The Myth of “Spot Reduction” / “Toning” / “Shaping”

Im sure you’ve heard this line before or maybe said it yourself; “I’m fine with my weight, but just need / want to lose the belly and a little bit off the hips /arms (or whatever place you’re not happy with)”.

To all gurls and guys out there, spot reduction is a myth. You can’t purposely lose fat from one specific point on your body. In other words, no exercise or workout will target a specific part on your body in terms of fat loss. No matter how many crunches you do, your abs are not going to magically appear. If anything, you might think you’re gaining weight there because you’re adding muscle, further pushing your stomach out making your clothes feel tighter around the waist. To understand this better, let’s look at the body’s anatomy.

The external layer is our skin. Below the skin is fat and under that is muscle (then organs, and skeleton). In order to see the definition of your muscle (aka to be “toned”, a misrepresented term many are familiar with), you need to decrease the layer of fat above it. 






The body, specific to every individual stores fat in different parts of the body, but the general physiology of men and woman depict different storage patterns. Women store the majority of fat in their hips and lower back compared to the mid section and love handles for men (with some exceptions). And those are usually the last places to hold fat. Also, women naturally have a higher number or fat cells in their body. 

Now, the place from which you lose fat depends on your body. In most cases, you will lose fat from the last place it was stored in the body. I.e last in, first out. And we have no control over that.

Let’s dig a bit deeper on how fat is stored in the body;

Some people are genetically predisposed to have more fat cells than others and women have more fat cells than men. An infant usually has about 5 – 6 billion fat cells. This number increases during early childhood and puberty, and a healthy adult with normal body composition has about 25 to 30 billion fat cells. A typical overweight adult has around 75 billion fat cells. But in the case of severe obesity, this number can be as high as 250 to 300 billion.

Fat is stored in fat cells under the skin. Think of your body as having millions of tiny sacks (depending on your body fat) all around under your skin. When you gain fat, your body starts filling those sacks with fat. Once a sack is full, your body will fill the next available one. It can start in your arms for example. Once all the fat cells are filled there, your body will move to the next storage space available; like your hips for example. Once all the sacks in your body are filled, your body will produce new fat cells. So as we gain weight, the numbers of fat cells not only increase in size, but increase in numbers.


When dieting and on a caloric deficit, the opposite happens but with one exception. On a caloric deficit, your body will start breaking down those stores. This causes the fat cells to shrink. Now for that exception, the number of fat cells in your body can increase but do not decrease. Sucks ey?!?!. The only way to decrease the number of fat cells is through liposuction.

Another way to better understand fat cells and how fat is stored, think of fat cells as storage tanks. Instead of a fixed sized tank like a car’s petrol tank, think of it as a balloon. When you put on weight, the balloon is inflated, when you lose weight, air is released and it deflates but will remain there.

Now that we better understand how our body works in terms of fat storage, let’s get back to the topic of spot reduction.

If you want to target losing fat in your mid-section, work on losing fat in general through a calorie controlled diet and exercise. With enough perseverance and patience you will eventually lose the fat from the places you want when “your body” decides to target those stores.

To Sum things up;

– You can’t spot reduce. You can decrease your overall body fat in line with where your body chooses to do so.  Consistency is what matters.

–   Calories count! The signal that triggers your body to release adipose from fat cells is an energy deficit… you have to burn more than you eat.

–  Cut calories conservatively. Starving yourself may cause quick weight loss at first, but never works long-term because it actually decreases the activity of fat burning enzymes that release fat from the cells. to avoid this “starvation mode” use exercise to BURN THE FAT, not very low-calorie crash diets.

–  Get control of your weight now. If you are gaining weight, and especially if your weight is climbing upwards out of control, make a decision to STOP RIGHT NOW. Your fat cells might be multiplying, making it more difficult to burn fat in the future.

– If you’ve already lost weight, you must be forever diligent. Your fat cells are not gone; they have merely “shrunk” or “emptied out.” Fitness is not a 12 week program, it’s a lifestyle. To stay lean you have to eat clean and stay active

– Genetics are only a minor factor. You may not have control over how many fat cells you were born with, but you do control the major factors that determine how much fat you store: lifestyle, exercise, nutrition, mental attitude.

– “Genetics are not an excuse. The past is not an excuse. Your present condition is not an excuse. You can either make excuses or get results, but you can’t do both”

Dont 4get to like and comment 🙂


One thought on “The Myth of “Spot Reduction” / “Toning” / “Shaping”

  1. Pingback: Common Training Myths & Misconceptions « The Fitness Grail

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