The Myth of "Spot Reduction"
Written by Mitchell Robinson
This series focuses on a number of myths we often hear at Sycamore Health relating to physiotherapy and exercise. Our goal is not that you become discouraged from exercising, but rather that you train safely, effectively and often!
Spot reduction refers to the belief that fat can be selectively reduced from a specific area of the body by exercising the muscles in that area. A common sign of this belief is seen in those who train abdominal muscles (think sit-ups, crunches etc.) in an effort to reduce the fat laying over the top of the abdominal muscles. Another common example is where gym-goers train their legs (think squats, lunges, calf raises etc.) in an effort to reduce the fat over their legs.
However, the evidence for spot reduction is sorely lacking. The general agreement from researchers is that spot reduction is a myth. The sweep of the evidence is that you cannot reduce the fat in one area merely by exercising muscles in that area (1, 2, 4, 5, 6).
Rather, fat is lost from the entire body* due to the balance between energy consumed (food) and energy used (to keep you alive, digest food and used in exercise) (3). If you want to reduce the fat from your stomach, it is this energy balance that you must direct your attention to – consume less total calories, exercise more, or both.
If you’re unsure how to maximise your fat loss or muscle gain, contact us. Physiotherapists are specialists in exercise and would love to help you take control of your health. We can even address any underlying or lingering injuries or pain you may have.
*Usually preferentially from the abdominal area in women and in the legs for men - it depends on genetics and hormone profile.
Next in this series: Resistance Training Myths Part 4 - Muscle "Toning"
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1. Gwinup, G., Chelvam, R., & Steinberg, T. (1971). THickness of subcutaneous fat and activity of underlying muscles. Annals of Internal Medicine, 74(3), 408-411. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-74-3-408
2. Katch, F. I., Clarkson, P. M., Kroll, W., McBride, T., & Wilcox, A. (1984). Effects of Sit up Exercise Training on Adipose Cell Size and Adiposity. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 55(3), 242-247. doi: 10.1080/02701367.1984.10609359
3. McArdle, W., Katch, F., & Katch, V. (2010). Exercise physiology. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
4. Ramirez-Campillo, R., Andrade, D. C., Campos-Jara, C., Henriquez-Olguin, C., Alvarez-Lepin, C., & Izquierdo, M. (2013). Regional fat changes induced by localized muscle endurance resistance training. J Strength Cond Res, 27(8), 2219-2224. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31827e8681
5. Vispute, S. S., Smith, J. D., LeCheminant, J. D., & Hurley, K. S. (2011). The effect of abdominal exercise on abdominal fat. J Strength Cond Res, 25(9), 2559-2564. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181fb4a46
6. Wilmore, J. H., & Costill, D. L. (1999). Physiology of Sport and Exercise: Human Kinetics.