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Spot Reducing vs. Spot Toning: What You Need to Know

By Martha Michael

Spot Toning and Fat Burning

It seems counterintuitive. You’re told you can’t reduce fat in a specific area through exercise, yet you’re told to exercise in order to reduce fat.

But at second glance, it does make sense. You simply can’t target a specific area when you want to lose weight; when you burn fat, you get an overall weight loss experience, not a specific weight loss experience. Though you can’t lose in targeted areas, you can gain something else that’s important: muscle tone.

Fat Reduction

An article by Yale Scientific debunks the theory that you can determine exactly where you’re going to lose fat. When you decide to trim down you can expect to see more general results, but spot reduction just isn’t possible. Whether it’s your stomach, your thighs, or your backside -- you can’t control which parts of your body will slim down first or most.

The reason is biological. Triglycerides in your fat cells need to be broken down into glycerol and free fatty acids in order for your muscles to use them for energy. But even if you limit your workout to a particular muscle group, the fat that fuels your exercise doesn’t necessarily come from the same part of the body. The process results in weight loss from various areas -- not just locations where your muscles work the hardest.

Research backs this up. In a study of tennis players, the measurement of subcutaneous fat showed no difference between the arm used for play and the arm that was used far less frequently by the athlete. And a second study using MRI scans to compare the arms of individuals training with resistance bands confirmed the findings that fat loss is generalized.

If you can’t control where weight loss takes place, are there any reasonable expectations about how your body will respond to fat reduction?

Yes, there are two aspects that determine the way your body deposits fat, according to an article by Medical Daily.

The first factor that goes into your body’s response is your gender. When men put on weight, they typically see it first in their bellies. Some experts compare their shape to apples, while women tend to get pear-shaped bodies, which means their fat is stored on their hips and thighs rather than their stomach areas.

The second factor that’s involved in your ability to lose fat is your genes. Your genetic makeup plays a part in where you lose weight first and where you have more trouble trimming the fat. According to Philadelphia nutritionist Dr. Janet Brill, the areas where you gain weight first are also the parts of your body where you first burn fat once you begin a new exercise regimen.

You can achieve overall fat reduction through many different programs, including high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, and whole-body exercising such as burpees. But in addition to gaining the benefits of general fitness, there’s also a way to effect some change in those targeted areas as well.

Set a New Tone

When it comes to your body shape, you may not be able to have total control over the force of genetics, gender or age, but you can do some “spot toning” instead. By letting go of the impossible -- reducing here or there, but not everywhere -- you can set a new goal to firm up in specific areas.

An article on discusses the differences between spot reduction and targeted toning. It confirms the conclusion of experts that you can’t expect to lose fat from specific regions, but you can firm up the underlying muscles. It’s possible to gain tone and definition through exercise in the areas you target.

This type of training is easy to implement at home, says an article in Shape Magazine. You can gain definition in various major muscle groups with such tone-inducing fitness moves as:

  • Scissor kicks
  • Classic lunges
  • Squat series
  • Hammer curls
  • Triceps kickbacks

For your best shot at maximum fitness, the article warns you not to give up on cardiovascular exercise in favor of spot toning. Instead, combine both styles in your workout schedule because the exercises that firm up muscles won’t burn calories like cardio work does. And if you add to that combination other healthy habits, including a balanced diet and regular chiropractic care, you greatly increase your chance of getting the body you want.

Go for the Overall Effect

Your health is important -- more so than minimizing some fat here or there -- but you can still get those trouble spots trimmed down as a byproduct of making choices that boost your wellness.

Cutting out the midnight snacks from your diet gets you closer to your goal, as well as keeping your body well enough to maintain an active workout regimen. Regular visits to your chiropractor are a means to reduce the number of days you sit on the sidelines due to strains or limited mobility and achieve the optimal health that allows you to maximize any workout you undertake. As well, changes to your health are identified easily because your chiropractor has a baseline of your wellness, and by treating pain when it occurs, chiropractic care can accelerate healing so that you get back to meeting your fitness goals.

The combination of good health practices can lead you to that sweet spot, the one where you’re as active as you need to be, you feel good, and you like what you see in the mirror. Once you achieve that, everything else is just gravy -- just don’t let it go to your hips.

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