Gym Exercises to Lose Belly Fat

Close up male foot running on treadmill
Cardio, not crunches, helps you lose belly fat. (Image: Kanawa_Studio/iStock/Getty Images)

You might expect a list of gym exercises that help you lose belly fat to include lots of crunches, twists and planks. While these moves do help create strength and definition in abdominal muscles, they do little to burn the fat covering your middle. Gym exercises that help you lose belly fat involve cardio and total-body strength training — not targeted ab moves.

Belly Fat Basics

Belly fat consists of two different types of fat. The stubborn pinchable stuff is subcutaneous fat. It lies just under the skin and stands in the way of your six-pack, but doesn't pose as much of a health risk as visceral fat.

Visceral fat is a firmer fat that expands your middle and surrounds your internal organs. This fat secretes inflammatory compounds that significantly increase your risk of disease, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Because it's metabolically active, visceral fat is some of the first fat that's lost when you exercise, according to Chicago's Rush University Medical Center. You can eventually lose subcutaneous fat with exercise, too, but it may take more time.

Young healthy group of people working out on a elliptic trainer in a fitness center
Burn belly fat with lots and lots of high-intensity cardio. (Image: nd3000/iStock/Getty Images)

Cardio Exercise for Belly Fat Loss

Your body stores fat in a form known as trigylcerides. This storage fat isn't readily available for use as fuel — your body must first convert it to fatty acids and glycerol.

This conversion happens when your body senses an energy deficit, meaning you're burning more calories than you consume. Although you can't direct your body to use the stored triglycerides from specific trouble areas, your body usually reaches for visceral fat first because it's easily mobilized.

Brisk walking or running on the treadmill, pedaling a stationary bike, gliding on an elliptical, rowing the ergometer or climbing the step mill are all cardio exercises that help you burn calories and dip into fat stores.

Up the Intensity

Once you've built up an aerobic base where you can go 30 minutes at a moderate intensity relatively comfortably, add in high-intensity intervals to burn fat more readily.

Research published in a 2011 issue of the Journal of Obesity showed that this type of HIIT training promotes skeletal muscle adaptations that improve your body's total fat-burning capacity and improves your insulin resistance and glucose tolerance — all of which can lead to belly fat loss.

To do a HIIT workout, warm up for 5 to 10 minutes. Then, alternate brief bouts of all-out effort with bouts of lower-intensity effort. For example, sprint on a treadmill for a minute followed by a walk for a minute. Repeat the bouts for 20 to 30 minutes and cool down for 5 minutes.

Strength Training Zaps Belly Fat

Ab exercises can be part of a belly-fat reducing resistance training regimen, but as a study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2011 show, they aren't enough to reduce belly fat on their own.

However, a comprehensive resistance-training program can help improve your overall body composition, so you process fat and calories more efficiently. Muscle burns more calories at rest than does fat tissue, raising your daily metabolism and helping you drop pounds, especially in your middle.

Compound moves that engage multiple muscle groups are especially effective at building a functional and lean body. Squats, deadlifts, chest presses, pull-ups, curls, triceps extensions and lunges are examples.

Use weights that make it hard to complete the last few reps in a set of eight to 12 with good form. Do between one and three sets of these moves. Work at a high intensity during these training sessions to lose visceral fat, according to a 2015 study in the International Journal of Cardiology.

Side view of tough young woman exercising with kettle bell at gym. Fit female athlete doing gym workout at gym.
Swap out some of your dumbbell exercises for kettlebell ones. (Image: Jacob Ammentorp Lund/iStock/Getty Images)

Metabolic Circuits

Combine cardio and strength training in one workout to save time and stimulate fat loss. A circuit that alternates bouts of high-intensity cardio with a set of strength training exercises provide you the benefits of HIIT training and building muscle.

You simply pick seven to 12 exercises, repeat each for about 1 minute each with no rest and repeat the entire circuit one to three times total. A sample circuit might include:


Always include a warm-up and cool down in your workout.

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