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Do Ab Workouts Burn Belly Fat?
Here’s What Science Says

Last updated: August 11, 2021

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.

The Truth: Ab Workouts Don’t Burn Belly Fat

woman in gym clothes in an ab crunch position

Do ab exercises such as crunches burn belly fat? The truth is that ab workouts alone don’t burn abdominal fat.

Research shows that spot reduction exercises or targeted exercises to burn fat in a specific area don’t work.

One study showed that participants who did abdominal exercises alone for six weeks showed no reduction in their abdominal subcutaneous fat or belly fat [1].

It means that you can’t lose fat in the belly by doing crunches, sit-ups, or planks alone.

Spot reduction workouts don’t work because it’s not how fat loss works in the human body.

To lose some fat, you need to decrease your overall weight. And weight loss occurs when you burn more calories than your calorie intake, creating a calorie deficit.

When there is a caloric deficit, your body is forced to burn stored fat or draw energy from the fat cells.

However, we store fat in different parts of our bodies, so the stored fat is drawn from the entire body and not from the specific area you’re exercising.

It means that ab exercises strengthen and shape the abdominal muscles and do not reduce the subcutaneous fat (visible fat under the skin) and visceral fat (dangerous fat that wraps the organs) in the abdomen.

So, you need to address your diet and increase your activity level to burn overall body fat and get rid of fat in the belly.

6 Ways To Burn Belly Fat

Here are 6 ways to burn fat, flatten the stomach, and get the coveted six-pack abs.

1. Strengthen The Core

woman in glutes position on a yoga mat, and a man in a plank position

Core exercises train your core muscles, including muscles in the abdomen, lower back, hips, and pelvis.

Core exercises such as crunches engage some important abdominal muscles such as rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis, which stabilize the spine.

While the brutal core and upper body routines burn little fat, they help strengthen and tone the muscles underneath. It means you're sculpting lean muscles to display once the layer of subcutaneous fat is burned off.

Besides sculpting a toned and strong core, core exercises improve your balance, correct your posture, and help you move efficiently and effectively, thereby improving your gym game, sports performance, and everyday life.

Some of the core exercises you can do are:

  • Crunch
  • Sit-ups
  • Plank
  • Leg Raise
  • Glute Bridge
  • Reverse Crunch

2. Do Cardio Exercises

feet view of people running and cycling outdoors

Aerobic exercises or cardio exercises are king when burning fat because it burns high amounts of calories [2].

They are effective for losing weight because these exercises use large muscle groups, increase your heart rate, and boost your metabolism, helping you torch extra calories from carbs and fats.

Besides helping in your overall fat loss, cardio exercises also have numerous health benefits, such as strengthening your heart, reducing risks of certain diseases, and improving lung health.

So, what are some of the best cardio exercises?

  • Running/ Jogging
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Rowing
  • Walking

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, you need to do at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity workout or 75 to 150 minutes of high-intensity cardio exercise each week to see substantial changes [3].

3. Weight Lifting

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

Weight lifting, also called weight training, is strength training or resistance training that utilizes free weights or weight machines for resistance.

By making your muscles work against a weight or force, resistance training increases your muscle strength, exercise endurance, and bone strength.

Though lifting weights does not torch as many calories as cardio exercises, it still is a great addition to your workout routine because it has tons of benefits for losing belly fat.

Weightlifting helps you build muscle which is said to increase your resting metabolic rate, the number of calories you burn while at rest.

Another great thing about weight training is its afterburn effect or Excess Postexercise 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

Research shows that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) exercises reduce total body fat, abdominal fat, and visceral fat (harmful fat wrapping around the abdominal organs), thereby improving body composition [4].

High-intensity interval training is a combination of quick and intense exercises with low-intensity exercises or short rests.

It’s a popular training because of its effectiveness in burning more fat and at the same time building lean muscle mass. In short, HIIT is an effective way to improve overall fitness.

However, HIIT is vigorous workouts that push you out of your comfort zone.

Here are some of the things to remember with HIIT workouts:

  • Avoid doing HIIT exercises every day because it may lead to muscle fatigue and injury.
  • And if you’re a beginner, try to start easy and increase the intensity as you develop more endurance.

Nonetheless, the benefits of HIIT workouts outweigh their difficulty. It also helps people achieve great fitness results in a short period of time.

5. Try Yoga

group of woman doing yoga in a studio

Yoga is also said to help in reducing belly fat and cutting inches around your waist.

Research suggests that the possible ways yoga assists in losing extra pounds are heightening mindfulness, reducing stress, and improving mood. These factors could help reduce food intake and improve awareness of overeating [5].

Yoga also helps manage the effects of being overweight such as lower back pain, and strengthens the body, especially your abs and back. It helps improve your posture and gives you a leaner physique.

“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.

It is recommended to do three to four one-hour yoga sessions per week for your weight reduction goals. Pilates and other mat-based exercises are also great workout alternatives.

6. Check Your Diet

white plate with measuring tape and utensils

You don't have to be extreme, such as doing a low-carb keto diet, for your nutrition, but practicing portion control or eating the right amount of healthy foods is enough to speed up the weight loss process.

Eat plenty of protein

A high-protein diet helps beat abdominal fat by boosting metabolism, reducing cravings, and helping build lean muscle mass.

Consume more fiber

Fiber absorbs water and is broken down into a gel-like substance, slowing down digestion and absorption in the stomach, helping you feel fuller longer. It enables you to avoid overeating and prevent weight gain.

Cut back refined carbs and processed foods

Refined carbs and processed foods are our comfort foods, such as pizza, fries, or white bread; however, these foods may cause you to overeat and increase your blood sugar levels, promoting belly fat. So, reducing refined carb intake may help reduce fat stores in the body.

Drink plenty of water

Drinking water helps you drop extra pounds and trim down the waistline because water increases your metabolism, suppresses the appetite, promotes satiety (feeling of fullness), and increases calorie burning.

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?

Like other muscles, training your ab muscles every day 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?

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

What Burns The Most Body Fat?

One of the effective ways to reduce body fat is high-intensity interval training. It is vigorous training such as sprinting or Tabata workouts, designed to achieve fitness results within a short period of time.

Start Doing Ab Exercises Right

Though ab exercises shape your abdominal muscles and give you strong abs, they alone cannot lose belly fat.

The most effective way is to decrease your body's overall fat to burn belly fat significantly.

Combined core work, HIIT, cardio exercises, and yoga, plus eating a healthy diet, may effectively speed up your belly-fat reduction process.

Ready for your belly fat loss journey? Please let us know your thoughts with us and how these tips helped.


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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