Spot Fat Reduction: Still A Myth?

November 18, 2013 — 1 Comment
You keep truckin' little buddy...

You keep truckin’ little buddy…

I’m sure most of us have heard of spot reduction. Spot reduction was huge back in the day with old-school bodybuilders, like Arnold and those dudes. The idea is that the more annihilation of a muscle in a certain area of your body you incur, the more fat you will strip from that body part area. It sounds kinda silly, doesn’t it? For many years, the advanced scientists and lifters thought this to be something beyond broscience. This was on another level of lack of education involving the human body. We laughed – we cried – we judged. It was “proven” over and over again that reducing fat in a particular body part area was not possible, as fat reduction occurs systematically within the body as a whole, not just the areas you choose. We sure would LOVE to be able to reduce fat just in a body part that is lacking striations and what-have-you, but no such luck… Or is there? Well, I dono, let’s read on and find out…

spot reduction

Ohhh…. but is it a myth?! Generally speaking, yes it is a myth. One cannot do a million crunches and expect to have 6-pack abs as a result. The body does not necessarily work that way. But alas, there is a caveat. Those that are already on the leaner side and already ripped, can actually benefit from something along the lines of spot reduction. Sorry fatties, but ya gotta get fit before you can reap the benefits of low body fat and fast metabolism (not to mention optimal internal function), which is a necessity to incorporate the trick of “spot reduction.” Though years and years of consistent research have basically proven spot reduction all but a fallacy, there is deeper rooted research that just MAY show that those old school meatheads may have been onto something indeed…

Christian Thibaudeau, one of our favorite writers, has a T-Nation article called Targeted Fat Mobilization, which kinda sorta expands on this concept and puts it to good use…

Here’s what you need to know…

• This plan isn’t for those who need to lose a ton of body fat, but for those already on the fit side looking to target resistant fat deposits.
• By redirecting blood flow to a fatty area and then contracting the muscles adjacent to that area, you can induce “spot lipolysis”.
• The right training strategy can shift calorie burning toward localized areas of fat storage.

So, we get the idea then, yes? As mentioned, this protocol is basically for people that are already lean and more towards the ripped side than the chubster side. If you’re not ripped, then sorry, but this probably isn’t for you – but feel free to read on and store this info in the vault for when you DO finally get ripped (as we can only assume you’ll be coming back to Gone Liftin’ and therefore will be ripped by proxy!). Let’s carry on…

Spot reduction is impossible. You can’t lose fat predominantly in a specific area just by training that area. This is something every personal trainer or coach who’s worth a damn knows.

Only one problem: it’s simply not true. You can increase fat loss in a specific area. It’s a fact – a fact that’s been observed by successful bodybuilders and that’s now backed by science.

Say whaa?! When did this shit happen?! No one told us!

A Little Old-School BroScience, Shall We

Many legendary bodybuilders believed in spot reduction. For example, they did hundreds, even thousands, of sit-ups not only to build the abs but to “whittle away body fat” from that area before a contest.

Since then, “smart people” have written this off, saying it was just a result of the pre-competition diet and increased cardio activity causing systemic (whole body) fat loss, some of which just happened to be around the midsection.

Seems legit enough. You work hard – you do cardio – you lift weights – you get shredded. Simple concept… and one we are all highly familiar with. But maybe, just MAYBE, all those legends from back then may have been onto something that science hadn’t yet stumbled upon at that time. In Coach Thib’s article, the beast himself states:

“I got the first clue about this in 2001. I didn’t put two and two together until much later though. As a competitive Olympic lifter at that time, I had very lean legs and a fairly fat upper body. I remember getting my body fat percentage tested and my legs were roughly 6% and my upper body 20%. I’d been training for the sport for three years at that point, squatting every day, sometimes twice per day, and doing lots of sled pulling. The fact that I did so much leg work very likely increased the vascularization of my legs. As we’ll see later, the more vascularized an area is, the easier it is to mobilize fat from that area. Even to this day, even if I’m in one of my fatter states (about 12%), my legs are super vascular and even cross-striated.”

Hmm… that’s interesting. Interesting even more so since I myself have experienced results similar to this. But I just attributed it to having a Godly physique, great work ethic, and tremendous genetics :-) But I digress… While I do possess all those atrributes, it was not in fact due to that, but rather due to body science working at it’s finest (dammit!). But for real, what is the deal with this? Is it true? Is this possible? Let’s have a look-see at the science…

The Science Behind Spot Reduction

spot reduction2

Dr. Lonnie Lowery (another T-Nation regular) dedicated a small portion of his life to provide the scientific research so that all the proper channels could have the knowledge and the capacity to expand on the science, and prove it, more so, to be true…

Blood flow is crucial for fat extraction

Poor blood flow to certain areas of the body – obliques and lower abs for example – equals poor fat loss from those areas. Researcher K. Frayne notes: “There is evidence that adipose tissue blood flow does not increase sufficiently to allow delivery of all the fatty acids released into the systemic circulation.” Luckily, we can manipulate that with the right training.

So then… if there is increased blood flow to certain areas, then the adipose tissue (fat tissue) should quickly disperse and cause the fat burning process to begin. This is basic fat burning science, and no one in their right mind can argue this point!

Calorie balance does matter, of course, but research is supporting what the old-school guys used to do

Calorie-burning is part of the equation, but calories come from difference sources. Would you rather the calories you burn in a conditioning session come from the fat area around your navel or from the glycogen and triglycerides in your muscles?

Nothing new here, right? We all know the body uses energy, whether as carbs or as fat, from various sources of the body. We want the body to use the fat stores that we want to be forever rid of, not remove precious elements from our muscles! Increased blood flow strikes again!

Increase blood flow and you can extract more fat from the troubled area

The main concept and premise of the notion of “spot reduction fat burning.”

With techniques like microdialysis, you can actually see this occurring. Microdialysis involves sticking super tiny tubes into subcutaneous fatty areas like the lower stomach and measuring fat breakdown products, like glycerol and fatty acids, in the interstitial fluid. Increase the blood flow to that area and localized fat loss increases. “That’s spot reduction,” says Dr. Lowery.

So you see?! Increasing blood flow to certain areas in a proper and consistent way, does indeed lead to body fat localizing and metabolizing fat stores in that specific area. Yipee!!

Blood flow and lipolysis are generally higher in subcutaneous adipose tissue adjacent to the contracting muscle

An acute bout of exercise can induce spot lipolysis and increased blood flow in adipose tissue adjacent to contracting skeletal muscle. That means if you train your abs the right way at the right time, the belly fat on the outside of the abs will “burn” preferentially.

Get it? Train an area hard and long (ooooh baby) and you will increase lipolysis in that area. What they mean by subcutaneous, is the top layer of fat, which is usually the first to go. That short sentence that we quoted above, explains this concept perfectly! Hard to misunderstand it…


From reading Coach Thib’s article thoroughly, it seems as if the abs and the glutes (dat ass) can benefit more from this alleged targeted spot reduction. Why is that? Because the abdominal area and the hip / leg area are usually those areas in the body that are most resistant to fat loss (think love handles, jiggly hips, etc, etc.). With some various tips and manipulations, we can indeed induce target fat mobilization to specific areas. Don’t forget:

This is not a plan for the very overweight, but for the decently fit person or pre-contest bodybuilder looking to trigger acute fat loss in hard-to-mobilize areas. We’d tell you that diet plays an important role too, but you’re not an idiot so you probably know that already.

Sorry fatties… but y’all gotta get into some serious shape before you can benefit from increased blood starting targeted lipolysis in certain areas of your body. The Targeted Fat Mobilization article has a few examples of some workouts corresponding to the science we talked about here, so feel free to have a glimpse and see how you can construct a program for yourself if your goals fit this science and premise. Otherwise, that about wraps it all up. As usual, thanks for stopping by!

Lush Sleutsky

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Trying to provide the most current, accurate information. No tricks - no smoke & mirrors. We all want to learn more and more and keep progressing! There is no need for tricks or sales tactics. We want to gather, learn, share, and debate any and all fitness related info for the betterment of our minds and our bodies...

One response to Spot Fat Reduction: Still A Myth?

  1. I always believed it was a myth. …. until a couple years after i started weight training and got to about 16% body fat (female here! ). After a more intense session of snowboarding, the stubborn fat deposit between upper thigh and butt disappeared – but only on my ‘ back leg ‘. So it definitely spot reduced from all the single leg squats happening when in leaning back snowboarding. Now I’m stuck trying to even it out!

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