People hit the gym with hopes of reaching a variety of fitness goals, one of the more popular ones being to attain a flat stomach with strong abs. Making time for stomach exercise in the gym can help you reach this goal by toning your midsection.
However, it's important to note that simply because you're strengthening your abdominal muscles doesn't mean you'll be burning away excess belly fat. Spot reduction is a myth, and to lose fat from your midsection, you need to focus on overall weight loss.
The Concern About Belly Fat
Striving for a flatter stomach isn't just about aesthetics, although that might be the reason most people are trying to trim their waistline when they hit the gym for their workout. The bigger concern is that belly fat is more dangerous than other fat, as reflected in numerous scientific studies.
For example, an October 2016 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that an increase in belly fat is associated with a higher risk of chronic diseases. Similarly, a July 2019 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at a group of postmenopausal women who were considered normal weight based on their body mass index but had high accumulation of abdominal fat. The study found that those women had the same risk of mortality as obese women.
That said, you can do as much stomach exercise in the gym as you can, but it won't burn fat strictly from your stomach. As Johns Hopkins Medicine notes, this misconception of "spot reduction" doesn't work — you have to lose weight overall, which will help reduce your waistline in the process. As part of your lifestyle change to lose or maintain weight, the Heart Foundation recommends eating a healthy diet, avoiding sugar, drinking less alcohol, sleeping eight hours a night and avoiding stress.
Stomach Exercise in the Gym
Even if you can't target your stomach as the body part where you're burning away the most fat, you can target your abs as the muscles you want to strengthen. You'll still need to lose fat to get a flat stomach with visible abs, but a gym workout focusing on core exercises can give you a more toned appearance around your middle. Additionally, the Mayo Clinic notes that core strength will improve your balance and stability, thus reducing your risk of injury with other exercises.
And if you're wondering whether you need fancy gym machines for a flat stomach . . . well, you don't. The best core and abdominal exercises can be done with just your body weight.
You can incorporate these exercises adapted from the American Council on Exercise into your next gym workout:
Reach-and-Pull Plank (10-15 reps, 1 set on right side, 1 set on left side)
- Begin in a straight-arm plank position. Your body should be straight with your core braced and your spine stabilized.
- Lift your right arm and twist your body to the right as you bring your arm up above your head. Your arm span should be perpendicular to the ground.
- Rotate your body back to your original position as you bring your right arm down.
- Repeat 10-15 times.
- Switch and do the left side.
Star-Crunch Plank (10-15 reps, 1 set on right side, 1 set on left side)
- Start in a bent-arm side plank resting on your right forearm.
- Lift your left leg and raise your left arm over your head.
- Bend your left arm and left leg, bringing the knee up toward the elbow.
- Slowly return to the starting position.
- Repeat 10-15 times before switching to the other side. Balance your plank on your left forearm and bring your right elbow and right knee together.
Still want more ideas? The American Council on Exercise also recommends ribbons, twists, an overhead lean, a one-handed toss, the rugby pass and side dips with a medicine ball or a kettlebell.
- The Heart Foundation: “Belly Fat”
- Journal of the American College of Cardiology: “Association of Changes in Abdominal Fat Quantity and Quality with Incident Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors”
- Journal of the American Medical Association: “Association of Normal-Weight Central Obesity with All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality Among Postmenopausal Women”
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: “8 Ways to Lose Belly Fat and Live a Healthier Life”
- The Mayo Clinic: “Core Exercises: Why You Should strengthen Your Core Muscles”
- American Council on Exercise: “5 Ab Exercises: No Crunches, No Equipment”
- American Council on Exercise: “6 Standing Ab Exercises”