Spot reduction during weight loss

Many people want to lose weight and fat, preferably at the problem zones like the abdomen or hips. To achieve fat loss on the abdomen, many people perform abdominal exercises or they use special machines which claim to stimulate local fat loss such as the Better Belly®, Slim Belly® or similar devices. It seems logical that the muscles which are active during an exercise burn fat that is closest to the muscle. However, unfortunately spot reduction is not possible and here is why:

There are several reasons why you can’t choose the location where fat is removed. Firstly, when performed right, the intensity of resistance exercise is too high to burn fat. Even when the intensity is low enough to burn fat, it will not disappear on the locations nearest to the active muscle, but the fat will come from free fatty acids in the blood.

These fatty acids are released by fat stores throughout the body, and the body determines which fat stores release the required fatty acids. This is influenced by body build, sex and therefore genetics, but can’t be influenced by exercises targeting specific locations or devices that claim to mobilize fat at a certain location. There is no scientific evidence supporting the workings of such machines nor is there any theoretical mechanism which could support this theory.

There is however some evidence that resistance exercise influences hormone levels which regulate where fat is stored, and when resistance exercise is performed right, fat mass is reduced to a larger extent on the abdomen. To achieve this, all muscles should be trained at a high intensity. The only other way to achieve local fat loss is that really works is a visit to your local plastic surgeon.*

* Note: This is an ironic statement, plastic surgery is not a field of specialty of Fitness Science and we don’t recommend it specifically to achieve local fat loss.

References:

-Heyward, V.H. (2010). Designing Weight Management and Body Composition Programs. Advanced Fitness Assessment and Exercise Prescription Sixth Edition. USA. Human Kinetics.

-Spriet, L.L. The Metabolic Systems: Lipid Metabolism. In: ACSM’s Advandec Exercise Physiology. Lippincot Williams & Wilkins USA.