If you hate crunches (really, who doesn't?) you'll be delighted to know you don't have to do a single one to lose belly fat. In fact, crunches are completely ineffective for trimming your tummy. Total-body strength training and intense cardio are the quickest ways to lose belly fat.
How to Lose Belly Fat
According to Harvard Health Publishing, one type of belly fat called visceral fat is particularly dangerous. As opposed to subcutaneous fat just below the skin, visceral fat sits deep in the abdominal cavity, surrounding your organs. This type of fat increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and breast cancer in women.
It's a common misconception that doing hundreds of crunches — or other ab exercises — will get rid of belly fat. This is called spot reduction, and it's a big fat myth, says the American Council on Exercise. Crunches strengthen your abdominal muscles, but they do not burn fat.
To lose belly fat, you have to reduce total-body fat. To do that, you have to create what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls a "calorie deficit," in which you burn more calories than your body uses each day to support physiological processes such as respiration and digestion.
In that state, your body will begin using excess fat for energy, and your fat stores will begin to diminish. This decreases the size of your fat cells, explains the West Virginia Health Statistic Center, including the ones at your waistline, which should lead to a flatter stomach. Just keep in mind that this may take some time. You might see weight loss in your face and arms before you notice it at your waistline.
Best Exercises for Belly Fat
Some exercises are better than others for burning calories and boosting metabolism. Generally, the higher the intensity of your workout, the more calories you'll burn and the bigger metabolic benefit you'll gain.
But which exercises are right for you right depends on your health status and physical conditioning. It's a good idea to check in with your doctor before beginning a high-intensity training program, but if they give you the go ahead you may want to try:
High-intensity interval training (HIIT): Moderate-intensity continuous cardio (MICT), such as jogging on the treadmill for 30 minutes, is good exercise, but isn't as effective for burning belly fat, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in March 2019.
To do HIIT, you alternate periods of intense effort, such as sprinting, with periods of recovery. In the 12-week study comparing the effectiveness of HIIT verses MICT, participants who performed HIIT significantly reduced fat mass, total body fat percentage, waist fat and waist circumference compared to the group that did MICT.
Total-body strength training: Burning fat isn't just about cardio. Building lean muscle mass gives your metabolism a boost, reports the Mayo Clinic, so you burn more calories. At least two days per week, do strength training exercises for all your major muscle groups in your arms, shoulders, chest, legs and core. Compound movements such as squats, lunges and push-ups work more than one muscle group at a time, according to the American Council on Exercise.
Circuit training: Circuit training is interval training and total-body strength training in one, and it's just as good for weight loss as cardio, says the American Council on Exercise. There are many circuit training options, but the idea is to perform strength-training exercises, such as squats and push-ups, back to back with little to no rest in between.
This keeps your heart rate up throughout your workout for maximum calorie burn. You can also include bursts of cardio in between exercises to really get the heart rate up.
Read more: The 41 Hardest Ab Exercises
Finally, don't forget your diet, which plays as important a role in belly fat loss as exercise. Consume less calories than you're burning and cut out sugary, fatty, processed foods. Instead, eat lots of fresh vegetables, fruit in moderation, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy.
- American Council on Exercise: "Myths and Misconceptions: Spot Reduction and Feeling the Burn"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Balancing Diet and Activity to Lose and Maintain Weight"
- West Virginia Health Statistic Center: "Obesity: Facts, Figures, Guidelines"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It"
- Journal of the American College of Cardiology: "Effect of High-Intensity Interval Training on Total and Abdominal Fat Mass in Outpatient Cardiac Rehabilitation Patients With Myocardial Infarction"
- Mayo Clinic: "Strength Training: Get Stronger, Leaner, Healthier"
- American Council on Exercise: "5 Benefits of Compound Exercises"
- American Council on Exercise: "Dynamic Circuit Training for Weight Loss"