“I want to lose weight in my…”
Back in 2009 the decision was made that I was going to finally focus on my fitness. I was going to shed some weight and begin striving for the body I dreamt of.
And a year later I did just that, losing 100 pounds.
There were a handful of reasons I wanted to enhance my physique.
- First and foremost, I wanted to impress a girl.1
- The secondary reason was an absolute shame I had of my body.
And while there were plenty of parts of my physique I wanted to see improvement in, there was one spot that stood above the rest: my lower back.
While chasing love2 may have been the primary reason for my transformation, my ironically named love handles we’re resulting as a roadblock in that pursuit — and I wanted them gone.
Trouble areas, or places where we store a seemingly abnormal amount of fat, are not a rarity. For me, it was my lower back. For you, it might be your stomach or the back of your legs.
Regardless of the area, you can rest assured that we all have a very specific deposit of fat we wish would promptly vacate the premises of our body.
The Introduction of Spot Reduction
For nearly as long as fitness has been around, so has the idea of spot reduction.
Walk into any commercial gym in the country and you’ll undoubtedly see a group of middle aged women doing 1000 rep arm circles in the blind pursuit of a bingo-wing-less-arm.
Targeted fat loss has a long and illustrious history in the realm of fitness, and this doesn’t just apply to the people at your local YMCA. Even the GOAT himself, Arnold, was spouting off about the benefits of spot reduction. Which, after 7 Mr. Olympia titles, seems to have worked out pretty well for him.
Over the years though, spot reduction became less of a philosophized strategy and more of a marketing buzzword. People began regurgitating promises like “lose belly fat FAST” or “rid your love handles for good” in the attempt to get more attention or make more sells.
And it worked.
Hell, when I was 16 I purchased a 300 dollar man-boob-be-gone program… just to never use it.
Slowly though, the pendulum began to shift.
And from one extreme came the other.
Studies began popping up everywhere claiming that spot reduction was an absolute myth. And like when any study comes out, the evidence-based fitness community came out in hoards to combat the devil-spawn that was spot reduction.
But despite this backlash from the fitness industry, and the swaying of the pendulum, spot reduction remains one of the most common goals in all of fitness. This is a goal that I began my journey with, and now as a coach it is one I’ve seen many of my clients begin with as well.
In fact, its safe to say that every coach has encountered this specific request. And as such, they typically have a go to response for this question. Which goes a little something like this:
“Spot Reduction is a myth. To lose fat anywhere you must lose fat everywhere.”
-Coach Joe, (Pitch Fork Equipped Evidence-Based Trainer)
But is that really the case?
Is spot reduction really a myth?
Well, the honest answer is yes… and (maybe more importantly) no.
At least, not really.
“But Nick, how can something be true and not true? Isn’t that contradictory? Can I or can’t I tone this gut?”
-Bill, (Voice of Public Opinion and Entirely Made Up Human Being)
Yes and Yes, Bill. It’s entirely contradictory and you CAN tone that gut.
As far as it being true and false… well, I can explain.
Spot Reduction is much more misunderstood than it is myth, but to explain the duality of this proposition, we must first understand exactly what spot reduction is and what it encompasses.
What is Spot Reduction?
Due to the name, there is a vague semblance of simplicity. Unfortunately, like most things in fitness, alongside that faux-simplicity is the prevalence of misconception.
So to clear up that confusion in the simplest way possible:
Spot Reduction is the pursuit to achieve a more “toned” look in a specific area. More often than not this spot is a “trouble area”. While this changes from person to person, there are some more common areas of interest.
Standard For Men: stomach, lower back, lower chest.
Standard For Women: Back of arms, stomach, upper back, inner thigh.
Pretty simple, right?
Well, we are about to take it just a little bit deeper. If you noticed, above in bold is a very important word: Tone. Once again a word with a very simple connotation alongside a boatload of misconception.
So, once again, let’s throw a quick definition on toning:
Toning is the the process of pursuing a more lean or “tight” look. This is typically achieved by: removing body fat to reveal the muscle, adding lean muscle to make the muscle easier to reveal, OR both.
More often than not, this goal is associated as the antithesis of being or becoming “bulky”.
And actually… toning sounds an awful lot like spot reduction, doesn’t it?
The reason for this is that “toning” actually holds the key to any successful spot reduction.
The Secret to Spot Reduction
To spot reduce you must lose fat (everywhere) AND add lean muscle (in the trouble area).
Spot Reduction has been chalked up as a myth because it has been viewed solely from a perspective of fat loss. And unfortunately Coach Joe is right, you CANNOT choose where you lose fat from.
In regards to losing body fat in a specific area, the best you can hope for is to lose it everywhere and wait for it to come off where you want it. Do this and eventually even the most troublesome areas will take on a much leaner aesthetic.
By looking at spot reduction only from the focus of fat loss you are missing out on the most important piece of the spot reduction puzzle — and the only one you can actually control: Muscle Gain.
But before we go any further, let’s play a quick game.
(It applies, I promise.)
Question: Bill lives in Los Angeles and Coach Joe lives in New York City. Of the choices below, if Bill wanted to see Coach Joe, what would be the quickest way to do so?
A) Bill drives to NYC.
B) Coach Joe drives to LA.
C) They both drive and meet in the middle.
D) Imaginary people can’t drive, this game sucks.
Ignoring the fact that was actually a multiple choice question and definitely not a game, was the answer pretty obvious?
The quickest way for Bill and Coach Joe to see each other is to meet in the middle. 3
Now, Bill could easily just wait for Coach Joe to make the long trek from NYC to LA. But by choosing to wait for Coach Joe, he is not only elongating the process, but he is also putting himself at the whims and pace of however quick Joe decides to travel.
By choosing to take matters into his own hands and meeting Joe in the middle, Bill is instantly able to fast track a process that would normally take twice as long.
This is the exact same approach you must take when prioritizing any specific part of your body.
You’re eating right and you could easily just wait for the coming fat loss to lean out your area of distain. But by choosing to wait for the fat loss to occur, not only are you elongating the process, you are also subject to the whims and pace of however quick your body decides to release the fat.
By choosing to take matters into your own hands and meeting fat loss in the middle, consciously trying to add lean muscle, you are instantly able to fast track a process that would normally take twice as long.
Fat loss will happen when it happens and there isn’t much you can do to change the pace of that. But by focusing on spot reduction via muscle gain (and not just fat loss), what had previously been myth suddenly becomes an attainable outcome.
*Want my sure-fire exercises and strategies for even the most troublesome body parts? Then make sure to read Part 2. (When it releases)*
**Special thanks to Coach Joe and Bill for their imaginary contributions.**
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