Do you eat clean and stick to your workouts, but still can't get rid of belly fat? Then it's time to change your approach to diet and exercise. An expanding waistline can increase your risk of insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and a host of other health problems. Luckily, there are plenty of belly-fat-burning workouts that can be done anytime, anywhere.
Finish your strength-training sessions with HIIT to send your metabolism into overdrive and burn more calories AFTER exercise.
The Dangers of Belly Fat
Stomach fat isn't just unsightly — it's harmful. Unlike the fat on your arms, legs and other body areas, belly fat is largely visceral. This means that it's wrapped around your internal organs and has the ability to produce hormones, cytokines and other biochemicals that may affect overall health.
According to a 2017 review published in the Journal of Obesity and Weight Loss Therapy, visceral fat is metabolically active and contributes to the onset of heart disease and other obesity-related disorders. Furthermore, it reduces the production of adiponectin, a protein that regulates lipid metabolism and glucose levels. This compound protects against inflammation, diabetes and insulin resistance and supports metabolic health.
Visceral fat is a strong predictor of diabetes and prediabetes and may lead to metabolic disorders. A 2019 study conducted at Loughborough University in the U.K. has linked belly fat to brain shrinkage. Researchers have found that overweight subjects with a high waist-to-hip ratio had lower brain volumes than people of healthy weight. Brain shrinkage is a contributing factor to dementia and memory problems.
Gym Exercises for Belly Fat
When it comes to fat loss, diet and exercise are equally important. Belly-fat-burning workouts alone can't undo the harm caused by bad eating. And it's important to keep in mind that stress promotes fat storage in the abdominal area.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, increases hunger and food cravings. At the same time, it triggers inflammation, which, in turn, may contribute to insulin resistance. Elevated cortisol levels also disrupt sleep, making you more likely to eat high-fat and sugary foods the following day. These factors promote abdominal weight gain and metabolic health.
Eat clean and limit stress to get the most out of your workouts. Fill up on protein, cut out refined sugars and downsize your portions. Exercise at least four times a week and stay active on your off days. Take a brisk walk, practice yoga or plan an active weekend. Try these gym workouts to lose belly fat and get in shape fast:
Add HIIT to Your Routine
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) isn't just a passing fad. In fact, it's considered one of the best workouts for burning belly fat. A group-based intervention has found that HIIT combined with conventional training reduces total and visceral fat to a greater extent than regular gym training alone. The results were published in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness in 2016.
This training method is more effective and less time consuming than steady-state cardio. A typical session takes as little as 10 to 15 minutes. A 2018 meta-analysis published in Sports Medicine indicates that HIIT works better than running and cycling for overall fat loss. The HIIT group experienced a significant reduction in abdominal and visceral fat after exercise.
High-intensity workouts put more stress on your body compared to traditional training. This increases metabolism and fat burning after exercise due to the so-called afterburn effect. Basically, your body will use more energy after intense training to recover from stress and repair damaged tissues. Furthermore, HIIT improves insulin sensitivity and may lower the risk of age-related cardiometabolic problems in older people.
Build Muscle to Increase Metabolism
A fast metabolism can make it easier to stay lean and keep the pounds off. One way to boost your metabolic rate is to put on more muscle. That's where strength training comes in. Weightlifting promotes muscle growth and burns fat while improving your overall fitness.
According to University of Kentucky strength and conditioning coach Dr. Ted Lambrinides, weight training increases metabolic rate by five to 10 calories per minute depending on the muscles worked. Compound exercises, such as dead lifts, squats, leg presses and pushups, hit nearly every muscle group, especially larger muscles. Therefore, they are more effective for fat loss than biceps curls, triceps dips and other isolation movements.
Prioritize heavy lifts in your workout routine. Start your gym session with compound movements and increase the load gradually. Your leg workout, for example, may include single-leg squats, Bulgarian split squats, back squats, lunges, leg presses, straight-leg dead lifts and more. Finish with HIIT and/or isolation exercises, such as leg extensions and calf raises.
Torch Fat With Sprint Intervals
Looking for other belly-fat-burning exercises? Add sprint intervals to your workout. According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Hepatology, this training method reduces visceral and subcutaneous fat as well as intrahepatic fat. The latter plays a key role in the onset and progression of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
Compared to jogging and other workouts, sprint interval training recruits a larger number of fast-twitch muscle fibers. Plus, it's more intense and physically demanding, causing your body to use more oxygen than it takes in. The same happens when you do HIIT. The end result is a faster metabolism and increased fat burning.
Start with five minutes of sprinting three times per week and work your way up to 20 minutes. This form of exercise is just as beneficial as moderate-intensity training but takes less time. Plus, you don't even need a gym membership to get your workout done. Experiment with hill sprints, ladder workouts and downhill running to diversify your routine.
What About Ab Exercises?
A common mistake among gymgoers is relying on crunches, situps, ab roll-outs and other isolation movements. These exercises have their place in a workout program. They build core strength, tone your midsection and improve overall conditioning. However, this doesn't mean they're effective for fat loss.
The only way to make your abs pop is to eliminate the layer of fat that's covering them. Because you can't spot reduce, crunches and other similar exercises won't help. Situps, in particular, are hard on your back and may cause pain and injuries.
If you're serious about fat loss, prioritize full-body workouts, strength training and HIIT. Circuit training works too, especially if you're using heavy weights and compound movements. Mix and match different exercises to keep your body guessing and prevent plateaus. Remember to eat for your goals — clean up your diet, track your daily calories and increase your protein intake.
- WebMD: The Risks of Belly Fat — and How to Beat Them
- Harvard Health Publishing: Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It
- Journal of Obesity and Weight Loss Therapy: Factors Associated With Visceral Fat Loss in Response to a Multifaceted Weight Loss Intervention
- International Journal of Molecular Sciences: Adiponectin, a Therapeutic Target for Obesity, Diabetes, and Endothelial Dysfunction
- KoreaMed Synapse: Visceral Fat Mass Has Stronger Associations With Diabetes and Prediabetes Than Other Anthropometric Obesity Indicators Among Korean Adults
- BMJ: Risk for Metabolic Diseases in Normal Weight Individuals With Visceral Fat Accumulation
- Loughborough University: Excessive Body Fat Around the Middle Linked to Smaller Brain Size
- Poliquin Group: How Stress Makes Your Belly Fat
- The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness: Eight Weeks of a Combination of High Intensity Interval Training and Conventional Training Reduce Visceral Adiposity and Improve Physical Fitness
- Sports Medicine: Effect of High-Intensity Interval Training on Total, Abdominal and Visceral Fat Mass
- Precor: The Afterburn Effect: Understanding the Science of EPOC
- Acta Physiologica: High‐Intensity Interval Training Improves Insulin Sensitivity in Older Individuals
- Synchrosask: Strength Training and Metabolism
- Journal of Hepatology: Sprint Interval Exercise Training Reduces Intrahepatic, Visceral and Subcutaneous Abdominal Fat Despite No Change in Body Weight, but Has Variable Effects on Whole-Body Insulin Sensitivity
- STACK: Why Every Human Being Should Run Sprints
- Sports Medicine: Research Into the Health Benefits of Sprint Interval Training Should Focus on Protocols With Fewer and Shorter Sprints
- Psychology Today: Spot Reduction