Text: The reality about spot reducing fat. Image of person with too tight jeans holding love handles.

Can You Target Fat Loss?

exercise Dec 02, 2022

Are you looking to spot reduce fat or target fat loss?

Maybe you can't seem to get rid of that fat on your upper arms, or your lower abs are never showing (same — mine always seem to be hiding). Better yet, maybe you wish you could move the stubborn fat from your thighs to your butt instead.

Fat loss can be frustrating because we can't control where stored fat sits on our bodies, which is why so many people look for spot reduction techniques to do things like reduce abdominal fat.

If you've ever looked up spot fat reduction exercises after analyzing and scrutinizing your body, you aren't alone. Pretty much anyone who has ever been on a weight loss journey has thought about how they can shed fat in their "stubborn areas."

However, it's incredibly unproductive to think that way because spot-reducing fat is impossible (read on to see how to work around this!).

As much as you may poke and prod at the excess fat on your body, doing that "30-day flat tummy challenge" won't magically burn fat in your midsection — and the same goes for any other body part.

Spot reduction is something people talk about all the time, so I have research to share about spot fat reduction. And because I don't want to leave you hanging and wondering how you can burn fat, I'll share that as well, but to give you a hint, it starts with calorie and ends with deficit.


Can You Spot Reduce Fat?

If you feel like you store excess fat in any part of your body, you may be holding out hope that there's some way that you can burn fat in a targeted area. After all, why would there be specific programs to burn belly fat or tone your arms, right?

Marketing. That's why.

Here's some research looking at spot reduction on legs and arms.

Spot Reduce Fat in Your Legs

One study by Ramirez-Campillo et al. (2013) examined whether exercising a single leg affected fat loss. 

In this study, 11 people went through a 12-week training program that only included a single-leg leg press exercise three times a week. All the participants maintained their other daily physical activity and dietary habits during this study. 

The results showed that all participants experienced a significant reduction in body fat (as measured by a DXA scan), but there was no difference in fat reduction between the trained and untrained legs. According to the research findings, where your body loses fat isn't dictated by the types of exercise you do.

Spot Reduction in Your Arms

Well, what about spot reduction in your arms?

In another study by Kostek et al. (2007), the researchers looked at single-arm exercises and fat loss. Here, 104 participants completed a 12-week training program of their entire non-dominant arm. They did two triceps and two biceps exercises, and just like in the first study, participants maintained all their other daily physical activities and dietary habits. 

Researchers measured body fat using MRI scans, which indicated no difference in the fat mass lost between the trained and untrained arms. 

However, when researchers measured with skin fold calipers, they found that the men lost more fat in the trained arm than the untrained arm. (More on this below.)

The overall finding, though, was that spot reduction of fat stores does not happen based on targeted exercises, so all doing the ab exercises in the world won't guarantee you visible abs — that will be dictated by nutrition, hormones, genetics, etc.

Measuring the Amount of Fat You Have

There's a caveat to the skinfold caliper test from the second study.

Skinfold calipers pinch an area of your body to measure the amount of subcutaneous fat (the fat that's under the skin). If you pinch your arm right now, what you're able to squeeze between your fingers is what the calipers measure. 

In the Kostek et al. (2007) study, participants followed a progressive overload-based program, which eventually led to muscle mass development. Because muscle takes up less space in your arm, researchers argued that those who seemed to “lose more fat” in the trained arm really just gained enough muscle mass during the study to affect the skinfold measurement through something they called “subcutaneous fat suppression.”

In other words, the perceived fat loss in the trained arm was more likely because the muscle growth reduced the space between fat cells and skin in the upper arm, not actual spot reduction.

Burning Fat in Your Entire Body

From a mindset perspective,⁣ coming to terms with what's real and accurate will allow you to focus your energy on other things that are far more productive.⁣ Things like building muscle or being in a caloric deficit to initiate total-body fat loss.⁣

When you lose fat, it comes from your entire body, not just one spot. Hopefully, after reading about the above studies, you understand that. 

Not only is spot reduction not possible but where you lose fat is person-dependent, too.⁣

For instance, I first lose fat from my arms and legs, and, as you now know, you can barely see my abdominal muscles.⁣ But I have friends with visible abs, who, in turn, struggle to lose the fat on their lower body.⁣

One thing that's consistent, though, is that no matter who you are, whether you lose any fat at all depends on your total energy balance. You must eat fewer calories than you burn if you want your body to burn fat.

Once you start to burn more calories than you consume and pair that with strength training, you'll start to see a significant amount of change to your body and will get closer to achieving your weight loss goals.

Put your efforts, thoughts, and energy toward a (smart) diet phase and calorie deficit.⁣ A healthy diet will help your fat-burning efforts far more than any "belly fat-burning workout plan" you find online that has you doing 10,000 sit-ups a day.

The weight loss and "toned" look you're trying to achieve comes from:

  • monitoring your calorie intake to ensure you're in a deficit,
  • a diet that consists of whole, nutrient-dense foods, and
  • eating adequate amounts of protein.

This will improve your overall health as well!

An alternative to constantly focusing on losing weight is to change your body composition over time and build some muscle first.⁣ (Check out my 4-year transformation here!)

As you build muscle and optimize your metabolism through a reverse diet or maintenance phase, you'll get to the point where you'll be able to eat more calories while losing weight and still lose weight than if you're constantly in a calorie deficit and having to decrease your calories to a point that's unsustainable.

And if you're looking for a trick or hack to making these body composition changes, building muscle is as close as you'll get because even though spot reduction doesn't work, you can spot increase muscle. And with more muscle mass, your body will likely look leaner even if your body fat doesn't change much.⁣

⁣How to Get Toned

If you want to get “toned” but don't know where to start, you're in the right place. Getting toned doesn't just mean you lose weight. It's a combination of reducing fat tissue and increasing your muscle mass.

Achieving your physique and health goals requires a proper diet and exercise routine in a way that's sustainable for the long term. As it happens, helping people with ⁣body recomposition and building a stronger mindset along the way is what KJO Coaching is all about. 

We work with busy women to build stronger bodies and minds in a way that gives them sustainable, lifelong results!

Stop looking for spot reduction hacks and start learning what it takes to live a truly healthy lifestyle that will make you look and feel your best.  


Click here to learn more about working with the KJO Coaching team. 


You can also get started with our FREE 4-week training guide.

This guide will give you access to workouts as well as important information, videos, and terminology that will help you make the most out of this 4-week training plan. 

Click here to get yours. 

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Kostek, M. A., Pescatello, L. S., Seip, R. L., Angelopoulos, T. J., Clarkson, P. M., Gordon, P. M., ... & Price, T. B. (2007). Subcutaneous fat alterations resulting from an upper-body resistance training program. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 39(7), 1177.

Ramírez-Campillo, R., Andrade, D. C., Campos-Jara, C., Henríquez-Olguín, C., Alvarez-Lepín, C., & Izquierdo, M. (2013). Regional fat changes induced by localized muscle endurance resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27(8), 2219-2224.


Hi, I'm Kasey!

I coach, mentor, write, and teach with one main focus: Build strong bodies and healthy lifestyles, starting with your mindset.


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