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You CAN Spot Reduce Your Abs?!

May 07, 2024

Despite all the people you see crunching away at the gym, most reputable fitness professionals will tell you that you can't spot reduce your abs.

You need to reduce your caloric intake decreasing the food that you're eating and/or increasing your calorie expenditure (the physical activity that you're doing). This puts you into a calorie deficit and you will start to lose fat.

You'll need to lose fat everywhere in order to lose your belly fat.

And this, for the most part, is how it works.

But there is some evidence for selective body fat reduction. Which means targeting the area that you want to lose body fat. A fairly recent study has shown that you can isolate and get more body fat loss from the belly area by doing abdominal exercises.

Whenever you look at a new study you have to assess it in the context of the body of evidence. This is all the other studies that came before it that relate to the same idea. And most of those do seem to show that spot reduction isn't really possible. At least not to a significant extent. So trying to get a six-pack just by doing abs exercises is not going to work. Most people just have too much fat covering their abdominal area. So even if the muscles were very strong and developed then you wouldn't see them under the that layer of fat.

But could abs exercises help you take just a little bit more off that abdominal area than they take off the rest of your body?


Now this recent study that I'm going to talk about was published just in November 2023 and it involved only 16 overweight men under 30. So that's not a huge study. One group was doing abdominal exercises. So torso rotations and crunches. They were also doing running. the group was just doing running but no abdominal exercises.

Now the addition of aerobic exercise is significant because generally just doing abdominal exercises will not be helpful. We do know that when you isolate a particular area there is some local fat mobilization that occurs so the increased temperature in that area (whether it's your abdominals or your arms) will help to mobilize that fat. Then if you do endurance exercise afterwards that helps in the oxidation of that fat.

So the combination of the strength exercise that raises the temperature in that area and then also the endurance exercise is really important. They did show that adding the abdominal exercises four times a week increased how much fat was lost in the belly area. However, these were overweight men so there was a small difference measured in terms of their belly fat area. It's not like the ones who did abdominal exercises had a ripped six-pack and the other ones had a huge beer belly.

It's a very small difference.

So if you think that small study means that you don't have to change your calorie intake and you can eat whatever you want and you're going to burn off fat in your belly area. I got news for you. It's not going to work.

And it's actually a pretty common scenario where people will go to the gym do like 20 minutes of cardio and then just lie on the floor and do crunches for a few minutes. Then they'll finish their workout. And they're wondering why they're not able to get their six-pack. They're doing what they think will help them lose fat and build abdominal muscles.

It's really a little bit more complicated than that.

For most people you're going to need to get into that calorie deficit through your diet. There's only a certain amount that you can do, especially if you're already quite active, in order to reduce your body fat levels enough to get those abs showing.

So we're talking about getting visible abs. Something that looks like it has some segments in it. It really takes a more whole body approach.

When it comes to spot reduction we're talking about more of a scientific discussion and people debating whether it's slightly possible or not possible at all. For practical purposes, you will have to lose body fat all over. If you have 10 lbs to lose just adding crunches to your plan is not going to be enough.Or any other abdominal exercises for that matter.

You need to get rid of that 10 lbs of excess body fat all over. And some of that will come off your belly area.

This study conflicts with many other previous studies that showed that there's not any specific body fat reduction in an area if you target it with exercise.

It doesn't really change our recommendations to reduce your caloric intake to get into a calorie deficit and do a program consisting of weight training and cardio in order to lose body fat.

I've always noticed that my abs look best when I'm doing a combination of weight training and cardio.

Low body fat is still the main thing that gets you abs. And when we talk about that we can avoid talking about nutrition. That means consuming slightly fewer calories than your body needs to sustain itself.

That's a calorie deficit.

But there's one thing that I don't hear a lot of people talking about. That is that people who are doing a lot of weight training are focused on building muscle. This means that their nutrition focuses on protein and getting the right amount.

When you're building muscle throughout your body you're also going to have the biggest chance for your abdominal muscles to develop as well. They are a muscle, even though they are small and segmented. How much you can actually get in terms of development is quite limited.

A lot of that is going to be guided by genetics. But making sure you have enough protein is going to maximize whatever you can get.

Now I wouldn't say that that I have the best genetics for abs. I'm tall and long so those muscles are kind of stretched out. Some people will have that sort of short blocky ab look and you can fully see those thick muscle bellies.

I'm never going to have that no matter what I do. But in order to maximize my genetic potential of my abs, eating enough protein and having enough muscle mass overall definitely helps. Because abs are a muscle. The rectus abdominis can grow.

We do want to talk about abs exercises because there are some exercises that will preferentially activate the rectus abdominis and stimulate it to grow.

I include these exercises when I'm designing workouts for my online program The Lean & Strong Academy because I know that's what members want.

Most of them are within 10 to 20 pounds of their goal and they do want to get rid of their belly fat and start to see visible abs.

I also think that transversus abdominis TVA exercises can be really helpful just to support the inner abdominals. And that tends to prevent back pain from exercise as well.

There are some people that will argue you don't need to do any abs exercises and you can still have visible abs. It is possible for a lot of people if they're naturally quite lean and they have good genetics for abs. Then they don't need to do abs exercises.

But to avoid getting FOMO it doesn't hurt to include abs exercises a couple of times a week.

Many of my members are working on getting visible abs so I don't want them to feel that they're missing out on anything.

The one thing we do know is that spot reduction doesn't seem to be possible outside of a fat loss program. If you're not losing any body fat you're not going to lose it specifically just in the belly fat area. 

But if you start to lose fat overall then you might be able to preferentially target a little bit more in that belly area. If you're not losing any body fat at all you're not just going to be able to target your belly fat that way.

So let's talk about genetics for a second because some people will have visible abs without even working out. Particularly men who have testosterone so they have muscle without even doing anything. And if they're lean just because they don't eat so much then they may see visible abs without it.

All these things are perfectly possible but what works for 90% of people is a combination of strength training cardio and (we don't know if it's necessary but let's just do it anyway), a couple of sessions of abs exercises aren't going to hurt.

And of course caloric restriction. And there are a lot of ways to do that as well.

It just means finding a diet that works for you that you can sustain and that allows you to eat fewer calories.

Fat distribution on your body is both genetically and hormonally determined. Men tend to store their excess fat in their belly area and women will tend to store it in their hips and thighs. Postmenopausal women will tend to have the male pattern. So they're more likely to store their excess fat in the belly area.

But the fat loss basics are the same for everyone and you can get started on putting them into place HERE.

Ivana Chapman