A stomach pooch is unsightly, but it's not uncommon. Aging, eating too many sugary, starchy and fatty foods, not getting enough exercise and other lifestyle factors, including stress and lack of sleep, can all lead to excess tummy fat.
Abdominal exercises won't work when your goal is to reduce belly fat. You can do hundreds of crunches a day, but if you have a layer of belly fat covering your ab muscles, you'll never see your hard work.
Although building abdominal strength is important for a healthy body, your main focus should be on cardio and strength training. High-intensity cardio, in addition to a healthy diet, helps create the calorie deficit needed for fat loss. Strength training builds muscle, which raises your metabolic rate, or your body's ability to burn calories, even at rest.
Focus on High-Intensity Cardio
High-intensity cardio is the first line of fire when it comes to burning belly fat. The higher you can get your heart rate during exercise, the more calories -- and fat -- you'll burn. And, high-intensity cardio has been shown to specifically target belly fat.
Research published in Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders in August 2006 compared the influence of high-intensity exercise versus moderate intensity exercise on abdominal fat on elderly adults.
Researchers found that even when calorie burn was the same, the participants engaging in high-intensity exercise lost more abdominal fat over a 12-week period than their counterparts engaging in moderate-intensity exercise.
Exercise intensity can be gauged most accurately using max heart rate percentage. Using a heart rate monitor, keep your max heart rate percentage between 70 and 90 percent. Figure out your max heart rate by subtracting your age from 220.
High-Intensity Intermittent Cardio
Keeping your heart rate between 70 and 90 percent MHR can be hard to do for long periods of time. High-intensity intermittent cardio (HIIT) alternates periods of high-intensity cardio with periods of recovery to help you increase the intensity of your workout without burning out.
A simple HIIT workout can be done on a treadmill. Warm up for a few minutes, then increase the intensity so you're sprinting as hard as you can. Maintain this sprint for as long as you can (aim for at least 30 seconds), then reduce your pace to an easy jog or walk. Recover for as long as you sprinted, then go back to sprinting. Repeat this four to nine times, then cool down.
Burn Belly Fat by Building Muscle
Many people think that spending hours on the treadmill is the best way to burn belly fat. It may work eventually, but it's certainly not the most effective way to get rid of your pooch.
In fact, the more muscle you have, the more calories and fat your body burns throughout the day, even while you're doing absolutely nothing. That's because muscle takes more energy -- in the form of calories -- for your body to build and maintain than fat.
Get a full-body strength-training workout in two or three times a week and you'll see the results. Do exercises for your arms, shoulders, back, chest, abdominals and legs. Choose primarily compound exercises over isolation exercises, and super sets over single sets.
Compound exercises use more than one muscle group at a time. More muscle activation means more energy required. Simply put, you'll burn more calories doing these multi-muscle group moves. Examples include squats, push ups, pull ups and deadlifts. Ab-specific exercises may build ab strength, but they don't burn calories the way these big moves do.
Super Sets involve doing two or more exercises in the same set with no rest in between. Less rest in between sets keeps your heart rate up so you burn more calories while you're working out. You can super set virtually any exercises -- for example, push ups and bent-over rows, dumbbell press and chin ups, or squats and stiff-legged deadlifts.
Add one to three sets of 10 to 15 ab moves, such as reverse crunches, planks and the bicycyle maneuver, at the end of your strength routine to specifically target this region.
Your diet is a critical factor in whether you lose the pooch. You can exercise all you want, but if you're eating too much, and eating too many junk foods, you'll find it extremely difficult to lose belly fat.
Restrict junk foods to an occasional indulgence, and focus your diet on whole foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, chicken and fish, and nuts and seeds.