Best Exercises to Lose Belly Fat

(Article by Kari Fry with Heather Walker. Edited by Hannah Groves)

 A common question asked by clients to Personal Trainers is how they can best lose belly fat. Whilst spot reduction unfortunately does not exist we asked Personal Trainer and Study Active Assessor Heather Walker how she would approach the question of ‘how can I best lose belly fat’ and what advice she would give.

IMPORTANT: The ideas in this article are purely for information only – please do not start an exercise programme until you have completed a PAR-Q and, if necessary, received medical clearance. Always warm up and cool down and never do any exercise that you are unsure of without the support of a qualified professional.

What would you advise if someone asked to include exercises to lose belly fat in their workout?

First of all, it is important to note that there is no such thing as spot reduction – in other words you can’t target fat loss to specific areas.  However, any type of exercise will help burn calories, which will reduce belly fat, along with fat on the rest of the body. 

It should also be noted that diet is just as important as exercise, if not more so, in weight loss.  If you are looking to lose weight, you should consider looking at your diet and how much fat and sugar you are consuming. It is important to be in a calorie deficit for fat loss, meaning you burn more calories than you are consuming. Whilst this does not target fat loss from the belly it does aid overall fat loss and a lower body fat percentage.

It is important to be aware of the different types of fat in our bodies – visceral fat and subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat is fat that lies deep within your abdominal organs and can’t be seen from the outside. It surrounds your stomach, liver, intestines and other important organs. Subcutaneous fat is very different, this is the fat just under your skin. It’s the type of fat that is visible and you can pinch with your fingers.

Although you can’t target weight loss, you can perform exercises to strengthen and tone specific areas, so if you want more definition on your belly, you should perform abdominal and core exercises. 

If spot reduction is not possible, what would you suggest if a client is looking for examples of exercises to lose belly fat?

Any exercises that burn calories will help lose weight and reduce fat from all over the body.  A lot of people who want to lose weight will gravitate towards cardio, under the assumption that lifting weights will make them “bulky”, however resistance training can be just as effective as cardio for weight loss. 

Aerobic cardiovascular exercises such as running, cycling, dancing, or cardiovascular machines such as treadmills or rowing machines, will all burn calories.  Some people prefer to perform cardio as HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), as this can burn more calories in a shorter space of time. Due to the high intensity however, it is important to note that this is not suitable for everyone, and beginners would be better off starting with lower intensity continuous training. 

With resistance training, full body workouts are recommended so that you can target all the major muscle groups.  You should use high reps and low resistance, as well as shorter rest periods. 

To help tone and strengthen the belly you should do abdominal exercises that target all of the core muscles.  Some examples of these are:

  • Leg lower and raise – lie on your back with your hands under your bum. Lift your legs up in the air so your feet are directly above your hips.  Lower your legs down until they are a couple of inches off the floor then raise them back up again. 
  • Toe touches – lie on your back with your legs lifted so your feet are directly above your hips. Keeping your head in a neutral position reach your hands up towards your toes, lifting your head and shoulders off the floor then lower down again. 
  • Heel touches – lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor, and your hands down by your sides. Lift your head and shoulder off the floor then bend sideways, reaching one hand down towards the heel of your foot, then repeat to the other side. 

Some great suggestions Heather. So, there isn’t a one best exercise to reduce belly fat?

As previously mentioned, there is no such thing as spot reduction, so no exercise will specifically target belly fat loss, however any type of exercise that burns calories will help burn fat from all over, including from the belly. 

The best exercise would be one that you enjoy, as consistency is key and if you enjoy an exercise, you will be more likely to continue with it! 

How should someone go about designing a fat burning workout? What might that look like?

Any workout should always start with a warm-up.  Do some gentle cardio to increase the heart rate and do some mobilisation exercises and stretches to prepare the muscles and joints. 

The main part of your session should include cardio, resistance exercises and core exercises. 

Cardio – choose something you enjoy and select an intensity that is challenging, but sustainable. 

Resistance exercises – perform a full body workout using a variety of exercises to target all the major muscle groups.  For weight loss you want to be working in muscular endurance ranges, using high reps and low resistance.  We recommend 2-3 sets of 12 or more reps, at 67%1RM or lower.  Rest for up to 30 seconds between each set. 

An example of a full body workout using resistance machines might include the following - Leg press, leg curl, lat pull down, seated chest press, seated shoulder press. 

Finish with some core exercises to help strengthen and tone the abdominal area. 

Once you have finished your workout, make sure to cool down properly.  Do a few minutes of gentle cardio, reducing the speed and resistance to allow the heart rate to slow down and return to normal. 

Finish with some static stretches, being sure to stretch every muscle that you used during your workout. 

Summary - Best Exercises to Lose Belly Fat

Thank you, Heather for taking the time to talk to us about this common question regarding ways to reduce belly fat and explaining that, while spot reduction isn’t possible, choosing a variety of exercises will be of benefit to someone wanting to focus on weight loss and lower body fat percentage. It has been great to have a little insight into subcutaneous and visceral fat.

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