Bone, Muscle, Fat, Skin

Debunkery- Targeted Fat Loss

Riley Sproul Debunkery, Health, Ideas Leave a Comment


While listening to an episode of The Geologic Podcast, a hilarious podcast I highly recommend (fyi, it has nothing to do with Geology), I learned this bit of information that I thought I’d research and share with all of you!

Targeted fat loss is the idea that one can do crunches to lose fat at one’s abs, bike to lose fat in one’s legs, pump iron to lose fat in ones arms. But it turns out to be a farce! One I fell for myself, and many fitness enthusiasts (ameture or otherwise) may also fall prey to. Unlike Detox scams, there is no downside really, proper exercise is good for you; but one is likely to be rather disappointed with the results, compared to their expectations.

The body burns fat when it needs energy that isn’t readily available, or when it’d be more efficient than digestion, a.k.a. when you’re working out (more details here). And it makes sense that when working out a certain muscle group, the body would use the fat stored nearest that group; but in practice there isn’t much difference in where it gets the fat stores from. The adipose tissue (fat) is broken down and put into the bloodstream, where it goes everywhere, and is used as needed. But as blood can circulate the body in about a minute, even less if one is physically fit, the time saved by taking fat from near the active muscle group, is not significant evolutionary speaking. In other words, the time saved doesn’t give you a significant advantage over the next guy/gal.

So without a selective pressure to take from the nearest fat storage, our body utilises fat using a different “rule of thumb“. A few factors that influence where fat is stored, over the past million years of so, have been; mate selection, efficiency, and practicality. Storing your extra fat in your fingers, would likely have lead to strange looks around the watering hole, and a sharp decline in dexterity. So our bodies store fat in areas near our center of gravity first, the belly, thighs, and hips. This can vary from person to person and by gender, but overall; men first store fat in their ‘gut’ and woman in their hips and thighs. From there, fat is stored more distally; arms, lower legs, neck, eventually the face, and sure enough the fingers.

Then, when the average person decides to lower their caloric intake and increase their energy output, they typically lose fat in the reverse order that it is stored. First their furthest extremities, and ending with their gut (typical for males) or hips/thighs (typical of females).

As is often the case however, there is another side of the coin. While spot fat loss is a myth, spot muscle gain is not. If one uses a muscle group more and more often, it will tear the muscle fibers, which regrow stronger than before. This leads to an increase in both strength and size. My guess this is the reason the ‘spot fat loss’ rumor has lasted so long. When one adds muscle mass, the fat stored between the muscle and the skin, becomes less visible. Which is why people like this guy can look as if they posses no body fat whatsoever.

All in all, there are no short cuts; full-body workouts help you lose those last 5-10 pounds just as much as focusing on the “problem” muscle group. Aesthetically, spot training can help bring out the appearance of a muscle/muscle group; but as far as fat burning goes, give those abs a rest. See you all next time!


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Riley Sproul has a Bachelors in Biology, with a concentration in PreMed, and a Chemistry Minor, from the University of Toledo. His goal is to obtain a Ph.D. in Neurobiology with in the next 4-5 years. His interests include sci-fi, PC-gaming, playing guitar, and a variety of other hobbies.
Debunkery- Targeted Fat Loss was last modified: April 7th, 2015 by Riley Sproul