Ben Nadel
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I am the chief technical officer at InVision App, Inc - a prototyping and collaboration platform for designers, built by designers. I also rock out in JavaScript and ColdFusion 24x7.
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Danish Scientists Showed That Spot Reducing Works!

By Ben Nadel on

I read a very cool little review in the May 2007 issue of Muscular Development on page 116. It summarized a Danish study that concluded spot reduction does actually work. As a former Personal Trainer at Equinox in New York City, it was an inevitable conversation that you had to have with every client - spot reduction does not exist; your body has a natural pattern of fat distribution and it will lose weight in the reverse order in which it gains weight. Ultimately, diet is what determines your body composition - you can't out-train a poor diet. But, after all these years, it does seem that targeted exercises may actually help burn fat in a given area.

Here is the article summary as it appears in MD, May 2007 issue:


Danish Scientists Showed That Spot Reducing Works!

For years, scientists told athletes that spot reducing doesn't work. For example, you can't lose arm fat by doing curls and triceps extensions. These conclusions were based on volumetric studies that estimated changes in lean mass and fat in the arms and legs following weeks of specific exercises in those areas. Danish researchers, led by Dr. Bente Stallknecht from the Panum Institute in Copenhagen, showed that spot reducing is effective. Researchers used radioactive tracers (133Xe) to measure changes in fat mass during high-rep knee extensions, which is more sensitive than measuring density changes in the arms and legs. Researchers also studied blood flow and fat breakdown in fat tissue adjacent to working muscles and in fat tissue around inactive muscles in the other leg. After 30 minutes of doing knee extensions with one leg, subjects switched legs and did knee extensions for 120 minutes using more weight. Blood flow and fat breakdown were greatest around the working muscles. The study researchers concluded that specific exercises could cause "spot reducing" because blood flow and fat use was higher in adipose (fat) tissue adjacent to working muscles. Spot reducing was most effective at higher intensities because it generated more heat in the muscles and triggered a higher release of catecholamines (fight-or-flight hormones, such as adrenaline). This was an exciting study for bodybuilders that overturned longstanding beliefs about spot reducing. The take-home message is that spot reducing works. High-rep, high-weight exercises reduce local fat stored best. (American Journal Physiology Endocrinology Metabolism, 292: 394-399, 2007)



Reader Comments

When they say "spot reducing is effective" they don't say how much effective. They don't mention any amounts... So, is this effiency so small that present beliefs also stand? Seems so to me...

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@Ante,

I would have to agree with you. If it was overly apparent, it wouldn't take a Danish study to change anyone's minds, right? People would be like, "Yeah, duh!"

But, it's still nice to know that it does technically work, just no magic solution to it.

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I've suspected for ages that spot reduction really did work, but it's nice to see it scientifically demonstrated.

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The measurement values were so small and the slop factors so big that while the results may have been technically correct, in real terms they are meaningless, as other commenters have already pointed out.

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I know I am coming onto this WAY, late...you should be used to that by now from me, but I really wanted to comment because this is just SO COOL!!!!! It is something I have suspected for years, but I really HATE arguing with someone unless I have all the facts and/or have specific knowledge in that particular field. I always just guessed that trainers/whoever was telling me that knew more than I do and had been trained more in the field than I had, so when they said that spot reduction doesn't work, then I just accepted it and believed them without really questioning it.

I had also noticed, as a side, that the way I gained weight versus the way I lost weight was kind of an odd pattern...some of it was consistent, some of it not, but I guess it could have been partly due to the fact that spot reduction WAS working, and in fact also that I was doing different exercises, so it was working in different ways. Almost always, without fail, I gain in my breasts first. Almost always. That is one thing that almost never changes and I can usually count on. In fact, when they were having a family dinner at my parents' house, and by the way, I eat HUGE amounts of food. When I go out with guys, it is almost embarrassing TO THE GUY that I usually completely eat the guy under the table. Well, that is how it used to be, when I didn't really ever gain weight hardly (except in my breasts). The reason I didn't gain weight so much is because I was an avid runner. I wasn't competitive, mind you, but I ran forever. I would go out and run all day, kind of like Forrest Gump. It brought me a lot of peace doing that and allowed me to meditate and relieved a lot of stress. (I completed a marathon when I was still a teenager).

Well, anyway, I ate so much...such ridiculously huge amounts of food, and although I DID gain a little and/or maintain...I have NEVER been a stick...I still did not gain what you would've thought I would gain eating like I did. So, anyway, they were having this dinner at my parents' house, and there was this guy friend of the family there (who, by the way, ended up taking me tot he prom later), and they were discussing my weight and the fact that I ate all the time huge amounts and didn't gain huge amounts of weight like what I ate. And they said, "I wonder where it all goes?"...and the guy who was there said, "it goes to her breasts!" Silence.

Anyway. One thing I have noticed if I am dieting and/or exercising and losing weight is that I lose weight in my hands, too...that is a problem area in that I lose too much weight in my hands sometimes and they start looking like a skeleton. But when I am REALLY losing weight is when I lose it in my breasts, and then I freak out, because they get too small and I stop dieting and am not able to lose any more because I freak out about losing my breasts. That's usually the last place, though, so by that time, I usually have lost what I wanted to lose.

Anyway, back to the spot reduction thing...I have noticed that when I do not specifically work out my legs, whether it be running or whatever, they get to be very tiny and like sticks (not in an attractive way, either). Which really stinks, because my problem areas don't reduce, and I look like a potato on toothpicks. But, when I workout and really focus on the problem areas, I have noticed in the past that they seemed to reduce. And I thought I was just going crazy, because you have these "professionals" telling you that there is no such thing as spot reduction, yet you see it going on right in your mirror, and there seems to be a contradiction there, and so it was confusing. Plus, I have noticed it in other people, too. I have noticed people who have had problem areas, say a stomach or something like that, and they would do specific exercises, and those areas would seem to really trim up for them, and I always wondered about that...so that kind of confirms what I had been wondering for awhile. THANKS!!!!

By the way, it is possible that genetics plays a really big role in all of this, and as well, it is possible that since everybody is different, and you have your basic body types, but each one is different, that spot reduction actually really doesn't work for some people, but does for others. That makes sense to me.

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After they say "spot reducing is effective" they don't say just how much effective. They don't mention any amounts... So, is this effiency so small that present beliefs also stand? Seems in order to me...

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