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.


“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:


88 Comments on “Is Spot Reduction of Fat Possible?”

  1. Hi! Im 17 years old and weigh 125 lbs. Even though my weight is normal for my height I have an excess of fat on my stomach. I have taken all sugary and fatty foods out of my diet in the past few weeks and have began running, but I’ve heard running doesn’t make you lose stomach fat, it only tones you. Am I on the right track?

  2. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Ali, running should help you lose the fat. Also do some bodyweight exercises, circuit training etc.

  3. me and my friend lost a lot of fat really quickly.

    Seriously it is the best product i have used, and trust me it works.

  4. Hi, quick question. I use the recumbent bicycle in the gym but have read on the internet that these are not effective in weight loss and that upright bikes are better. (Recumbent bikes are the ones with bucket seats/back support). Is this true in your view?

  5. MotleyHealth says:

    Yes. Cycling is almost entirely an exercise for the legs and glutes. It is like exercising half the body at once. That is not to say you cannot get very fit doing it, it may just not be the most efficient way to exercise.

  6. Hi, I have started climbing 27 floors every evening combined with running for 20 mins afterwards. I still have a lot to lose around my hips and waist. I need to lose at least 7 kgs in 2 months. I tried to avoid rice and bread. is it ok to have a bowl of steamed rice at least once a day to avoid evening hunger pangs and still slim down my waist? Also is banana ok to eat?

  7. MotleyHealth says:

    Do you exercise Ryan? Follow the diet advice here and get active. Exercise no less than 4 times a week for 40 minutes a time. Review the situation in 1 month to see how much weight you have lost.

  8. Hi, I am an 17 year old, my weight is 50 kg and my height is 5 feet 4 inch. I am very tense beacause i have some belly fat. i want to reduce my belly at home and quickly because whenever i go anywhere i feel so embarrassing. so pls. help me how to reduce my belly…

  9. Sangeetha says:

    Hi ,
    I really liked your site. I am almost following all the food habits mentioned. Working out 5-6 times a week. I have hypo thyroid issue(slow metabloism) and taking medications for that.. I am 5ft 2inches tall and lost 15 lbs and weigh 140lbs now. I had 2 c-sections and weighed around 155lbs when i started my personal training(weekly twice) for the past 5 months. I am doing weight training at least 3times and cardio atleast 2-3 times. i always vary my workout and try and follow new workout classes from my gym. I had low back pain and knee pain issues. Now I am happy with body flexibility and the strength I achieved through the regular workout and my pains are almost gone. But i am not happy about my slow weight loss. I am a vegeterian. I replaced white rice with quinoa, brown rice and using olive oil for my cooking. I take fruits and veggies and three healthy portioned meals a day. i dont eat egg, meat, high sugar foods or too much processed foods. I will continue with my workout. But I want to see more weight loss. could you please tell me what I need to do more to see quick weight loss?

  10. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Sangeetha, to speed up weight loss you really just need to reduce calories more and try to increase fitness. Sounds like you are certainly doing the right things. Maybe consider a morning cardio session then a afternoon / evening weight training session to help boost metabolism throughout the day.

  11. Hey it’s ashley again. Can you please be more spesific about it? what should i add more and in which meal? i really really want to have a perfect diet i don’t want to start this new diet and get dizzy all the time i’ve been doing it wrong for a long time it’s really that hard to have a good diet? okay then i’ll just run till i won’t be able and i could add more cardio at home?

  12. MotleyHealth says:

    What you are eating is OK, but if you are feeling dizzy then you are not getting enough energy. It sounds like you are eating too little. Regarding exercise, try some other activities such as dance, gymnastics, martial arts, circuit training etc. (details of alternative workouts available in out fitness section).

    You should structure your workout really. Better to do 45 minutes of intensive, planned activity a day, than just run until you drop. OK, you will lose weight, but you will not do your body much good in the process. I suggest that you join a sports or fitness club to help give structure to your exercise. It will also add a social aspect.

  13. I’m 21 years old and I have a small amount of fat around my stomach. I’m skinny so its very noticeable and I’ve tried doing sit ups and bicycle work outs. Could you please tell me what to do to reduce this stomach fat, the rest of my body is toned so my stomach is the only problem.

  14. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Priya, increase exercise, do more resistance training and cardio work. And cut out all the unhealthy snacks / foods too.

  15. Globetrotter says:

    I am a male aged 45. I just read your article and it has some terrific advise. I started exercising late July and weighed 230lb. At the moment I weigh 201lb. My height is 5.7. I exercise twice a day and follow a rigid diet. I lost weight easier quite nicely but now it at a lower rate. I still follow the same diet and exercise routine. My BMI is 30 and I am consedered obese. What would my ideal weight be?

  16. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Globetrotter. According to the BMI scale (which is not a perfect system) you should aim to be at or below 159 lbs. You are almost helfway there, well done. It is great that you have the time to exercise twice a day – what are you doing? If just cardio, consider adding some weight training in to the 2nd sessions, start building some muscle. Keep working on your fitness, push yourself to get faster and stronger. The fact that you are still following the same diet and exercise routine now as you were when you started may be the reason you have stalled. Time to increase your workload!

  17. MotleyHealth says:

    Ideally you should adjust slowly. If you carry on exercising (you should) then in time your appetite will start to match your needs and you will be in balance – you will not have to think so much about how much you are eating. But it does have to be a lifestyle change that happens.

  18. Wow what a long post, so much information, this must of taken you months to get together this site. Very well done and I picked up some excellent tips on the visceral fat, very interesting.

  19. MotleyHealth says:

    Len, this site is over 6 years old – more than a few months!

  20. ana naqvi says:

    Hey, this is Ana. I’m a girl of 17. I have developed a little tummy and I don’t have any idea to which exercises should I go for cutting off my fat waist. Can you plz guide on what all should I do to get back into figure?

  21. Chris Graves says:

    These questions that are being asked. Why do 90% of them just not seem right? Like questions no one would ever actually ask.
    And statements no one would ever make. Does stomach fat cause something in the brain that turns you into a drone?

  22. heyy, I’m 17 and I weigh 50kg, I want to lose alot more stomach fat and become healthy for when I’m older. But its very hot here and that makes me tired alot more quickly and harder to do work-outs.
    What should I do to lose more stomach weight and become more active when it comes to summer??
    Please help

  23. MotleyHealth says:

    Chris, not really sure what you mean to be honest. Although many people do seem to skip straight to the questions rather than read the whole article, which I think could be the reason why some questions seem a little irrelevant or repetitive. We strive to help everyone regardless though.

  24. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Tess, unless it is really hot you can still exercise. Stay hydrated (drink water), eat healthy, try to get plenty of sleep and you should have more energy to exercise. If you still find it too hot seek out an air conditioned gym, or exercise early in the morning or in the evening when it is cooler.

  25. I am a teenager who is fairly slim but I have a little belly fat. It is not really a problem but to me it takes away some of my shape. I would like advice on the appropriate exercises that would solve the problem.

  26. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Abi, work on your general fitness. A combination of cardio (running, swimming, cycling, walking), with bodyweight exercises (squats, lunges, push ups etc.) and some weight training and core exercises will help you shape up.

  27. Hai,

    I have to reduce my belly stomach i am vegetarian and 28 years old married,
    so suggest me some tips by which i can reduce my tummy as soon as possible. I am working in night shift.

  28. MotleyHealth says:

    Umesh. First read the whole article above please. You need to start exercising daily (you do have time) and cut out all the junk food, most of the bread / flour based foods etc. Stopping all grains will speed weight loss. Focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, and for protein eat plenty of pulses, lentils, nuts and seeds. If you eat eggs, eat them daily.

  29. yogi raj chhabra says:

    Hi, I am 54 years old and started going to GYM only 6-7 years back, and have reduced my weight to about 68 kg from height is 5-10.

    Although i am happy to have build my body muscular to some extent but some amount of fat still does irritate me always.I try to lift more weights but i feel my joints are not responding. When I think of jogging my back pain surfaces.Strict diet control except 3-4 biscuits with evening tea and week end drinks with small packet of Chips, also skip dinner when drink.

    Please advise me further , i am regularly going to gym and doing abs exercise also 3 times a week. I do not want 4-6 pack but flat stomach. Thanks in anticipation.

  30. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Yogi, you do need to try to increase activity, it does not have to be weight lifting or running though. Bodyweight exercises are effective too, and exercise such as swimming and cycling is low impact and better for the joints too. Diet is important, those biscuits every evening will not be helping you lose weight!

  31. Great article. Losing stomach fat isn’t easy! I found that I had to stop eating so many carbohydrates, and many less calories overall! Also, be sure to exercise to keep your metabolism in check.

  32. Ankan Dutta says:

    Please help me. I’m 25 years old. My Body waight is right now 95kgs.. Please say How to loose my waight??????

  33. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Ankan, follow the rules on this page and you will lose weight. Also look at our fitness articles and the weight loss pages. You need to reduce the amount of food you eat, increase the quality of food and EXERCISE EVERY DAY.

  34. hey im a 23 years female and i really wanted to get fit and loose all the fat in my body, especially my stomach. the problem is im so busy with work and studies and the only exercise i can do is zumba ..does that help?

  35. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Sainiana, Zumba provides an excellent workout. The key is to do it every day and eat smaller portions, eat healthy, and avoid comfort / emotional eating.

  36. Hi, I started exercising end of July 2012 and weighed 230 lb. My BMI suggested that I was obese at 31.5. I now (December 5, 2012) weigh 177 lb and my normal weight target according to BMI is 160 lb. At first it was easy losing weight. Now it is so much harder. I still workout more or less the same way. Why is that so? I am a 45 year old male and has been overweight for many years.

  37. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi William, it is always harder to lose the last of the weight as your body does fight to keep hold of the energy reserves. You have done extremely well to lose 53 pounds, so well done there. Now you need to continue working on your fitness and start making your diet as healthy as possible. A few little sacrifices may be needed to cut the weekly calorie count. Eat lower GI foods, lean proteins, avoid breads, baked goods and other processed / sugary snacks.

  38. I’m a 17 year old and I have some stomach fat but not really I just want to have a flat stomach not abs

  39. MotleyHealth says:

    Jessi, follow the diet rules and get exercising.

  40. supriti sharma says:

    i m 21 years of age and in the starting of this year i gained too much weight first in jan it was 60 kg and now in december it is 66 kg ! i don’t know what to do i have started to work out but i think m all a mess and always screw up my routine , but i think my sleeping in the afternoon for 2 hours may could be the reason plz guide me a bit if you can!

  41. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Supriti, 6kg is not a huge amount of weight to lose, with healthy eating and regular exercise you can lose that in 12 weeks. The 2 hours sleep is not the cause, eating too much food is. Start exercising daily, reduce portion size slightly. Aim to lose 0.5 kg a week, if you do not reach this target increase exercise and reduce food intake.

  42. Can someone please help me? No one that I know is trying to help me lose weight. I don’t know how to get started. I’m 17, tall, and weight 300 pounds. I’m big on sugar, pop, and other junk food. It’s hard to exercise by yourself, you know? I asked wrestlers about weight lose and some of them just eat tuna and drink water and BAM!, instant weight loss. Some say do push-ups but then again, wouldn’t that add muscle over my stomach fat? I just don’t know and it’s stressing me out. My stomach is my ONLY concern. My hips and arms are a little big but im over that. It’s just my stomach like I stated before. I really want to lose it and whenever I start s diet, I can’t stick to it. Also my family is very southern so you know how that goes: greasy food, sweets, and other stuff. My family doesn’t support me so……any ideas or plans will be greatly appreciated.

  43. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Jawanta, from your comment I can suggest the following:

    1. Stop all the “sugar, pop, and other junk food” – don’t just cut back, stop completely.
    2. Eat 3 meals a day, ideally each prepared fresh.
    3. Exercise every day. Jog, swim, cycle, row, p[lay a sport, wrestle etc. Get active. Why not join the wrestlers who you already know?

    As for push-ups adding muscle to under your tummy – they won’t. They won’t help burn fat either. They are a great exercise, especially for martial artists, but should be a part of a larger fitness program.

    Southern greasy food, sweets – you have to stop all that. It is not healthy – the body fat is only a surface problem, underneath you are setting yourself up for life-long diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and many other problems. Change your lifestyle.

    Read Our Essential Guide To Healthy Eating to learn more about diet / food. Nobody ever really needs to “go on a diet”. Permanent, lifestyle change is needed. More exercise, less food, healthier food.

  44. I want to stop eating junk food but I cant stop eating it. I want to lose like about 10 pounds.

    Thank you,
    Olivia DeMeester

  45. MotleyHealth says:

    Olivia, just stop. Don’t buy it, don’t go into restaurants that serve it, make sure it is not on show in your house – if family / friends have it, ask that it is kept in a cupboard, out of sight.

    Start writing down EVERYTHING that you eat. When you read that list after a week this may help encourage you to make a change.

  46. I just read this but I’m a little worried. All my friends say I’m not fat (which I agree) but I still have a ‘fat’ belly. I understand it’s nature and natural to have belly fat, but is it unhealthy if you can’t see the belly fat anymore? On commercials and other ads it shows girls with ‘abs’ and no belly fat so it makes me think it’s okay to have a stomach like that. Also, I have a huge habit of eating unhealthy because I am SUPER picky with what I eat. I hate almost every fruit and veggy and everything healthy. Basically my questions are:
    Is it okay to not see any belly fat? What should I eat if I’m so picky with everything and can’t eat what is healthy? Lastly, I have asthma and had back surgery a year ago so I can’t exercise that well (I can’t do everything everyone else can). What exercises should I do?
    P.s. I’m PERFECT weight for my height, will losing my belly fat effect me in a negative way?

  47. I’m trying to lose weight for breakfast is it healthy to have two boiled eggs and tinned toms or beans

  48. MotleyHealth says:

    Yes, that is healthy.

  49. hi…iam 19 yr old. due to heritance and studying long hours in sitting positions i have developed a belly. i fail to controll myself for unhealthy food stuffs. i have now decided to make it flat and rather have a muscular body. so is it right to join a gym? or i should first control my belly then join the gym?? i will now try my level best to have a healthy diet…and drink lots of water and avoid long sitting positions…

  50. MotleyHealth says:

    Hi Sanket. Firstly, your belly is not because of heritance and sitting for a long time, it is because you eat too much. So, the first step is to change the way you eat, i.e. change your diet. Reduce all the unnecessary foods, like breads, rice etc. that provide only excess energy. Focus on a mixture of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, dairy etc.

    Should you join a gym? Absolutely! Develop a fitness plan though, and stick to it. Aim to exercise for at least 45 minutes a day. There are loads of ideas in our fitness and strength sections. Focus on getting fitter and stronger, and combined with a healthier diet, your belly fat will slowly melt away.

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