Body fat and spot reduction

One of the biggest myths in the fitness industry today is spot reduction. Regardless how often this point is clarified, many of us still struggle to understand the rationale behind it. Companies prey on our uncertainty by producing miracle pills, creams and fat-melting contraptions, profiting millions every year by capitalising on this fat-burning saga.

Spot reduction is the myth that by training a specific part of the body, we can directly target fat in that area. The most common examples are doing crunches and sit ups to remove belly fat, triceps exercises for those unwanted ‘batwings’, and using the adductor machine to burn fat from the inner thighs.

As nice as it would be to instruct the body where to oxidize fat from first, unfortunately it does not work that way. It is physiologically impossible to train a specific part of the body, in an attempt to burn fat directly from that area.

This is because muscle and fat are two completely different cells. Muscle is metabolically active tissue. It can lengthen and contract, allowing the body to move through many planes of movement. An individual with greater muscle than fat mass, will have an elevated metabolism and burn more calories at rest.

Unlike muscles, we cannot flex fat. It sits there and jiggles us out of shape. An individual with more fat than muscle mass, will have a slower metabolism and burn fewer calories at rest.

Doing crunches, triceps kickbacks, thigh adductions, glute bridges or any other resistance exercise, will target the muscles beneath the fat. It will stimulate them to lengthen and contract, however it will do nothing to directly eliminate the body fat concealing them.

Think about it for a second – if you and I trained our abs vigorously in desperate hope that it will burn fat from our midsection, what will be sore tomorrow?

Our abs of course, not our fat.

Our genetic makeup, gender and hormonal biochemistry, dictate where we store our body fat. In men, fat is usually stubborn in the abdominal region and lower back. For most women, the hips, thighs, triceps and buttocks are the troublesome sites.

The body has a predisposed and systematic way of burning fat. In most cases, the last place we lose fat is the first place we initially stored it.

A great way to illustrate this fat burning pattern is with the swimming pool analogy. Imagine the body is a pool and the water represents our fat levels. The shallow end is where we store the least body fat and the deep end corresponds to our stubborn sites. The deep end fills up before the shallow end, whereas draining the pool results in the shallow end emptying out prior to the deep end.

When our goal is to ‘drain’ the fat out of the body, a similar phenomenon will take place. The shallow end will respond prior to the deep end. Trying to spot reduce fat is like attempting to empty the water with an empty bucket, starting from the deep end first.

It is simply not possible.

Proper nutrition and corrective exercise is what will initiate the progressive ‘draining’ of our body fat levels. Consistency, patience and perseverance is needed in order for this to take place.

All of that, plus a little bit of luck – which stands for labour under correct knowledge.