Spot Reduction

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One of the most popular questions to hear in the fitness industry…..”How can I get rid of this?” (grabs fat on side of upper leg). Oh spot reduction how I loathe you.

Yet you create the need for knowledge in the general population and the debunking of oh so many fitness magazine articles, *cough* Shape. Now it’s time to figure out what will be your best bet in accomplishing said, spot reduction.

According to many fitness “professionals” we can target a certain area to only change/alter that aspect of someone’s body. This may seem like a logical concept to most and may very well be TRUE. See this study This shows that adipose tissue near the muscles “working” will have increased blood flow and lipolysis (fat loss). However, the amount could be insignificant…..but why? (As my 5 year old would ask). Let’s paint a picture here. We have client A doing the abductor/adductor machines aka “good girl, bad girl” machines in the local gym every other day to reduce the amount of fat on the outside of her upper thigh. Now we have client B, who is squatting and/or deadlifting every other day to accomplish the same task. Who is going to get this done faster and have a better “appearance” of her outer thigh? Is client A or B demanding more of their body? The winner is client B!

Client B may not be isolating the outer thigh in her training as much as client A, but we can make the assumption that client B is asking significantly more of the musculature under a “heavy” squat or deadlift, therefore burning more calories total. To tie this all together let’s make up some imaginary numbers on caloric totals and fat calorie totals. Say client A burns 50 kCals during her "good girl bad girl" workout 12 reps x 3 sets and 90% is from the surrounding adipose tissue (probably high) and has little caloric expenditure after the workout, this means she burned 45 kCals from her "outer thigh adipose tissue". Client B does 5 reps x 3 sets of "heavy squats" let’s say that is 100lbs to her. She may burn 150 kCals from the workout itself with 50% being from surrounding adipose tissue, yet her caloric expenditure over the next 2-3 days could be inflated due to the increased workload, this means she burned 75 kCals from her "outer thigh adipose tissue" and who knows how many post workout. This is not even to consider the multitude of other musculature recruited and trained in the squat.

So my main take home here is spot reduction is pointless! Not that it doesn't work; just that it is not the best option. So my answer to the ladies' question at the beginning of the article is this. I think you should squat somewhat heavy weight 3 times a week to get a better look to your outer thigh area. This would be an easy answer to any spot reduction: because we are training much more musculature using a compound lift (Squat, Deadlift, Press, Bench Press) than we are an isolation exercise (leg extension, bicep curl) I would recommend that you train the compound lifts frequently and that will help you "spot reduce" the areas you do not like. Of course now we can get into the genetics argument and how this effects my theory. However, I will simply say this. Most people asking about spot reduction are untrained or intermediate lifters/trainees at best, therefore they are nowhere near their genetic potential and until they approach their genetic potential, spot reduction is unnecessary to contemplate. Morale of the story: Go do some compound lifts and don't fall victim to training hocus pocus.