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Tips for Trainers: Spot Reduction Debunked

January 23, 2017

No doubt, one of the most popular questions to hear in the fitness industry is, “How can I get rid of this?” *Grabs fat on side of upper leg.*

Oh, spot reduction, how I loathe you; but yet, you create the need for knowledge in the general population and the debunking of oh so many fitness magazine articles. Now it’s time to figure out what will be your best bet in accomplishing spot reduction.

Client A vs. Client B: Spot the Difference?

According to some fitness professionals, we can target a certain area to only change or alter that one aspect of someone’s body. This is called  . This concept may seem logical to most and may very well be true. Studies show 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 8 year old would ask).

Let’s paint a picture here: first, we have Client A doing the abductor/adductor machines in the local gym every other day to reduce the amount of fat on the outside of his/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 his/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 during 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 total calories. If Client A burns 50 kCals during a workout of 3 sets of 12 reps and 90% is from the surrounding adipose tissue (a very high estimate) and has little caloric expenditure after the workout, this means he/she burned 45 kCals from the outer thigh adipose tissue.

On the other hand, Client B does 3 sets of 5 reps of “heavy squats” of 100lbs. Client B may burn 150 kCals from the workout itself with 50% being from surrounding adipose tissue, but Client B’s caloric expenditure over the next 2 days may be inflated due to the increased workload. Meaning, 75 kCals were burned from the outer thigh adipose tissue in addition to more post-workout. This estimate is not even taking into consideration the multitude of other musculature recruited and trained in the squat.

The Truth of Spot Reduction

The main take home here is that spot reduction is near pointless! It’s not that it doesn’t work – it does perfectly fine; just that it is not the best option. Trainers, this is my opinion to offer to your clients: your client 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 much more musculature is being used during compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, presses, and bench press) than an isolation exercise, I recommend that you train using compound lifts frequently. That will help the appearance of you “spot reducing” the areas your clients do not like.

Other Factors Affecting Spot Reduction

However, there is the genetics argument and how this affects my theory. I will simply say this: Most people asking about spot reduction are untrained or trainees at the intermediate level, at best. Therefore, they are nowhere near reaching their genetic potential and need to take advantage of the novice progression to training first, which leaves room room for isolated training exercises.

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