Maybe your wrists are thin, but you have enough underarm fat to make you think twice about going sleeveless. Or perhaps you love to flaunt your slim face, but feel saddled by your muffin top. In fact, you might think that some parts of your body are perfect and some seem to belong elsewhere!
That’s why spot reduction is such an attractive concept. The gist of it is that you use targeted exercises to work out your trouble spot in hopes of toning that one area.
If spot reduction could give us leaner arms, calves and abdominal muscles, wouldn’t it be worth the thousands of hypothetical flutter kicks we’d be willing to do?
It’s no wonder there are tons of articles and videos about the miracles of spot reduction workouts.
In this article, we dive into what science says about spot reduction.
You don’t get to choose where your body loses fat
The truth is, even if you blast a specific body area with exercise, you lose fat throughout your entire body – not just your love handles.
Todd Miller, a professor of nutrition and exercise sciences, likens body fat to fuel in a tank. He says, “Thinking you can reduce fat from your stomach alone is like saying you want to use gas only from the right side of your gas tank.”
He also said that during exercise, fat gets recruited equally from all over the body.
Indeed, the most compelling evidence that supports this comes from a study conducted by the University of Massachusetts in the mid-1980s. Researchers asked 13 male participants to perform a total of 5,000 sit-ups over the course of 27 days. That’s an average of about 185 sit-ups in a single day per person!
At the conclusion of the programme, the researchers took fat biopsies from the stomach, buttocks and upper back of each participant. Instead of losing flab only in the abdomen, the men had lost inches across all these body areas.
Does fat really “burn”?
When we’re going full-on at the gym, it’s easy to mistake the feeling of muscle burn as a sign that our spot blasting is working. The truth, however, is much more complicated than this.
That burning sensation is caused by your muscles producing lactic acid. It’s their way of saying “Enough!”
Muscle fatigue is good for you, though. It means that your muscles are being challenged, which makes them stronger. But it does not mean that the fat surrounding these particular muscles has been burnt off, so to speak.
The stubborn excess fat cells you do want to get rid of are called adipocytes, and they’re located most prominently in your trouble spots. These don’t quite function like your normal fat cells because they release energy at an abnormally slow rate.
When you exercise, your body taps on the energy stored in these adipocytes. It does this by breaking down the fat within the adipocytes into energy-giving molecules, such as glycerol. These molecules float into the bloodstream and towards the organs that need sustenance.
These energy-giving molecules can come from adipocytes all over the body – not just the trouble spot you’re working out.
Why am I fat only in certain areas?
It can be devastating to start an exercise regime only to find your weight shedding off the wrong body parts, like your face and your breasts. Nature can be cruel.
The question is, why do we seem to carry more stubborn fat in certain areas?
“Genetics is the most important determinant for where fat is stored,” said Scott Kahan, director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Canada. That is how we come to have similar body shapes as our parents, he added. Now it makes sense why there’s a Thighmaster in the storeroom your mum won’t talk about.
Age, gender and lifestyle play a role, too.
And because women’s bodies are geared towards childbearing, the fairer sex has a higher percentage of body fat to begin with, especially in the thighs and hips – where fat is often the most stubborn.
It doesn’t help that as women experience perimenopause and menopause, hormonal fluctuations can also cause fat accumulation in the belly region.
And good luck with losing your stubborn weight if you had gained it during your adolescent years.
Scientists have found that the number of fat cells remain constant from your adolescence to your adulthood. Think of fat cells as storage rooms for fatty acids. When you lose weight, fat cells shrink because they lose the fatty acids within them, but the fat cells themselves don’t really disappear on their own.
It doesn’t mean that overweight children are destined to be overweight as adults. But it does mean they will always have a higher storage capacity for fat throughout their lives.
This could be why obese children have more difficulty shaking off excess weight as grown-ups.
So, what works?
In any case, forget about using sit-ups to tighten your abs.
Although those 13 men in the University of Massachusetts study did lose inches from doing 5,000 sit-ups, they would have achieved more had they performed exercises involving larger muscle groups, such as squats or deadlifts.
In short, don’t just focus on one body part when you exercise.
To fight flab with exercise, combine a full-body cardio workout with spot toning. While you cannot selectively reduce the size of your fat pockets through exercise, consistent strength-building and cardio workouts can help you increase muscle mass.
And when you build more muscle, more fat will be burned as muscle cells consume a whole lot of energy.
But because muscle is heavier than fat, the tradeoff could mean that you actually gain more net weight.
How we can help
To lose flab naturally, you may want to consider our signature CSH therapy® program. It uses a combination of scraping, cupping, and heat treatment to supercharge your metabolism in the long run, with weight loss averaging 4-6kg in 1 month*.
You don’t have to be overweight to see results.
CSH therapy® is perfect for people who don’t see results from dieting and/or exercise. It also promotes targeted inch loss in trouble spots like the thighs, waist and hips. An improved metabolism can work wonders!
Since 2002, Absolute Wellness has helped thousands of clients achieve their ideal weight with a 99 per cent success rate. Check out their testimonials, or read more about what our CSH therapy® program is about.
*Results may vary between individuals.