Spot Reducing for Fitness: How Do I Do It? 

When I get approached by potential clients, I always ask if they have any particular goals in mind for their coaching and/or programming, and it’s not uncommon for me to be told the same thing. “I’d like to lose fat from my _____.” 

And this can be from a number of recurring places – arms, waist, thighs, etc. This type of fat loss is known as ‘spot reduction’, the idea being that you can target a specific area of the body to reduce fat. 

I’m going to tell you the same thing I tell each of these prospective clients: you can’t. Or rather, you can, but it depends on some very specific circumstances. 

The human body, as I’ve previously touched on, is remarkable, but not in the way many people want it to be. Quite simply, the body will choose the easiest option for self-preservation. Last time I talked about this and ‘starvation mode’, but now I want to address some basic facts about training for fat loss. 

Fats are vital: for energy, hormone regulation, vitamin transport, a functioning nervous system, insulation, and so on. We all need a certain level of fat in our diets. Your body knows this and actively tries to maintain a fairly even fat distribution over the entire body.  

Now, everyone carries more fat in different places, based on things including genetics, upbringing, and gender. Men tend to carry fat more easily around the waist and are more likely to develop visceral fat (fat surrounding vital organs and body systems). Women, meanwhile, tend to carry fat more easily on the lower abdomen, the bottom and the thighs, and are more likely to get subcutaneous fat (fat just below the surface of the skin). It’s important to remember that women naturally have a higher body fat percentage than men, which is normal and vital for health. However, women, on the whole, process fats much more efficiently than men do, which is why men have a much higher risk of developing visceral fat and related illnesses. 

So the body will inevitably balance fat loss across the whole body, proportional to where you naturally carry your fat the most. This makes it difficult to exclusively target the fat in your upper arm, for example, and not any other part of the body.  

The only point at which you can really target specific areas of fat is when your overall body fat has already dropped, so that the actual stubborn areas reveal themselves. Even then, the process for targeting those areas don’t really differ from overall fat loss techniques, which I’m more than happy to help you out with! 

So in short, you cannot spot reduce for fat loss. When you try to, what you end up doing is taking time on ineffective methods that will at best be a waste of time and at worst cause you to overtrain a particular part of your body and open you up to injury.  

Using the same example of the upper arm, imagine using every workout to train your biceps and triceps, thinking that that will reduce the fat there. You stop doing exercises that will actually help and you end up overtraining your arms. They end up constantly fatigued, so your form slips and your shoulder joints pick up the slack. From there, your shoulder is put under unnecessary strain and you end up injuring it. 

And when you’re injured, fat loss comes to a grinding halt. 

Spot ‘gaining’, however, is a different story. Remember that your body wants to take the easiest path to be physically capable of what’s required of it. It just doesn’t work the other way around. I’ll go into more detail on this in a future post. 

If you’ve been struggling with anything I’ve mentioned above, please do send me a message or comment below! I’ll be glad to help. And please comment below if there are any topics you would like me to cover in upcoming weeks.