Can You Spot Reduce Fat?

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Text: Spot reduce fat. Image of person with too tight jeans holding love handles.

Are you looking to spot reduce fat?

Maybe you can’t seem to get rid of that fat on the back of your 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.

If you’ve ever thought any of these things after analyzing and scrutinizing your body, you aren’t alone. I’ve been there too! (About those abs in year-round hibernation lol)

But over time, I’ve learned it’s incredibly unproductive to think that way because spot reducing fat is impossible.


Can You Spot Reduce Fat?


I know, I literally just said that you can’t. But, I want to go over some of the research on the matter…


Spot Reducing 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. 


⁣Spot Reducing Fat in Your Arms

In another study by Kostek et al. (2007), the researchers looked at single-arm exercises and fat loss. 

In this study, 104 participants completed a 12-week training program of their entire non-dominant arm. They did two triceps and two biceps exercises. 

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 experienced more fat loss in the trained arm than they did in the untrained arm… more on this below.


Measuring Body Fat

There’s a caveat to the skinfold caliper test. 

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 will eventually lead 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 of the muscle growth reducing the space between fat cells and skin in the upper arm. (aka not actual fat loss)


Your Mindset and Fat Loss


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 whole body, not just one spot. Hopefully, after reading about the above studies, you understand that. 

Not only is it not possible to spot reduce fat, but where you lose fat from is person-dependent, too.⁣

For instance, I first lose fat from my arms and legs, and, as you now know, I rarely have ab definition.⁣

But I have friends with visible abs, who, in turn, struggle to lose the fat on their legs.⁣

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 be in a caloric deficit to lose fat, and you can’t choose from where you lose it from.⁣

So if you want to lose fat, you should put your efforts, thoughts, and energy towards a (smart) diet phase and calorie deficit.⁣

Or you can work to change your body composition over time and build some muscle first.⁣ (check out my 4-year transformation here!)

And if you’re looking for a trick to all of this, building muscle is as close as you’ll get because even though you can’t spot reduce fat, 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


No idea where to even start to change the composition of your body? 

If you’re looking to get “toned” but don’t know where to start, then you’re in the right place. 

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! 


Click here if you want to learn more. 


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.