Subcutaneous fat alterations resulting from an upper-body resistance training program

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007 Jul;39(7):1177-85. doi: 10.1249/mss.0b0138058a5cb.


Purpose: It is believed spot reduction, the exercise-induced localized loss of subcutaneous fat, does not occur as a result of an exercise program; however, evidence as a whole has been inconsistent. To reexamine this concept, we compared subcutaneous fat measurements before and after resistance training among 104 subjects (45 men, 59 women).

Methods: Subjects participated in 12 wk of supervised resistance training of their nondominant arm. Magnetic resonance imaging and skinfold calipers examined subcutaneous fat in the nondominant (trained) and dominant (untrained) arms before and after resistance training. Repeated-measures ANCOVA tested for subcutaneous fat differences within and between arms before, after, and from before to after resistance training by gender and measurement technique, with BMI and age as covariates. Simple linear regression compared subcutaneous fat changes before and after resistance training as assessed by MRI and skinfold.

Results: Subcutaneous fat, measured by skinfold, decreased in the trained arm and not the untrained arm in the men (P < 0.01); it was similar in the total sample and in the women (P > 0.05). MRI determinations of subcutaneous fat changes were not different between arms in the total sample and by gender (P > 0.05).

Conclusion: Subcutaneous fat changes resulting from resistance training varied by gender and assessment technique. Skinfold findings indicate that spot reduction occurred in men but not in women. In contrast, MRI found a generalized subcutaneous fat loss independent of gender, supporting the notion that spot reduction does not occur as a result of resistance training. MRI, sensitive to changes along the entire upper arm, detected greater variation in resistance training responses, preventing significant differences between trained and untrained arms. Variation in upper-arm resistance training response was not evident from a single skinfold measurement at the belly of the muscle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / growth & development
  • Skinfold Thickness
  • Subcutaneous Fat / physiology*
  • United States
  • Upper Extremity / pathology*
  • Weight Lifting / physiology*