How to Tone Your Chest and Stomach

If a flabby chest and stomach aren't exactly what you have in mind for your next trip to the beach, it's time to get into the gym. The right mix of cardio and strength training exercises can burn excess fat and build lean muscle mass. And don't forget your diet. Nutritious foods and calorie control are key to a toned physique.

Doing endless crunches won't give you a toned stomach if there is excess fat around your waistline. (Image: Mike Raabe/Corbis/GettyImages)

Tip

Use a mix of steady-state cardio, weight training and high-intensity interval training to burn fat and tone your muscles.

Tone Pecs and Abs Quickly

To get a toned chest and stomach, you first have to burn off the layer of fat covering the pecs and abs. The only natural way to get rid of fat is to burn more calories than you take in, meaning that you must create a calorie deficit.

Although there are many factors at play in weight gain, a flabby chest and stomach are largely the result of consuming too many calories and not getting enough physical activity. When you take in more calories than your body needs for immediate energy and support of physiological function, those extra calories are stored as fat.

When your body is in a calorie deficit, it begins to tap into those fat stores, burning the fat and altering your body composition and overall appearance. Your diet is essential for creating that calorie deficit. Regular physical activity augments a calorie-controlled diet to create the deficit needed for fat loss.

You Can't Spot Reduce

It's important to note that you can't target just your stomach or abs for fat loss. Once you begin to burn your fat stores, you'll torch fat from many areas of your body.

For some people, abdominal fat can be the hardest to lose — especially as they get older. Your chest may start to look more toned and your face and arms may look slimmer, but your belly fat could take longer to budge. Be patient and the results will follow.

Cardio Plus Strength Training

Engaging in both cardio and strength training will get you the best and quickest results. Cardio workouts, such as biking, swimming and running, burn massive calories. If you burn 300 calories during your daily cardio session and decrease your calorie intake by 200 calories, you start to dip into those fat stores.

Strength training builds lean muscle mass. You need muscle mass to achieve a toned appearance in your pecs and abs. Once you burn the fat covering those muscles, they'll become more defined.

But strength training has another important function: lean muscle mass raises your resting metabolism and increases your total daily energy (calorie) expenditure, or TDEE. Muscle tissue takes more energy for your body to build and maintain than fat and contributes 20 percent of TDEE, according to Paige Kinucan and Len Kravitz, Ph.D., at the University of New Mexico. Fat contributes only 5 percent.

Best Cardio for Fat Loss

Any type of cardio activity will help you burn fat and banish a flabby chest and stomach. Biking, swimming, hiking, brisk walking, running, rowing and dancing all burn calories and help create a calorie deficit. The key is to engage in exercise regularly. Working out for 30 to 60 minutes every day of the week is a good goal.

While exercising at a low intensity will torch calories, training at a moderate to vigorous intensity will burn more energy for better results. For example, here are some stats from Choosemyplate.gov on how many calories a 154-pound male would burn in 30 minutes of walking and cycling at different intensities:

  • Walking at a pace of 3.5 mph: 140 calories
  • Walking at a pace of 4.5 mph: 230 calories
  • Cycling at a pace of less than 10 mph: 145 calories or less
  • Cycling at a pace of more than 10 mph: 245 calories or more

Heavier people burn more calories doing the same activities as lighter people.

High-Intensity Interval Training

Arguably the best cardio method for burning fat and increasing fitness is interval training. This workout method alternates periods of very rigorous exercise with periods of recovery. Because each intense interval is followed by a rest period, you're able to get your heart rate higher during those intervals than you would in a steady-state cardio session. The higher you get your heart rate, the more calories you burn.

If you track your heart rate during a steady-state workout and an interval training workout of the same duration, you'll likely find that you achieve higher heart rates in the latter. You'll also probably see that you burn more calories.

Another benefit is EPOC, which stands for excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. That's just a way of saying that the intense work you've done causes your body to continue to burn calories at a higher rate after your workout is over — for up to 48 hours. During this time, your body is using energy to return to its pre-exercise state.

Because interval training is so intense, it's recommended that you wait at least 48 hours between sessions. On the other days, you can do moderate-intensity steady-state cardio workouts.

Build Lean Muscle, Lose Fat

Strength training is confusing for people unfamiliar with exercise science. It doesn't need to be, especially when you're starting out. Learn several exercises and do them two or three times a week at an intensity that is challenging but not painful. Just doing body-weight exercises when you're first starting out is effective, helping you learn the movements and preparing you for adding weight.

Do two or three sets of each exercise for 10 to 15 repetitions. After a few weeks, when you feel comfortable, increase the intensity of your program by adding weight, complexity, repetitions or a combination. Aim for two to three total-body workouts per week.

A few more tips for the best abs and chest workouts include:

Do Compound Exercises

Compound exercises give you a lot more mileage in less time for burning chest and belly fat. Unlike isolation exercises, such as bicep curls, compound exercises use large muscle groups and more than one muscle group at a time. For example, the dead lift recruits the glutes, hams, quads, lats, traps, deltoids and core muscles.

Because large muscle recruitment takes greater energy, compound exercises burn more energy while you're doing them. They're also more intense than isolation exercises, increasing the EPOC effect. Compound exercises for the chest include pushups, bench press and dips. Other examples are squats, lunges, shoulder presses and pullups.

Don't Do Endless Crunches

You can do a hundred crunches every day, but you won't see a toned tummy unless you burn the fat covering your abs. That's not to say you shouldn't do ab exercises — you definitely should.

Ab exercises help build your ab muscles, which will be revealed when your body composition shifts. It's also important to strengthen your core muscles for proper body mechanics and injury prevention. But you'll make more progress if you spend that "crunch time" doing cardio and total-body strength training.

Also, compound movements, such as squats, dead lifts and pushups, all strengthen and tone your abs. If you include these moves in your routine, you may not need specific ab work at all. But feel free to add a couple of abdominal exercises to each workout. Just don't go overboard.

Do Circuit Training

Blast your body fat with high-intensity circuit training that keeps your heart rate up for maximum calorie burn. Choose several compound exercises and do one set of each without resting in between.

When you've finished the round, take a one- or two-minute break; then repeat one to four more times. You can also add cardio moves, such as jumping rope or sprints, between the strength exercises for a big calorie-burning boost.

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