Perhaps the most annoying aspect of being a fitness professional is having to inform people over and over that spot reduction is a myth.
When did this misconception originate? Interestingly, a journal article published by Checkly in 1895 proposed that the dissipation of fat is local and disappears in areas where the muscles are highly active in concordance with their daily activity. However, subsequent research failed to support the author’s contention of spot removal, as you’ll see below. In this article, I’m going to set the record straight, once again. There are two aspects of physique enhancement training that you need to be aware of: muscle building, which IS site specific, and fat loss, which IS NOT site specific.
1. Muscle Building is Site-Specific
If you want to build a muscle (or even a part of a muscle), then you need to highly activate that specific part. In other words, if you seek additional shape in a particular area, then you need to perform exercises that thoroughly work that area. See HERE and HERE for more information on that.
Older strength & conditioning wisdom purported that muscle-building wasn’t so site-specific and that elevations in hormonal production via resistance training contributed to muscular growth all over the body (see HERE and HERE). However, this notion has been debunked, and we now know that the hormone hypothesis was largely overrated (see HERE, HERE, and HERE).
Therefore, if you want to build shape, you should perform the best movements for the various muscle/muscle parts. Below are two lists that can guide you in this regard:
Deadlifts: traps, lats, forearms, erectors, glutes, hams, quads, calves, abs
Squats: erectors, glutes, quads, abs, calves
Bench press: pecs, front delts, triceps
Rows: lats, mid traps, rhomboids, biceps, forearms
Military press: delts, triceps, traps
Pull-ups: lats, biceps, abs, forearms
Dips: pecs, front delts, triceps
Hip thrusts: glutes, quads, hams
Muscles & Muscle Parts
Traps: upper – shrugs, mid – rows, lower fibers – prone trap raises
Delts: rear – rear delt raises, middle – lateral raises, front – front raises
Pecs: upper –incline press & incline flies, mid/lower – flies, crossovers
Biceps: curls, chin ups, hammer curls, concentration curls, incline curls, preacher curls
Triceps: tricep extensions, close grip bench press, overhead extensions, rope extensions
Abs/obliques: planks, side planks, ab wheel rollouts, sit ups, hanging leg raises, hollow body holds, crunches, side bends, crunches, side crunches, sit ups, Pallof presses
Glutes: upper – side lying hip abduction, lower – lunges, entire – bb glute bridges, band hip rotation, rounded back extensions, American deadlifts, RKC planks, band seated abduction, single leg hip thrusts, pendulum quadruped hip extensions, pull throughs, kettlebell swings
Hams: good mornings, back extensions, 45 degree hypers, reverse hypers, Romanian deadlifts, Nordic ham curls, glute ham raises, lying leg curls, seated leg curls, kneeling one leg curls, Valslide leg curls, single leg RDLs
Quads: front squats, leg press, hack squats, leg extensions, goblet squats, lunges, Bulgarian split squats, step ups, pistol squats
Calves: calf raises
2. Fat Loss is NOT Site-Specific
Although muscle building is site-specific, fat loss is not. Performing exercises that target a certain region does NOT cause fat to burn away in that particular region. For example, doing tons of abdominal exercise does NOT lead to preferential fat loss in the abdominal region (see HERE and HERE for further reading on that topic), nor does leg endurance training lead to preferential fat loss in the legs (see HERE for further reading on that topic).
Therefore, if you want to burn fat, do the following things:
1. Eat at a caloric deficit so you lose weight
2. Consume a well-balanced diet with ample protein and whole foods so you optimize the thermic effect of food, optimize neuroendocrine signalling, and stave off adaptive thermogenesis (click HERE , HERE , HERE , and HERE , to learn more about adaptive thermogenesis)
3. Lift weights and get stronger so you retain a greater proportion of muscle as you lose weight, lose a greater proportion of fat as you lose weight, and stave off adaptive thermogenesis
4. Perform activities that heavily ramp up the metabolic rate so you expend more calories and achieve a greater caloric deficit (for example high-intensity interval training with battle-ropes, kettlebells, the rowing machine, or the Airdyne exercise bike)
5. Move around more, whether through long duration steady state cardio or N.E.A.T. (non exercise activity thermogenesis – click HERE to learn more about it)
I would like to mention that #1, #2, and #3 lay the foundation for successful body recomposition, and #4 and #5 are not always necessary and can be thought of as “icing on the cake.” Most of my bikini competitors did not do any cardio or additional conditioning and relied solely on diet and strength training to achieve their excellent physiques.
Notice that in this list you did not see any targeted isolation movements to burn the fat off of specific sites. Why? Because it doesn’t work that way! The amount of time that you might spend on the adductor machine or the tricep extension machine for the intention of burning fat in those regions would be better served performing squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, walking lunges, or even kettlebell swings because they activate more muscle and require greater energy expenditure. Fat loss through exercise is distributed throughout the body and is not localized to specific areas.
Localized fat loss through exercise is a myth. If you want a good physique, learn from the professionals who have mastered the art: bodybuilders. They focus on progressive resistance training, they adhere to good dietary principles, they sleep well, and they’re consistent. Spot reduction of fat does not occur in the human body and people need to stop propagating this myth.