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. Stomach pooch exercises can help, but your diet matters most.
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Abdominal training 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.
Focus on High-Intensity Cardio
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. Muscle requires more energy to sustain itself, as the Mayo Clinic points out. The more lean mass you have, the more calories you'll burn throughout the day.
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. This training method has been shown to specifically target belly fat.
According to a February 2018 review published in Sports Medicine, high-intensity cardio workouts, such as HIIT, are particularly effective at reducing abdominal and visceral fat. HIIT, which stands for high-intensity interval training, involves short, intense bursts of exercise followed by lower intensity activity or short periods of rest.
This workout method burns visceral fat, a type of adipose tissue that wraps around your vital organs. As the experts at Harvard Medical School note, visceral fat may contribute to the onset of heart disease, metabolic disorders and diabetes.
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 85 percent. Figure out your max heart rate by subtracting your age from 220.
Do High-Intensity Intermittent Cardio
Keeping your heart rate between 70 and 85 percent MHR (maximum heart rate) can be hard to do for long periods of time. High-intensity interval training 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.
A typical HIIT workout is much shorter compared to steady state cardio, so you'll get better results in less time. Plus, you can use this training method when jogging, lifting weights or performing bodyweight exercises. You don't even need a gym membership.
Try These Stomach Pooch Exercises
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.
As mentioned earlier, 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 supersets over single sets.
Read more: How to Get Started With Weightlifting
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.
Supersets 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, from push-ups and bent-over rows to 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 bicycle maneuver, at the end of your strength routine to specifically target this region.
Read more: Meal Plan to Lose Belly Fat
Your diet is a critical factor for losing belly fat. You can exercise all you want, but if you're eating too much, especially sugar and junk food, you won't get the desired results.
Restrict junk food to an occasional indulgence and fill up on whole foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, chicken, fish, nuts and seeds.
- Mayo Clinic: "Metabolism and Weight Loss: How You Burn Calories"
- Sports Medicine: "Effect of High-Intensity Interval Training on Total, Abdominal and Visceral Fat Mass: A Meta-Analysis"
- Harvard.edu: "Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It"
- American Heart Association: "Know Your Target Heart Rates for Exercise, Losing Weight and Health"
- ACE Fitness: "5 Compound Exercises You Should Add to Your Workout"
- ACE Fitness: "20-minute Opposing Super Set Workout"