Do Ab Exercises Help Burn Belly Fat? (From a Trainer)

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Published by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: February 16, 2024
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Doing crunches, planks, and other ab exercises gives you that “burning feel” in the stomach, but you noticed it doesn’t reduce belly fat.

Not only is it so frustrating, but also a waste of hard work and time.

So, to help my clients with the same problem, I spent hours researching whether ab exercises burn belly fat, and here’s everything I found.

Quick Summary

  • To effectively reduce belly fat, combine core exercises, cardio, HIIT, yoga, and a balanced diet, as ab workouts alone don't target belly fat.
  • Incorporating a mix of crunches, sit-ups, planks, leg raises, glute bridges, and reverse crunches tones muscles under belly fat, preparing them to be more visible after fat loss.
  • Research in the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise journal supports cardio's role in significant fat burning, especially when engaging in 150–300 minutes of moderate or 75–150 minutes of intense cardio weekly.
  • In my experience, a multifaceted approach, including varied exercise routines and a balanced diet, is the most effective strategy for achieving and maintaining a flat stomach and overall fitness.

The Truth: Ab Workouts Don’t Burn Belly Fat

woman in gym clothes in an ab crunch position

Ab workouts alone won't burn belly fat. Research in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research indicates that spot-reduction exercises like crunches or planks don't effectively lose belly or subcutaneous fat [1].

To effectively shed belly fat, combine core exercises—HIIT, cardio, yoga—with a healthy diet. Explore our recommended fat burners for women and men, considering hormonal differences in fat accumulation.

Fat loss is holistic: you need a calorie deficit to prompt your body to use stored fat for energy, which it takes from all over, not just the exercised area.

While ab exercises tone muscles, they don't directly target overlying or visceral fat. These exercises also help regulate insulin levels, important for fat storage; lower insulin means less belly fat storage.

For overall slimming, prioritize diet and general activity to burn fat body-wide. Add the supplements that burn belly fat, and you'll be on track to getting shredded.

6 Ways To Burn Belly Fat

Here are six ways to burn fat, flatten the stomach, and get the coveted six-pack abs. Additionally, the ab exercises covered here will not only shed belly fat through exercise but also boost mental well-being.

1. Strengthen The Core

woman in a plank position

Core exercises not only sculpt abs but also boost balance, posture, and overall efficiency in sports and daily activities.

The most effective ones are:

  • Crunches
  • Sit-ups
  • Planks
  • Leg raises
  • Glute bridges
  • Reverse crunches

They tone the muscles under the belly fat, preparing them to show off once you shed the fat.

2. Do Cardio Exercises

Man running outdoor

In my coaching career, I've seen firsthand how cardio is a game-changer for fat loss.

Its high calorie burn, proven by research in the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise journal, makes it a cornerstone of effective training programs [2].

Cardio activities skyrocket your heart rate and ramp up your metabolism.

The most effective ones, which engage large muscle groups, are:

  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Rowing
  • Walking

Aim for 150–300 minutes of moderate or 75–150 minutes of intense cardio weekly, as recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for significant results [3].

3. Weight Lifting

shirtless man in a push up position, and a woman doing deadlifts

From my experience, weight training with free weights or machines isn't just about strength -  it significantly enhances endurance and bone health, an aspect I focus on in my client training programs.

It may not burn as many calories as cardio but it builds muscle, which raises your resting metabolic rate.

Post-lifting, thanks to its afterburn effect or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), your body will continue to burn calories even after your workout.

Some of the best weight-training exercises are:

  • Deadlift
  • Push-up
  • Pull-up
  • Barbell Bench Press
  • Barbell Squats
  • Dumbbell Overhead Lunge

4. HIIT Exercises

woman doing jump squats, and a couple warming up outdoors

As a coach, I've implemented HIIT based on its proven effectiveness in reducing body fat, including abdominal and visceral fat, as demonstrated in research from the Sports Medicine journal [4].

The results of body composition improvement are always remarkable.

However, avoid daily HIIT to prevent muscle fatigue and injuries. Start slowly if you're new and gradually increase intensity.

The payoff?

Improved overall fitness in a shorter time frame.

5. Try Yoga

group of woman doing yoga in a studio

Integrating yoga into my training programs has consistently shown reductions in belly fat and waist size.

Its benefits in enhancing mindfulness and lowering stress, as noted in research from the Sage journal, are vital for overall well-being and weight loss [5].

It also addresses overweight-related issues like back pain and improves posture.

“Yoga practice is a way to switch off, connect with yourself and gain headspace and perspective. When the nervous system is calmed, and cortisol levels are low, the body is in a much better position for losing weight.”

– Fi Clarke, Head of Yoga at FLY LDN

Three to four one-hour weekly sessions are recommended, with Pilates as a great alternative.

6. Check Your Diet

white plate with measuring tape and utensils

In my coaching, I advocate for balanced diets over extremes like keto. Simple portion control and nutritious food choices can significantly accelerate weight loss.

Up your protein intake to boost metabolism, cut cravings, and build muscle. Eat more fiber to slow digestion, make you feel full and prevent overeating.

Cut down on refined carbs and processed foods; they're tempting but spike blood sugar and promote belly fat. And don't forget to drink lots of water; it ramps up metabolism, curbs hunger, and helps burn calories.

Related: What is The Best Diet For Burning Belly Fat?

Foods That Burn Belly Fat

close up image of fresh eggs and a stack of leafy greens

Here are some of the foods you may add to your fat-loss diet.

High-protein food sources:

  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Greek yogurt

Non-starchy vegetables:

  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Spinach
  • Cauliflower
  • Asparagus
  • Bean sprouts

Foods high in healthy fat:

  • Avocado
  • Oily fish
  • Oils from vegetables, seeds, and nuts
  • Nuts and seeds

FAQs

Is It Bad to Do Abs Every Day?

Doing your ab muscles every day is bad. It may result in overtraining and further lead to muscle injury.

So, it is important to give your abs a break and train your other core muscles, too.

How Long Does It Take to Melt Belly Fat and Get Abs?

It could take at least 1-2 months to see noticeable changes in your waistline, as according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week is considered safe and achievable.

What Burns The Most Body Fat?

High-intensity interval training burns the most fat. Also, vigorous training, such as sprinting or Tabata workouts, is designed to achieve fitness results within a short period of time.


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21804427/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3760344/
  3. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29127602/
  5. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1559827613492097
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About The Author

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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One thought on “Do Ab Workouts Burn Belly Fat?
Here’s What Science Says

  1. I’m glad I read this. I’ve been doing ab workouts to burn belly fat. This explains why it’s not working.

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