Tuesday, December 11, 2012

High Reps for "Spot Reduction" Works - Yet Not the Way Trainees Believe. Fat Loss Occurs in Untrained Body Parts

You could argue that people who spend money on things like this deserve to be ripped of, but then again, those people who manufacture "devices" like this are selling dreams - and who would not pay some money for a nice dream?
Be honest, I bet there was a time in your life, when you did tons of sit-ups in the mislead and stubborn believe that this practice simply had to reveal a tightly sculpted set of abs, if you just did it regularly and with all the discipline and effort the guys and girls on the TV shopping channels invest into their training... that's not you? Well what about leg raises for the lower abs, then? Not you either? How about the flabby chest that just needs some more bench pressing or the buttocks... ah, let's better not talk about those, right?

While today's SuppVersity news won't change the fundamental truth that diet will always remain the main determinant of fat loss, I would suppose that the results of a recently published study by Rodrigo Ramírez Campillo and his colleagues from Chile and Spain is going to change your perspective on reshaping your body by localized muscle endurance resistance training.

High reps for muscle shaping? Correct, but very different from what you'd probably expect

The study Campillo et al. conducted was designed to address the question of how 12 weeks of a localized muscle endurance resistance training program for the non-dominant leg, affects local and regional body tissue composition - or put simply: Can you shape your non-dominant leg by training it in the bro-scientific 'high rep shaping zone'? I guess I'm not taking away too much, if I tell you right away that the non-dominant leg of the formerly not resistance trained, but active physical education students (7 men and 4 women; average age 23y, anthropometric data see figure 1) who participated in
  • 3x80 min sessions of 960-1,200 reps per week
  • without scheduled rest between reps (if subjects failed, the weight was reduced) and 
  • a progressively increasing intensity of 10% during weeks 1-4, 20% during weeks 5-6, and 30% during weeks 7-12
did not have striated quads and glutes in their non-dominant leg after performing the targeted 34,560-43,200 muscle contractions - and this was (as the data in figure 1) goes to show you, not simply due to a general lack of fat loss:
Figure 1. Anthropometric data of the subjects at baseline and relative changes in the course of the 12-week intervention period (Campillo .2012
In fact, the total body fat mass decreased significantly over the course of the 12-week intervention period (P≤0.05), whereas no significant changes were observed in total body mass, BMD and bone mass, while the neutral/positive nitrogen balance allowed for a relative maintenance (=statistically non-significant minus; cf. figure 2) of total lean mass.

Now that a routine as hilarious as this one does actually result in fat loss; and that it does so in the absence of any dietary interventions or significant changes in energy intake (who was it who said "Exercise just makes you hungry?" ;-) or macronutrient composition over the 12-week intervention period would already be newsworthy. What makes this study stick out, however, is the fact that it is...
"[t]o the best of the authors’ knowledge, the unique approach of the present study was to examine, with a valid anthropometric technique such as DXA, training-induced changes in lean mass, fat mass and bone mass in total body, legs, arms and trunk after a localized muscle endurance resistance training program of relatively high training volume." (Campillo. 2012)
and let's not forget about the results this "unique approach" yielded (see figure 2).
Figure 2: Relative changes in bone mass, lean mass, fat mass in trunk, control leg, trained leg and arms in response to the 12-week exercise intervention (Campillo. 2012)
The scientists explain their observation that lower body exercise does not burn lower, but rather trunk and upper body fat as follows:
I suggest you go back to my previous post "Nasty Insights into the Yo-Yo-Effect: Lower Body Fat Sticks! Plus: Why It's Easier to Get 6-Pack Abs Than Striated Glutes & Hams"
A negative energy balance, induced by regular exercise, may promote a reduction in fat mass, by means of a modified hormonal environment (i.e. increased adrenalin) and a subsequent increase in fatty acids mobilization from fat depots. However, one may take into consideration that the alteration in hormonal environment takes place all over the body, not only in the body segment that was exercised. In doing so, the increased hormonal stress environment induced by exercising the non-dominant leg, may result in fatty acids mobilization, not only of the trained segment, but also from the trunk region and arms.

The reason why the fat mass was significantly reduced in the upper body, and not in the lower body, may be related to the initial fat content of the different body parts. Thus, the fact that at baseline, subjects showed 54% of their total body fat in the trunk, 36% in their legs, and 10% in the arms, may explain, in part, the greater exercised induced-decrease in trunk fat mass." (my emphasis in Campillo. 2012)
Campillo et al. also comment on the often proposed hypothesis that fat mass change would always being at the last place where lipids accumulated stating that there has not yet been a single study that would provide experimental evidence to justify this hypothesis and that it is more likely due to the general tendency of moderate exercise to be fueled mainly from upper body fat stores, while the local adipose tissue in the lower body contributes only little to this process (see link under the image next to the quotation above for more information about how lower body fat is special).

So do you have to do "spot reduction training for your legs to burn the blubber on your abs"? If you had the choice between breathing squats and crunches, sure! And even the 34,560-43,200 one-legged leg presses in the study at hand are probably going to be more productive than doing the same amount of sit-ups... wait, let me think: 100 sit-ups a day for 12 weeks = 100 x 12 x 7 = 8,400 - hmm... maybe you just did not enough sit-ups?

If you want to learn more about the long-term benefits of HIIT or the reason why doing LISS is nice, but doing more and more LISS to burn more calories is simply stupid, go back to "Some HIIT For Life & Less LISS For More! How to Burn 27,300 Kcal Extra W/out Losing a Single Extra Pound of Fat! "
I am obviously just kidding you here. The most important message to take away from this study is that you have to create a fat-catabolic millieu if you want to lose body fat. In that it appears secondary how you achieve that and the 34,560-43,200 rep workout from the study at hand certainly is by no means the only and certainly not the best way to do that. Even Campillo et al. state in the last paragraph of their paper
"a training methodology, similar to that used in our study, may be sufficient to achieve a reduction in fat mass, but we recommend muscle endurance resistance training programs that include big muscle groups, w[h]ich may result in more time efficient energy expenditure and corporal composition modification." (my emphasis in Campillo. 2012)
So back to the basics, ladies and gentlemen. A fast paced full-body circuit training (e.g. the "Fat Loss Support Routine"), HIIT or plyometrics and a classic LISS session from time cleverly combined are still the fasted way to propel (not replace) your diet induced loss in body fat and to (re-)shape your body.

  • Campillo RR, Andrade DC, Campos Jara C, Olguín CH, Lepin CA, Izquierdo M. Regional Fat Changes Induced By Localized Muscle Endurance Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012 [Published ahead of print]