Newsflash: Spot Reduction/Spot Training Does NOT Work

Jane fondaI went through a brief period when I was about twenty-one when I committed to doing the Jane Fonda workout (!) every day (!!).  What I loved about Jane’s workout was the way it targeted all those “problem” areas–you know, the thighs, the waist.  Jane and I and all her workout friends in the video, with our big hair, eighties shiny spandex and leg warmers, blasted those areas with leg lift after leg lift and crunch after crunch.

Sometime between then and now it’s become common knowledge that spot reduction is a myth. There is even a Wikipedia entry on it.  In an inconclusive study in 2006  some scientists had male subjects do leg extensions for THIRTY minutes with the same leg. They found that the blood rushed to the active more than the resting leg (I’m no scientist but that doesn’t surprise me in the least), as well as increased lipolysis (lipo=fat). But if it makes a difference, they’re not sure how much of a difference it makes.

I can tell you from my Jane Fonda experience, repetitive exercises that focus on one body part do nothing to reduce just that part.  An article about spot reduction on Livestrong says:

There are no reliable studies that support the idea of spot training. There are, however, several that discredit it. One of the most well-constructed studies to provide evidence against the concept of spot training was conducted by researchers at the University of Massachusetts in the 1980s. During the 27-day program, 13 male subjects were required to perform 5000 sit-ups. Fat biopsies were taken from the subjects’ abdomens, buttocks and upper backs before and after the study. Although the subjects only trained their abs during the course of the study, the results showed that fat decreased similarly at all three test spots.

If it doesn’t work on men, it almost certainly won’t work on women. Again, I can attest to this in an anecdotal way.  Lots of focused effort, no focused reduction.  The science didn’t prevent Livestrong from recently posting this misleading video on the best yoga moves for slimming the waist. I have to say, given the science, this video really infuriated me. I thought we’d established that this “spot” approach was a myth.

Look at the instructor — she doesn’t need any spot reduction of any kind.  No yoga move will literally slim your waist if by “slim your waist” you mean reduce the amount of fat you carry at the waistline.

As Danielle from the Body Yoga Divine blog ranted back in 2012, the whole yoga body idea is a conspiracy! It’s designed to sell yoga, yoga clothing, yoga accessories, yoga magazines, etc.  And it’s not even a healthy ideal, as Danielle, herself a committed yogi, points out:

Lets face it, the yoga body is not a healthy ideal. It is a body overworked and underfed. It is not the result of regular yoga classes but the result of a narcissistic obsession with working out. And it is driven less by empowerment than by feeling ‘fat and inferior’…

The spot reduction thing is just another way of packaging the same idea: body hatred and body obsession. It promises that we can whip those unwieldy areas of our flawed bodies into shape.  It perpetuates something similar to the diet mentality, assuming that there are aspects of our bodies that are unacceptable and need to be dealt with in a way that is at best tedious and at worst thoroughly punishing.

The false promise of spot reduction is akin to the false promise of fad dieting.

Enough!

The only way to see lasting changes in our physical bodies is a combination of physical exercise and healthy eating in reasonable amounts. There is no other way.  And if we’ve had any consistent message on this blog, it’s that it doesn’t need to be a journey of deprivation and self-abuse.  We can engage in activities that we enjoy, set performance goals to get us out the door, have fun getting active with our friends, learn ways of eating (in my case intuitive eating, in Sam’s case, the Precision Nutrition approach) that involve new, healthier habits and mindfulness.

It is true that it is possible to sculpt an already lean body through weight training.  But this is a different thing altogether from spot reduction exercises that supposedly slim areas of the body that are hidden under body fat. For most of us, this is the reality. The ripped, competition-ready physique of a fitness model or body builder is not the norm even for fitness models and body builders.

And above all, we can learn to accept our bodies now, appreciate what they are able to do, maybe even become aware of and grateful for the structural and systemic and often un-acknowledged privilege that being a non-disabled person in this world affords us.

As we approach our fifties, neither Sam nor I plan to follow Jane’s model of binge and purge (she had bulimia during all those years she was making those exercise videos). No, we want to enjoy ourselves, eat well, and have strong, healthy bodies that work for us in our chosen activities. Instead of working at spot reduction, I’ve opted to work towards a healthy body image and to embrace only those things that will take me in that direction (so, no more trips to the bod pod for me; I learned my lesson last month).

Don’t just take my word for it. I invite you to do a google search of “spot reduction myth” and you’ll find articles everywhere from CNN (10 Exercise Myths that Won’t Go Away) to Bodybuilding.com. (You Can’t Spot Reduce: Learn Why!”).

So let’s lay that one and all the body hatred that it suggest to rest for once and for all.

About Tracy I

Writer, feminist, vegan, triathlete, sailor, philosopher, sometimes knitter.

18 thoughts on “Newsflash: Spot Reduction/Spot Training Does NOT Work

  1. Good article, however I think Charles Poliquin claims you can spot reduce using his Biosignature Modulation. http://upfitness.co.uk/articles/biosignature/is-spot-reduction-a-myth-biosignature-modulation-with-charles-poliquin/

    However again this is making people focus on fat loss rather than just being healthy.

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  2. Craig Burgess says:

    So Tracy – have you new decided that lean mass-to-fat ratio is no longer a ratio in which you are interested or which you think is relevant for reasons pertaining to fitness? Or are you suspending your opinion on that subject while you for personal reasons, strive for a healthy body image, the latter of which is simply more important to you at this juncture?

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  3. Craig Burgess says:

    I ask this only because you say you won’t be going to the bod pod anymore.

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  4. Reblogged this on Mentoring Movement and commented:
    It’s an easy diet / fitness pitfall … we think we can work on one area, and it will magically get thinner (thighs, butt, abs, etc.). We could start a huge revolution by focusing on getting our entire body fit enough to do what we need it to do, and still have some reserves left over.

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  5. Gingerzingi says:

    I used to religiously do all those workout shows on Fit TV – don’t remember the titles now, but they all had insanely fit hosts (leaders? not sure what you call them) with a posse of more super-fit bodies. During one of the “aerobic” workouts, it suddenly occurred to me that the muscular, no-body-fat leader was almost certainly not doing this workout in HER real life to attain or maintain that body—she didn’t get those quads and delts doing step aerobics! Since then I’ve always been suspicious of promises that a workout can make your body a certain way. You can make some changes to the body you’ve got; you can’t get someone else’s body.

    Also, I really resent celebrities who put us through all that angst while they were secretly bulimic. I can feel their pain, but I also feel like a BIG apology is in order!

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    • Tracy I says:

      I love that epiphany you had. So true! And the celebrities aren’t just bulimic, either. So many have personal trainers who run along side them and take them through their workouts and personal chefs who cook their food to spec, and teams of people whose jobs are all about making the celebrity look good, from dressers to make-up artists.

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  6. ‘The only way to see lasting changes in our physical bodies is a combination of physical exercise and healthy eating in reasonable amounts.’ Tracy, IMHO, you make a lot of sense. Thank you for sharing.

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  7. […] Newsflash: Spot Reduction/Spot Training Does NOT Work Fit, Feminist, and (almost) Fifty calls out a longstanding exercise myth. […]

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  8. So I saw a response about biosignature modulation and I thought I would elaborate… How your fat is distributed in your body is dictated by your hormones. One of the more familiar associations is that android fat is associated with insulin hence why high amounts of android fat are correlated with diabetes. Another one that people can make sense of easily is fat on your chest… Chest fat distribution is increased with estrogen which is why women have breasts and improper steroid use can lead to moobs.

    Charles Poliquin’s biosignature modulation uses a 12 point skin fold measurement test to assess hormone levels by fat distribution. People have “problem areas” because certain hormones are imbalanced. If you correct the hormone imbalances fat will distribute differently.

    Now all this being said there is a way to “spot reduce” outside of fat storage. Fat is connected to your skin via your muscle. The more muscle you have the stronger the connection between your skin and your fat. Some people have been known to “carry” their weight better and usually those are people who have more muscle. If you increase the muscle in a particle area it will increase the connective tissue to your fat so it will be less saggy. Now the amount of fat doesn’t change but spot reduction is really about making a body part look more appealing…

    So I get the point of the article and you’re right most people use “spot reduction” as misleading term both from a workout perspective and supplement perspective, but there are ways to do it. Hope this clears a few things up…

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  9. […] our bodies do have chooses to hang out. That’s largely the fault of hormones and hereditary. (Newsflash: Spot Reduction/Spot Training Does NOT Work.) So the best you can do is learn to love your new body and treat it well. (Love is a better […]

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  10. […] Oh, and the hot pants also claim to help with trouble areas. You’re supposed to lose more inches in the areas where the special heat panels are located. That sounds a tad unlikely too.  Potential buyers ought to read Newsflash: Spot Reduction/Spot Training Does NOT Work. […]

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