Spot Reduction Works. Tone Your Arms, The Right Way.

Spot reduction is a myth. Or is it? Here is an example of workouts that can help you target fat in your arms to achieve a lean and defined look.

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I kid. I kid. 

Ten years ago, I stepped into the first gym I ever belonged to. My first day was terrifying.

I felt uncomfortable and was 100% certain that EVERYONE was looking at me: the older guy on the stationary bike next to me, the girl with the bouncy ponytail in a pink sport bra on the elliptical in front of me, the middle aged woman holding some yoga pose. I felt like everyone was judging me, my imperfect body, and my inexperienced attempts to do anything fitness.

As long as I can remember, I have always wanted strong arms. Arms that could do things, like carrying heavy grocery bags or punching noisy guys on the street and a good looking pair of upper limbs wouldn’t hurt either.

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I wanted to have a defined curve from shoulder to bicep and a clearly distinguished bicep bump. But not too much, of course, just enough for people to notice and compliment me. I wanted my arms to look amazing in any T-shirt.

So I figured if I wanted my arms to look good, I needed to do exercises that targeted arms. My routine would consist of arm machines and a finisher with some bicep curls, seated with my elbow on my knee. I’d do as many reps as I could for each but generally end up with around 20.

Six months after I started going to the gym, I quit.

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Why? Because I read in a fitness journal that I couldn’t choose the spot where I lost fat. I was told that spot reduction was a myth.

That was disheartening. After all the work I’d done on my arms? Why’d no one tell me earlier? Such bullshit!

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For the past decade, the fitness industry has been disappointing and telling you that you can’t tone just your arms, or your belly, or your thighs. You’ve been told that your body doesn’t work that way.

As a fitness professional, I have told you that “spot reduction is not a thing. You can’t choose a spot and decide you want to lose fat there.”

I might have lied to you.

WARNING! YOU’RE ABOUT TO READ A BIT OF NERDY STUFF. BUT IT’S NOT TOO BAD, I PROMISE.

In my spare time between watching Game of Thrones, working out, and eating donuts,  I geek out on fitness.

Recently, my favorite place to go for reputable research reviews is MASS – Monthly Application of Strength Sport, by Greg Nuckols, Eric Helms, and Mike Zourdos.

Last month, Eric  reviewed a study on the effect of combined resistance and endurance exercise training on regional fat loss (Scotto di Palumbo et al.,2017), which suggests that spot reduction isn’t a myth.

 Intrigued? Cool, let’s dig deeper, then.

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WHO THE HECK WERE THE PARTICIPANTS?

 

16 inactive women ages 24-40 with a BMI ranging between 23-30 kg/m2 participated in the study. Researchers defined inactivity as doing less than an hour of physical activity per week.

WHAT IN THE BLOODY HELL DID THEY DO?

 

The group was divided in two parts, each with eight participants. One group performed upper body exercises such as cable presses, low rows, bicep curls, and the deltoid and tricep machines. (UPPER)

The second group performed lower body exercises such as the gluteus machine, seated leg curls, the abductor machine, leg extensions, and the adductor machine. (LOWER)

Both groups were performing exercises for 3 rounds of 10 repetitions at 60% of their 1RM, performed twice (so a total of 6 sets per exercise), with a 30-second rest period between sets.

The UPPER group had to do lower body cycling for 30 minutes at 50% of their VO2max. The LOWER group arm cycled for the same time and at the same intensity. Both groups maintained this protocol for 12 weeks, while keeping the normal dietary intake and physical activity levels (ie,  they ate their usual amount and kept being couch potatoes).

WHAT THE HECK DID THE STUDY FIND?

 

Surprisingly, researchers found that “localized fat mass loss specific to the region of the body that was resistance-trained occurred, which was significant and meaningful when comparing regions within groups and between groups.” Or in other words,  spot reduction IS possible if you follow a specific protocol, like the one in this study.

While there are a bunch of limitations in this study (low sample size and imperfect measuring tools), the results are in and the jury is out, and it’s worth paying attention to.

WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THE FINDINGS?

 

Before jumping to any kind of conclusion, please remember it’s just one study against dozens and dozens that state the opposite.

But.

While the majority of fitness pros will tell you that you shouldn’t worry about spot reduction if you’ve got a significant amount of body fat to lose, it won’t change your desire to lean out your arms and thighs, so you can wear a pair of skinny jeans and a tank top without feeling like a hippo. It won’t lessen your hatred towards your arm fat or your desire to cut that shit off.

So what do you do with the findings of the study? I’d say, why not give it a try?

While I still believe that fat loss is achieved by adequate caloric deficit (because #science), why not try to use some other tools to help you feel and look your best, in addition to eating at a caloric deficit?

You agree? Cool.

Down below you’re about to find two workout plans similar to the protocol in the study.

But I don’t want to just give you workouts and leave you to figure that shit out on your own. When I was going to the gym ten years ago, I had a good amount of exercises to choose from, but I had no guidance. Because of that I didn’t see results and I quit.

I don’t want you to quit. I want you to see results, to look and feel good in your favorite T-shirt, and to receive all the compliments in the world.

That’s why not only am I gonna give you the workouts similar to the protocol in the study, I’m also gonna provide you with a step-by-step guide.

Deal? Let’s go then!

Choose the time frame.

 

One of the reasons the study was successful is because the participants had a plan and knew what to do at the gym. They also stuck to the plan for 12 weeks and didn’t jump from one program to another. If you want to see results, choose a time frame that you know you can stick to. I’d recommend anything between 8 to 12 weeks as a good starting point.

Track the weights and increase them every two weeks or so.

 

Another reason why I wasn’t successful with my first fitness adventure and quit without seeing results was that I used the same amount of weights, sets, and reps from day one to day 182.  

There’s a thing in Strength and Conditioning world that athletes and advanced trainees use to become stronger and see results. It’s called periodization. According to the third edition of “Essentials of Strength training and conditioning” periodization is

“planned, systematic variations in training specificity, intensity, and volume organized in periods of cycles within an overall program”

In other words, in your program you can change the number of sets and or reps, but you also could choose to increase weight, without thinking too much about the right amount of repetitions and rounds. Some weeks will feel easier than others due to stress factors such as work, kids, relationships, and Jon Snow not bending the bloody knee. But increasing every two weeks is a good starting point.

Pick a workout and go for it.

Here are two workout plans you can follow that can help you obtain the arms of your dreams.

Day 1
A1. Barbell Bench Press 5×5 @RPE 7
A2. Standing Band Pull Aparts 3×8

 

B1. TRX Inverted Rows 2-3×10 @RPE 7-8
B2. Incline DB Chest Press 2-3X10@RPE7-8
B3. Chest Supported Rows 2-3×10@ RPE 7-8
B4. Cup My Balls KB Bicep Curls 2-3×10 RPE 7-8

 

C1. Seated 3 Way Lateral Raises 3×10 @RPE 7-8
C2. Banded Tricep Pushdowns 3×10 @RPE 7-8

Follow with 30 minutes on the Elliptical or Bike @ RPE 5.

 

Day 2.
A1. Band-Assisted or Regular Chin-Ups  5×5 @BW
A2. Halo Holds 3×10 sec

 

B1. Cable Rows 2-3×10 @RPE 7-8
B2. Push Ups (Regular or Modified)  2-3X10@BW
B3. DB Floor Press 2-3×10@ RPE 7-8
B4. Cable Bicep Curls 2-3×10 RPE 7-8

 

C1. Seated DB Press 3x 10 @RPE 7-8
C2. DB Skull Crushers 3×10 @RPE 7-8

Follow with 30 minutes on the Elliptical or Bike @ RPE 5.

Whether you choose just one or both, the key is to stick with the plan.

P.s. If you’re not familiar with RPE scale, you can read more about it here. 

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References:

  1. Scotto di Palumbo et al., Effect of combined resistance and endurance exercise training on regional fat loss. J Sports Med Phys Fitness, 2017
  2. Baeche, T., Early, R. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Third Edition. Human Kinetics, 2008.

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