I have a female client who is determined to lose inches around her thighs. We weight train, she runs three times a week for 30 minutes, and she also takes yoga and Pilates classes. I have explained to her that we can not spot train and that bodies store fat differently, but she desperately wants to lose fat in this area. Her diet is great. Any suggestions?
Every personal trainer in the history of personal training has had the same challenge. And don't you love when even your most scientific, intelligent and logical client prefaces the same type of question with, "I know there's no such thing as spot reduction, BUT how can I... "
You and I know that the whole concept of selectively burning fat from any particular part of the body has absolutely no basis in physiology, but the challenge is convincing your clients of this. First, tell her about these three studies:
- Katch, F.I., P.M. Clarkson, W. Kroll, et al. Effect of sit-up exercise training on adipose cell size and adiposity. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 55: 242-247, 1984.
In this 1984, 13 male subjects did a total of 5000 sit ups over the course of 27 days. At the end of the study, biopsies examining the rate of change in fat cell diameters showed that the subjects lost fat equally in all three sites measured abdomen, glutes and upper back although they only worked their abs. In other words, they lost fat all over despite working only their abs.
- Nindl, B.C., Harman, E.A., Marx, J.O., Gotshalk, L.A., Frykman, P.N., Lammi, E., Palmer, C., & Kraemer, W.J. (2000). Regional body composition changes in women after 6 months of periodized physical training. Journal of Applied Physiology, 88, 2251-2259
In this study, a group of women doing mostly leg exercises for almost nine hours each week lost an average of 5.7 pounds of fat (measured by DEXA) - 2.9 pounds from the trunk, 2.8 pounds from the arms and 0 from their thighs. That's right. Their leg-intensive workout resulted in zero fat loss from their thighs. Just as remarkable is that they lost fat from their arms even though they didn't do any specific arm exercises.
The implication of the study is that fat loss in women may be greater in the arms, followed by the trunk, then by the legs. You lose fat faster from different parts of your body regardless of the type of exercise you do.
- Gwinup, G., R. Chelvam and T. Steinberg. Thickness of subcutaneous fat and activity of underlying muscles. Annals of Internal Medicine, 74: 408-411, 1971.
World-class tennis players were tested in this study with the premise that if spot reduction worked, the subjects would have one arm that's leaner than the other. Obviously, tennis players use their dominant arms forcefully everyday while doing relatively little with their non-dominant arms.
Though the researchers did find the dominant arm to be bigger due to muscle hypertrophy, there was no difference at all between arms in subcutaneous fat thickness. This study showed that working a certain muscle does not necessarily effect the fat deposits that may be lying above that muscle. Or in your client's case, thigh exercises don't necessarily burn "thigh fat."
Apply this last study to your client and to the regulars at the club. Ask her about her hand dominance. Then ask her if she sees or feels a difference in how much fat there is in her right arm versus her left. Even pull out the calipers to further solidify your case. Then ask her if she's ever noticed any change whatsoever in those members who do nothing but the inner and "outer" thigh machines every day. Case closed.
(On the lighter side, I sometimes add that people who eat a lot have to chew a lot, so they should have skinny faces. And people who don't eat much don't chew much, so they would should have fat faces.)
Unfortunately, many of our clients would rather believe a promising myth than deal with the sometimes harsh reality of science. It doesn't help that so many people in the fitness industry choose to ignore science as well.