Your core consists of much more than just your abs — it incorporates all of the muscles between your hips and shoulders, including those in the pelvis, back and, yes, the abdomen.
Targeting the core — or any part of your body, for that matter — for weight loss is not possible. To lose weight in the core, it requires the same regimen as losing weight anywhere else on the body: a healthy, controlled calorie diet and more physical activity.
About the Fat in Your Core
Excess weight in the core usually gathers in the belly and pushes over the front, sides and back of your waistband, forming that not-so-desirable muffin top. The soft fat on your middle located just under the skin is known as subcutaneous fat.
The harder fat that makes your middle push outward is visceral fat, located around the organs, which excretes inflammatory compounds and poses a risk for diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Both types of fat are responsive to diet and exercise interventions, but because visceral fat is metabolically active, it usually responds first. The subcutaneous fat on your belly can take longer to lose and be some of the last fat you drop when you focus on losing weight. You will eventually lose it, so be patient.
Choose Moderate Portions of Healthy Foods
To lose weight anywhere, including your core, eat fewer calories than you burn. Make this caloric deficit equal to between 500 and 1,000 calories daily to lose a healthy 1 to 2 pounds per week.
Some dietary changes can help you reduce calories without starving. Start by reducing your intake of sugar from soda and sweets, refined grains in white breads and processed snacks and saturated fats in full-fat dairy and fatty meat.
Next, aim to stick to moderate portion sizes of lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy at most meals. Don't cut back too drastically, however. You risk stalling your metabolism, losing valuable muscle mass and being unable to sustain the program for very long.
A woman should always consume at least 1,200 calories per day, and a man should aim for a minimum of 1,800.
Burn Calories With Cardio
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends you do at least 250 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio weekly to lose significant weight.
Give yourself several weeks, or even a few months, to get into this regular cardio habit. Once you've built up some stamina, add in a few interval-training workouts per week. This involves alternating short bouts of all-out effort with short bouts of recovery, such as sprinting and walking.
This type of cardio, performed three times per week, resulted in significantly more trunk fat loss in young women than exercise performed at an even, moderate pace after 15 weeks, according to research published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2008.
Add Some Strength Training
Cardio generally burns more calories during a workout than strength training, but that doesn't mean lifting weights isn't important to weight loss. Strength training helps you build a greater percentage of muscle mass, which boosts your metabolism and stimulates hormones responsible for fat burning.
Aim for a minimum of two strength-training sessions per week that target all the major muscle groups, including the back, chest, legs, shoulders, hips, abs and arms. Large, multi-joint movements, such as squats, deadlifts, chest presses and pulls, work multiple muscle groups at once, making them both effective and time-saving.
Use weights that feel heavy by the last rep or two in a total of eight to 12, and go for one or more sets at each workout.
Compound movements, such as the squat and press, use the core for stabilization. Target the core directly with additional exercises such as planks or anti-rotation moves.
While these exercises won't directly burn off fat at your core, they will improve the overall function of your trunk. When you build up the core muscles, you'll reveal a tighter, toned midsection when you do drop pounds.