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InBody USA - Spot Reduction: Can You Target Belly Fat (or any fat area)?

November 26, 2018

Editor’s Note: This post was updated on November 25, 2018, for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on March 17, 2016.

Love Handles. Turkey Neck. Bat Wing. Muffin Top.

Your body weight might be normal, but you may have that one problem area that you wish you could target and get rid of. That is why spot reduction is so alluring – if we just use that weight shaker, wear that abdominal sweat band, or drink that tummy flab blaster smoothie, we can target those problem areas and finally achieve that perfect body.

But does spot reduction actually work? If build muscle groups with certain exercises, surely you can target abdominal fat in the same manner, right?

In order to clear up any misconceptions let’s first cover how fat is created and stored, then we will cover which problem areas you can and cannot target, and effective strategies you can employ to finally lose that belly fat (or any area) and finally achieve that lean body you want.

How Fat Mass Is Created and Stored

Body fat by itself is not a problem; you need it to survive. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors would need this storage of energy when food was scarce.  However, carrying excessive amounts can cause health problems ranging from diabetes and hypertension to metabolic syndrome and other serious problems.

Body fat mass is created when you are in a caloric surplus – taking in more energy than your body needs, or in plain speech: “overeating.” This is true for all humans, regardless of whether you’re male or female.

Here’s the thing: it’s actually a lot easier to get into a caloric surplus than you might think.  Just because you’re eating until you feel full doesn’t mean you’re eating what will keep your body weight stable.

The 2,000-calorie diet you’re likely familiar with was designed to be the best estimate of people’s daily caloric needs, but since everyone has an unique body composition, 2,000 calories may be too little – or give you a caloric surplus that will be converted into storage, especially if you’re sedentary.

How can 2,000 calories be a surplus? Take the example of someone who is metabolically obese but has a normal weight – someone popularly termed as “skinny fat.”

Body composition analysis reveals that this female has a normal body weight of 135.3 pounds, and you would never categorize this person as obese. However, a closer look at her body composition reveals that has an excess of 47.4 pounds of fat mass, which divided against her body weight would be a body fat percentage of 35%, over the normal range for women. Put it together and she displays the hallmarks of a skinny fat individual: “normal” weight caused by underdeveloped muscle mass and too much fat.

What would happen if she kept living the same lifestyle? She has 88 pounds of Lean Body Mass (which includes your muscle mass and other components), which after simple calculations converts to a BMR of 1231 kcal.

Assuming she lives a mostly sedentary lifestyle with no exercise, her Total Daily Energy Expenditure would be roughly 1477.2 calories.

This would mean that if she kept to a 2,000-calorie diet, she would be in a caloric surplus of 522.8 kcal per day – meaning she could expect to gain roughly a pound of fat every week if she remained consistently on this diet every day.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or women; accumulation occurs in the same way. Where it ends up, however, can be a different story for both men and women.

Android Obesity

Android obesity is a subset of obesity that most frequently occurs in men.  It is characterized by weight gain in the midsection and upper chest and gives men a more rounded look. This is sometimes called “apple-shaped” obesity.

Men store more of their fat here because of their hormones, specifically, their testosterone levels.  Women can also experience android obesity after menopause due to the decrease of estrogen in their bodies relative to testosterone.

Gynoid Obesity

Gynoid Obesity is another subset of obesity that most commonly occurs in pre-menopausal women.  It is characterized by fat accumulation in the hips, legs, and buttocks.  Because the accumulation generally takes place in the lower half of the body, gynoid obesity is referred to as “pear-shaped obesity.”

While everyone gains it the same way, fat accumulates in different places depending on gender, hormones, and other factors.

Now that we know how fat is created, how do we target it?

Here’s What You Can and Can’t Target

What actually happens when you work out a muscle group?  You challenge your muscles.  Muscle fibers get torn and rebuilt, and with proper exercise and nutrition, they become more developed.

Although this can lead to localized blood flow in the exercised muscles leading to some interaction with the subcutaneous fat, the effects are very minimal.

Here’s the bad news. Targeting fat, or “spot reduction,” is a myth, and there’s no shortage of clinically-validated studies that disprove it.

In 2007, researchers at the University of Connecticut examined a group of 104 subjects and had them perform resistance training on their non-dominant arm (so if a subject was right-handed, they exercised their left arm).

At the conclusion of the 12-week study, MRI scans revealed no fat loss between either arm.

So arms are out (as are legs), but what about the one a lot of people really want to target: belly fat?

Well, in a recent (2011) study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, participants were divided into two groups and asked to perform abdominal exercises. The control group was allowed to train relatively unsupervised, while the experimental group was put on a controlled abdominal exercise workout plan.

The results for both groups?

“Six weeks of abdominal exercise training alone was not sufficient to reduce abdominal subcutaneous fat or other measures of body composition.”

Vispute et al, 2011

No matter how many crunches or planks you do, you can’t target only the abdominal fat.  You might develop some very strong ab muscles, but the belly fat will stay put.

So what can you do to get rid of stubborn fat in your problem spots?  Are we to conclude that there is no point in working out different parts of your body when you want to lose fat?

When you lose fat, you generally lose it in across your body at the same time.  You can’t