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Why Spot Reduction Doesn’t Work

Are you heading to the gym to burn those “love handles” or sculpt a “flat belly” but aren’t getting the results you expect? Well, maybe you need to change your approach to exercise. Here’s what you need to know.

By Sadhana Kumari
22 Jul 2022

There are several reasons people want to lose weight, be it reducing the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes, fitting into a dress, or reducing the belly bulge. It's frustrating to deal with stubborn fat that just refuses to budge no matter what you do. Gender, age, genetics, and lifestyle all play a role in weight gain and the accumulation of unwanted body fat. The reason you may not be seeing results from exercise and diet modification could be because you are looking for easy fixes to quickly reduce fat in “problematic” areas.


Many people join the weight loss bandwagon to shed a few inches around a particular area of their body. There is no dearth of exercises or workout programs that focus on burning the fat, toning or melting the fat around specific areas such as the waist or arms. This targeted fat loss approach is known as ‘spot reduction’.


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Here’s the truth: spot reduction is a myth.

And let me just say this, spot reduction doesn’t work! The idea of reducing fat in certain areas of the body by doing specific exercise has now become an old story. To understand why spot reduction doesn’t work, let’s take a look at how fat is really burned.


Your body creates a calorie deficit when burning calories for fat reduction, which means fewer calories are consumed than burned. And, this drives your body to utilise the energy stored in your cells in the form of fat. When those cells are used for energy, they start to decrease in size. This can be visible in the body getting lean as the cell shrinks and weight loses eventually.


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Science Behind Fat Loss

We need to understand that targeting a specific area to melt fat is not possible. Fat is a loose connective tissue that is stored underneath our skin and gets released from fat cells for energy. In a calorie deficit, your body fetches energy from stored fat instead of food to keep moving. When the body is in active mode, fat is released from fat cells (all over the body) and is utilised for energy. Working just a set of muscles to burn the fat from that area, will not lead to fat reduction from that particular area. Calorie deficit is a significant aspect in fat loss.


Why? During training, the fatty acids and glycerol used as fuel can come from fat cells or organs in the body. The area where fats are taken is not determined by the exercises, but rather by genetics and hormones, states Comprehensive Physiology, 2014, study.


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When we gain weight, the number of fat cells increases all over the body. The same happens in fat reduction. Fat is burnt from all over the body, not one particular area. The size of your cells minimises, not the number of cells, says a 2016 finding in Molecular Biology of the Cell.


Studies Show Spot Reduction Is Ineffective

1. According to a 2011 randomised controlled trial published in the Journal of Strength And Conditioning Research, 24 sedentary people 14 men and 10 women, between 18 and 40 years, were randomly assigned to abdominal exercise for six weeks. All participants maintained an isocaloric diet throughout the study. No significant effect of abdominal exercises on body weight, body fat percentage, android fat percentage, android fat (fat deposition in upper body) was found.


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2. A 2015 findings in the Journal of Manipulative And Physiological Therapeutics shows a randomised clinical trial of 40 overweight and obese women who were allotted 12 week of abdominal resistance training. The study shows that abdominal resistance training did not reduce abdominal subcutaneous fat thickness compared to diet alone in overweight or obese women.


3. A controlled clinical trial published in the Journal of Strength And Conditioning Research, 2013 shows that no regional fat changes were observed in 7 men and 4 women in 12 weeks of muscle endurance resistance training. Which means spot reduction is not effective in fat burning.


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How to Take Realistic Steps Towards Fat Loss?

The simplest answer is by choosing full-body training with minimum calorie intake, one can get rid of the problem area in the body. A few ways are:

  • Opt for a healthy, energy-restricted diet with full-body strength and interval training like burpees, lunges, high knees, jumping jacks or mountain climbers to burn off the body's fat reserves.
  • Try cardiovascular exercises like brisk walking, running, cycling, swimming, or rowing for an overall lean body and faster fat loss.
  • If your goal is to tone abdominal muscles, then accelerate the interval training sessions along with core workouts.


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How To Incorporate Healthy Diet Routine For Fat Reduction?

The key to losing fats is to ingest fewer calories than you burn. This allows you to lose body fat that has settled in front of your abdominal muscles. Healthy dietary habits and calorie control are equally important as a full body workout for fat loss to be effective, reveals a 2016 finding in the Current Biology.


Try these tips with exercises to keep off weight:

  • Keep portion size in check: Cutting down the size of food on the plate can make a lot of difference in your regular diet routine. A 2007 controlled clinical trial conducted on 130 obese people issued in the paper JAMA Internal Medicine shows portion control of their daily meal induced weight loss by 93.8 per cent.
  • Emphasis on increased fibre intake: A 2015 randomised trial issued in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that loading up on more fibres lead to 1.7 kg more weight loss.
  • Cut down added sugar and processed foods: The consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has increased the prevalence of overweight and obesity. Reducing the consumption of processed foods is an effective way of reducing the excessive fats in the body, shows a 2015 study issued in British Medical Journal.






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