Fat Loss and Why Spot Reduction Doesn’t Work

by | Sep 11, 2015 | 0 comments

Over the last 5 years of working in the fitness industry, there is one topic that comes up over and over and over again.  The conversation about spot reduction.  Spot reduction is this idea that in order to achieve fat loss in a certain area, you must tirelessly work that muscle out until the fat disappears off of the back of your arms (triceps) or belly (abdominal muscles)

What is this misconception all about?  I’ll explain with a conversation I have had many times:

Client: How do I get rid of the fat on the back of my arms?

Me: Heavy Squats and Deadlifts

Client: Huh?  I said arms, not legs!

Me: Well, if you want fat loss, your goal is to do exercises that take a lot of calories to do, so doing a heavy squat or deadlift will use all the biggest muscles, therefore helping you lose fat everywhere!

Client:  But what about my arms?  Should I do more tricep extensions?

Me:  You can definitely do that, and when you lose the fat, you will see the muscle that you have built underneath, but the tricep extensions won’t help much with fat burning, because it is a small muscle that takes less energy to move.  Your fat loss will happen proportionally over the whole body.

Client:  Secretly doesn’t believe me and does tricep extensions until she’s blue in the face when I’m not around.


I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have had conversations almost identical to this one.  Let me explain…

Lets continue with the tricep example.  When you do an exercise like a tricep extension, your tricep muscle is working; this is the “burn” you feel.  Lactic acid builds up in the blood, eventually causing your muscle to tire.  The muscle is torn on a microscopic level, and your body works hard to repair this over the next few days.  The muscle is then stronger/bigger… but there has been no fat loss on the back of your arms.

Lets say there is a woman in the gym, and she hates her arms and her mid-section.  Her workout consists of some light weight arm work (so she doesn’t bulk up.. a misconception for another day), and some ab work, then she leaves.  She has just worked on two muscles that are not large enough to energetically mobilize the fat.  So she has essentially worked towards building muscle under her fat.

Here are 4 ways that you can work towards burning that stubborn fat

1. Lift Heavy

Do exercises that use a lot of energy (energy = calories), and the fat will mobilize over the whole body.  Examples of this are heavy compound exercises like the squat, deadlift, other olympic lifts, sprints etc.  And don’t worry!  You won’t get bulky.  People who are bulky put a hell of a lot of effort into getting that way, and it includes tons of calories, lots of testosterone (male hormones), and usually some other substances that help to build.

If you are unsure of your form with complicated lifts, please seek professional help before you hurt yourself! (I just so happen to be one of those professionals.. contact me for more info on training)

2. Eat Well

There are many different specific diets that encourage fat loss, but if you are overwhelmed, make small changes to eat more whole foods that will feed your body nutrients, and not store excess fat.  The main type of food that gets stored in your fat cells is SUGAR, not fat.  Foods that raise your blood sugar quickly will prompt a response for your insulin to basically carry that sugar to fat cells for storage.  The body is smart, and knows you don’t need all that sugar all at once!  Cut down on the main inflammatory foods like sugar, gluten and dairy.  Eat clean meat, LOTS of veggies, and a little bit of fruit, nuts and seeds.

3. Sleep Well

Having a solid sleep will allow your muscles to recover efficiently, allowing you to fit more workouts in to help you with fat loss.

4. Don’t Stress

When your cortisol levels are up (stress hormone), the last thing your body is worried about is losing fat.  In fact, high stress levels are one of the main reasons people hold on to extra weight, especially around the midsection.

This topic has come up countless times, and it seems that no matter how many times or how many different ways I have said it, it doesn’t seem to get the point across.  Please feel free to comment below if you have any further questions on this topic.  I would be happy to help clarify further.

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