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Targeting a single area for fat loss, or spot reduction – is a popular goal for many. Most of us have at least one part of our body where we seem to carry more weight — often the butt, thighs, belly, or the back of your arms.

But is it that simple? Can you really choose the area where you’d like to generate weight loss?

Well, there’s a popular concept known as spot reduction that involves specific, targeted exercises for problem areas. The idea behind spot reduction is to burn fat, and lose weight, in this one particular body area.

But does spot reduction really work? It turns out, there’s not a lot of scientific evidence to back up this type of exercise for weight loss.

Understanding How Fat Loss Really Works

Here’s the main problem with spot reduction and fat loss: The fat in your cells exists as triglycerides. But these triglycerides are useless as fuel in this state. They need to be broken down into glycerol and free fatty acids, where they’ll enter your bloodstream and help boost energy.1

Unfortunately, your body can’t just decide to only burn triglycerides from one particular area to power your entire system on any given day. Those body parts are just the storage facilities.

How to Burn Calories and Fat

spot reduction | LCR HealthIn order to burn calories and generate fat loss, you need to perform aerobic exercises at a fairly moderate to high level. But most spot reduction exercises are performed at a pretty low intensity in order to isolate the area. This won’t burn many calories.

As an example, moderate to high-level aerobic exercises that work best for fat loss are generally full-body cardiovascular exercises. These include brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT).2

Spot Reduction Debunked

Many studies have looked at the theory of spot reduction and fat loss – and none have found that targeted fat loss is possible.

One study focused on exercises that just targeted belly fat loss. The participants, aged 18-40, performed only abdominal exercises for 6 weeks. Researchers concluded that abdominal exercises alone were simply not enough to reduce abdominal subcutaneous fat (belly fat).3

Another study focused on the effectiveness of upper body resistance training for spot reduction on the arms. For three months, participants exercised only one arm (lifting weights with their non-dominant arm.) Results showed that though some fat loss occurred, it came from the entire body, not the arm specifically.4

There is Another Way

It’s not all bad news when it comes to fat loss in one specific area. Instead of spot reduction, think of performing these kinds of targeted muscle exercises as spot training your muscle mass.

Here’s why: Training one muscle group – like the glutes, triceps, or abdominals – may not burn fat in those specific spots, but it will help build muscle mass overall. Working muscles this way creates muscle tone and definition.

You can combine these spot training resistance workouts (for muscle tone) with cardio workouts (to burn fat). This will help you lose overall body fat. Then, you’ll start to see more defined muscles throughout your body.5

spot reduction | LCR Health

Why Diet and Fitness Go Hand in Hand

It’s absolutely essential that you combine a healthy, low-calorie diet with both cardiovascular exercise and resistance/weight training. You must have a calorie deficit to lose weight.

That is, to lose weight, you have to consume fewer calories than your body burns each day.

Regardless of whether your metabolic rate (metabolism) is fast or slow, your body will store any excess energy from calories in fat cells.6 If you’re consuming large amounts of calories in your diet, then you also need to be performing larger amounts of high-intensity exercise.

You should aim for a diet plan that’s high in fruits and vegetables and low in processed foods. Processed foods are almost always high in sodium and sugar – and they’ve lost essential nutrients through processing.

Quite simply, if you’re consuming a high-calorie diet, you’ll need to include a regular fitness routine to help with burning fat on your thighs, or reducing excess stomach fat.

Visceral Fat: A Real Danger

spot reduction | LCR HealthWhile visible subcutaneous fat may be upsetting, what’s far worse is having something called visceral fat. Visceral fat is a type of fat that you can’t see. It wraps around your internal organs, and it can be dangerous.7

The good news is, a combination of diet and moderate exercise can help reduce visceral fat.8

Burn Fat and Calories Without Spot Reduction

So, instead of thinking about spot reduction, it’s time to reframe your mind. Diet, consistent cardiovascular exercise, and muscle-toning spot training can make all the difference. This cardio can be anything from walking to high-intensity interval training. And your spot training may be lifting weights or committing to an abdominal routine.

You should also take a good, hard look at what you eat. Diet plays a huge role in fat loss and fitness. Burning fat through exercise is not effective if your exercise routine can’t keep up with your high-calorie diet.

If you’re unsure of where to start when it comes to diet – that’s okay! Just speak to your doctor, or a nutritionist, to help set you on the right path to fat and weight loss.

Learn More
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