if you want to lose fat you need to be burning more than you eat. This caloric deficit will ensure that you lose weight, and the types of food you eat will only make your weight loss journey that much easier.

Download the Honest Guide to Weight Management and build life-long healthy eating habits

In conclusion, spot reduction is ineffective and shouldn’t be used a method of fat burning. You should always focus on training your entire body and eating correctly. Your weight loss journey will take time and hard work but that is because there is no miracle cure or magic bullet.

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.

Discover Body Fit, to learn about your power and endurance profile in order to improve your fitness. 

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