Is Spot Reduction of Fat Possible?

A woman in a red vest and blue shorts sitting on a green gym ball.
Will 1000 Crunches Burn Fat?

Over the years many people have come to MotleyHealth and asked how to lose fat from a specific part of the body. More often than not the problem area is the stomach, but people also ask how to lose fat from the hips, thighs, chest (men) and even face. Unfortunately, it is never possible to spot reduce fat. Let’s take a look why.

Spot Reduction

The fact that there is a name for the process of removing fat from a specific area certainly helps to confuse matters. Why is there a name for a process that does not exist? Honestly, we do not know – our research failed to find the origins of this term.

The argument for spot reduction is simple – that by exercising a particular part of your body you can lose fat and tone up that region. The most common misconception is that by doing sit-ups, crunches or using abdominal exercise equipment, you can burn off your excess fat to get a flat and toned stomach. However, this is not how it works. When we exercise there are essentially two separate actions taking place during and after exercise:

1. Muscle Development

Whenever a muscle is moved under sufficient resistance the tissues are partly damaged. The response is to regenerate new muscle tissue and repair broken linkages to develop stronger muscles – the muscles adapt to the work required of them.

Good nutrition and rest are needed for optimum development, however, even without good nutrition or rest some muscle development is possible. When the muscles grow, a condition called hypertrophy, they become more prominent. This is often referred to as “toning” in many fitness groups – especially when people are describing fitness exercises for women. However, regardless of whether a man or a woman exercises, the same processes are taking place.

2. Fat Reduction

The other process that occurs is fat reduction. This is when the fat cells are broken down by the body to provide a new energy source. Why does this happen? We need to know what fat is first.

Fat cells are a combination of fats and sugars that have been converted during digestion and further chemical processes. The fat cells that we are trying to reduce are also known as triglycerides.

  • Triglyceride – These are a combination of 3 fatty acids and 1 glycerol molecule. Glycerol is essentially sugar in a different form. Glycerol can be converted into glucose, which can then in turn be converted into glycogen. Glycogen is the sugar fuel source for muscular contraction.

So, fat cells store glycerols and fatty acids, excess fuel from our diets. We break them down when we need energy.

After prolonged exercise, whether running, swimming, weight lifting or dancing, the glycogen levels in the muscles fall. The result is that the body takes up any sugar present in the blood (glucose) and converts this to glycogen (processed by the liver).

However, as soon as the blood glucose levels fall, the body breaks down available stores. This is not just fat cells though, but also from muscle tissues – and this is why athletes drink sugar based sports recovery drinks – to prevent muscle wastage after exercise.

Of course, as the breakdown of fat is triggered by the body after sensing a reduction of sugar in the blood (the hormone glucagon is released from the pancreas to trigger this reaction) the specific muscles being exercised cannot affect the immediate fat cells. So, spot reduction just does not happen. We talk moire about this on our page What Is Fat?

New Study Show Possible Spot Reduction?

However, saying that, sports scientists did find some evidence of spot reduction / spot lipolysis a few years ago. After studying the effect of performing isolated knee extensions some subjects appeared to show increase fat loss in the areas immediately next to the muscles in the knee (Stallknecht et al, 2006).

However, this was only on a small scale, and knees tend not to be fatty so the body may purposefully reduce fat in this area sooner under normal circumstances.

Their conclusions were:

“In conclusion, an acute bout of exercise can induce spot lipolysis and increased blood flow in adipose tissue adjacent to contracting skeletal muscle.”

But also:

“More calories are expended during aerobic, whole body exercise than by exercise with local muscle groups, and, accordingly, a person seeking to lose fat must be advised to perform whole body exercise.”

Also, the study examined the effects on “healthy, moderately active, overnight-fasted males” – being fasted would mean that their blood glucose levels would already be lower and therefore fat reduction more likely following exercise. What the study did not examine, or report, was fat reduction in other parts of the body that were not exercised.

Some sports and fitness writers declared that this research showed that spot reduction works, but really it was far from being conclusive. One suggested conclusion was that high-rep, high-weight exercises are best for spot reduction – but high rep and high weight just do not go together!

So, hopefully this will clear up the myth of spot reduction for once and for all. When we exercise, if there is insufficient sugar in the blood and no newly digested sugar forthcoming, the body will send out hormones which will start to breakdown tissues from all over the body. Genetics determines where that is – some people will lose fat from the stomach, face, hips, arms etc. quicker than others. For some, the stomach may be the last place that fat is broken down.

Now, the question of whether or not we can train our bodies to breakdown fat from other areas first is another matter. Some people believe that metabolic conditioning may help. However, again, there is no scientific evidence, just some isolated reports. Stick to the science and weight loss is easier.

References

“Are blood flow and lipolysis in subcutaneous adipose tissue influenced by contractions in adjacent muscles in humans?” by Bente Stallknecht, Flemming Dela, and Jørn Wulff Helge. American Journal of Physiology, September 19, 2006. Full text available in pdf format: http://ajpendo.physiology.org/content/292/2/E394.full

 

88 Comments on “Is Spot Reduction of Fat Possible?

  1. I am 29 years old, I have 4 kids, the youngest is one years old my height is 5/5, I’m 160 pounds, but my belly is very big like I am carrying 9 months baby. What I should do
    please help

  2. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Roza, get exercising, do plenty of core workouts as well as general fitness, and eat a healthy diet. Avoid all junk food and if you drink, cut back.

  3. Hi,

    I am a 34 year old male who is not overweight, however over the years I have developed a bit of a gut which I really want to shift. I’m not particularly athletic but used to play soccer, however I haven’t done much exercise in the last year or so.
    I eat healthily although probably too much (large evening meals). I have made the decision to regulate what I eat on a daily basis, and now typically eat a bowl of Special K for breakfast and then scrambled eggs with granary toast, a ham/salad sandwich for lunch (on granary bread) along with some fruit, and then a sensibly-portioned main meal in the evening consisting of meat/fish with vegetables and either potatoes, pasta or rice (no snacking in between meals).
    I have started running 3 miles per evening also, and whilst this is a struggle after so long without exercise (aching legs!), it is achievable and if I carry on with this plan (maybe even up the running distance), is it likely I’ll see some results over a few months? I’d like to think that by the end of the year I’ll lose the gut!

  4. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Chris, yes you should start to see results within a few months. Consider adding a few bodyweight circuits each week to work the upper body especially, e.g. push ups, chair dips, crunches, squat thrusts and/or mountain climbers. Burpees are great too.

  5. Nayeli Ramirez says:

    Hi, my name is nayeli and im 14 years old. I’ve noticed that i’ve gotten a bit big i weight 140 and i really need to loose weight fast but i have no idea how to start. im in a dance class but im seeing no results please tell me what to do

  6. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Nayeli, how long have you been doing the dance class? Dance is an excellent form of exercise, plus the conditioning for it should get you in shape. Give it more time, and practice at home – you will not get fit or become a good dancer just by attending class. Same applies to all sports and activities, home practice is vital for success. Also, try to reduce junk food and sweet snacks, stick to 3 healthy meals a day if you can with a fruit snack for some extra energy between meals (a banana or apple is ideal).

  7. I’m a 22 year old male. I’ve the beginnings of a gut I want to get rid of, and I just happened upon this site, and I’m intrigued by the healthy diet over my sweet teeth. But ever since i was little, my stomach couldn’t handle leafy greens by hacking them up. What do you recommend, O Master?

  8. The other thing is, I’m worried that if I start on the weight loss, I’m likely gonna give in to the temptations that could hinder my progress (a.k.a. sugar). How do you guys do it?

  9. MotleyHealth says:

    Well, there are a lot of healthy foods apart from leafy greens! Go low GI (avoid bread, pasta, all baked foods, junk food etc.) and start building up some new muscle, this will help boost your metabolism a little to keep the belly under control. You are at that age when the body starts doing the wrong things if it is not controlled.

  10. MotleyHealth says:

    Sam, just don’t do it. Willpower! Don’t buy it, don’t put it in your mouth.

  11. Hi I am only 4 11 and have always had belly fat…my weight has always been 100-105lb…when I hit 128 after I had my second child Age 29) I put my foot down. I started eating very healthy and exercising at home with you tube videos around 30 min a day. 3 full meals and 2 snacks in between. I kept the calories to 1500 a day(all good calories) that did the trick…I had never been so healthy and so full of energy. I was 98 lb in 45 days…I am now 32 and had baby #3 9 months ago…I am still struggling with my weight. I am 10 lbs over and it feels like the 10 lb are in my stomach (not a good feeling)…I know how I can loose the weight I just need to get up and do it. Reading these articles makes me get up and move…anyone can lose weight and keep it of, it is not a diet it is a life change…commit and you will do it!!!

  12. MotleyHealth says:

    Good to hear Ada! You are so right, you just need to get up and do it!

  13. toarunsarkar says:

    I’ll try it !!!

  14. Is it better to work out for 30 minutes and burn 450 or work out for a steady pace for 60 minutes and burn about 600?

  15. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Krystal, it really depends on your goals and what sort of exercise you are doing, and if you are moderating your diet. If you make no change to your diet and wish to burn extra calories to lose fat, then the 60 minute session may be better. If you want to improve fitness and strength to help raise your metabolism etc. then a more varied approach to exercise is needed, and this may involve some shorter sessions with weight training and interval training included.

  16. One of the dumbest articles yet. Eat better and exercise, wow you a genius. If you were my finest coach you would be fired. Here is some actual advice. It is better to do stuff in intervals. Run really fast for a minute and then jog for 2, Lift really heavy low reps.

  17. MotleyHealth says:

    Will, we mention interval training about 20 times in the article and the following comments. Did you actually read it all? But there really is more to losing weight than sprinting and lifting.

  18. hi

    i am a male and have a naturally good physique, i have a average build body and it looks like i am built and work out. The problem is that for years i eat anything and everything, donner meat, burgers etc etc, and although my body still has a good physique if i wear slim clothes, i know that this is only due to me being 6 ft. i have become fatter around the midsection and have been told that my face has become fatter. so it is slowly getting noticeable. i attend gym for a months and then leave for 6 months or a year. the problem is when im doing cardio and weights, i feel weaker in strength and lose mass or fat in the wrong places like shoulders when all i want is for my belly fat to go and some face fat.

    i also like eating what i want, i dont want to be fussy about what i can eat but yet would like to keep the belly fat at bay. any tips on how to lose the belly fat.

  19. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Imran, you need to sort your diet out. Eating whatever you like is causing you to over-eat and gain weight. As for the gym, you are certainly going to be stronger and fitter when working out. Spend more time on weight training than cardio, work all your muscles, especially the back, shoulders and legs.

  20. Hi my name is Kare. I Weigh 116 pounds and am 18 years, however am really concerned with the stomach fat that is beginning to show. I exercise at least twice a week however, am not really sure what kind of exercises to be doing. Please help.

  21. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Grace. I suggest that you read the article above first. You did not mention your diet at all which is a concern, as this is most often the problem. Vary your exercise too, rather than jog twice a day, do some resistance exercise in the afternoons / evening instead of a second run. Sit ups do not reduce belly fat – lots of intensive workouts and healthy eating does.

  22. Hi, I’m a 13 year old teenager and i weigh 135 pounds.My doctor and parents say that i am overweight for my age and size,i am 5 feet and 3 inches tall, i have tried many different diets and exercises but only end up losing like 3 pounds. is there any way that i can lose weight fast.

  23. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Jessica, the only safe and permanent way to lose weight is to eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise. This is especially for you as your body is still developing. Any fast weight loss could cause health issues that you really want to avoid. Join a sports team, dance club or take up a sport like tennis, martial arts, gymnastics etc. Get active and eat healthy – simply no junk food, freshly prepared meals and keep portions under control.

  24. i am 35y old man and i am 5’7″ weight is 72 kg , i need to reduce fact in thighs,butts,stoamuch and face

  25. im a 16 year old teenager…my height is 155cm…i weigh 56kg…but i want to be around 45kg…i dont eat much..bt eat sufficiently…i want a flat belly plus i dont want ppl to call me chubby..so any help please?? im inspired by this page thankyou :)

  26. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Nunnu, well, at the moment you are not overweight (your body mass index is in the healthy weight range). Start to work on your fitness. By getting fitter and stronger you will also burn off some fat and become leaner, and certainly not look chubby. Keep the diet healthy and well balanced and you should be fine. Aim to exercise at least 4 times a week.

  27. thankyou!!! so what kind of exercises should i do??? i have started to walk for around 30 minutes…will that be a good exercise?

  28. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Nunnu, walking is a good start, but you need to ideally work up to 60 minutes of exercise daily, and this exercise should be intensive enough to leave you out of breath and sweating. Work your whole body too. Look at our fitness section for more advice on exercise.

  29. Hi, I am benki… I have only belly fat. I try and eat healthy. Do exercise for about 40-50min – walking, swimming. I have trouble with portion control and feel hungry in evening before dinner. Please suggest something to reduce the belly fat and get toned abs.

  30. MotleyHealth says:

    Benki, to reduce stomach fat you need more cardio and less food. For toned abs you need more abdominal exercises. You say you feel hungry before dinner – this is normal, and good. So long as you do not snack before dinner of course!

  31. Hello, im 14 and my weight is average but i have a bit poochy stomach that i could really could do without. i am on a swim team i have been on it for a year and a half but i haven’t really lost anything! can you help?!?!

  32. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Keely, by the sounds of it your fitness is not a problem. If you have excess stomach fat it is likely to be due to a little too much of the wrong kind of foods. Try to reduce processed foods, convenience foods and junk and replace with more vegetables and pulses. You need good quality carbohydrate that provides energy and good nutrition. Some swimmers also do a lot of “dry work” to reduce fat levels and improve strength. Consider hitting the gym a few times a week too to help burn off excess body fat.

  33. hi , can sun salutations help me loose tummy fat. I am slim with height 5 feet 5 inches and weight 53 kgs but have stomach fat :( :( i dont want to reduce overall weight coz people say u r slimmm :((((((

  34. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Rima, they can. Just like any good exercise they burn calories, so you need to do a lot of them. Look at your diet, try to reduce processed foods and eat more fresh vegetables and lean proteins.

  35. Hi,
    I Am 23 year old female and my Body weight is right now 65kgs i really wanted to get fit and lose all the fat in my body. The problem is im so busy with work and studies and the only exercise i can do is running for 10 or 15 minute. Does that help?
    Is there any way that i can lose weight fast?

  36. I was just reading all the things to losing your stomach fat. I am struggling to loose my belly fat because I just gave birth 8 months ago. I am cutting down on sugars, junk food and all the soda, juices that makes me gain weight. I started just this week to not eat bread, drink juice /soda. I am not also eating any sweets.
    Is it okay to eat whole grain foods, and whole grain rice cereals.
    Most of all I have few questions and I want to ask . If I continue to exercise 1 hour daily, not eat any junk, eat smaller/healthier meals.. can that help me get rid of my stomach fat, all of the jiggly fat and its not allot but its so hard to get rid of. What are some exercises that really help get rid of stomach fat fast??
    Also after getting rid of stomach fat, what are good exercises to get stomach more hard and toned up.

  37. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Latifa, yes, it will help. Ideally do some longer runs too, 30 minutes. And also get some other types of exercise in, such as weight training, Pilates, yoga or bodyweight exercises to help tone your muscles.

  38. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Sandra, many apologies for the late reply. Yes, one hour exercise a day combined with healthy eating will aid weight loss. The best exercise is varied exercise – do your cardio and also work your muscles. Yoga, Pilates, weight training, kettlebells, old school bodyweight exercises – these all help.

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