If you've been doing ab workouts to no avail with the hopes of losing belly fat, you may want to think again. Often, people mistakenly believe that doing planks, crunches, and other ab exercises are what they need, period, in order to flatten their stomachs, but the truth is: ab workouts don't burn belly fat. Exercises like mountain climbers and leg lifts are great if you want to strengthen your core; however, if your goal is to lose belly fat, lower your body fat percentage, and maybe even get a six-pack, ab workouts alone won't cut it.
Do Ab Workouts Burn Belly Fat?
In order to lose belly fat and start seeing your abs, you need to make key lifestyle changes. Exercise physiologist Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, told POPSUGAR in a previous interview that you have to lower your overall body fat by "following a consistent program of healthy eating, cardiovascular exercise, and strength training." It's worth noting that just because you can't see your abs, doesn't mean you don't have a strong core — ab workouts will build up your core strength, but they cannot spot-reduce belly fat. "We all have a six-pack," Holland explained. "It's just covered by a layer of subcutaneous fat in many people."
The time it takes to start seeing your abs depends on your body type since genetics and hormones can impact how much fat people hold in their midsection. According to NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist Ryan Hosler, ab definition will start to show with 17 percent body fat for men and 24 percent body fat for women, and abs will be more visible as that body fat percentage decreases.
How to Lose Belly Fat
As a trainer myself, I think the best way to approach losing stomach fat, and fat in general, is by consistently training in the zone that allows you to burn the most fat instead of focusing on spot reduction. Bear with me. I know an answer like this can seem vague and frustrating, but the style of training that works for you to get rid of stomach fat may not work for someone else. You've probably heard that doing high-intensity workouts is the best way to burn fat. If you take anything away from this post, let it be that the best way to lose fat isn't one size fits all.
I agree that high-intensity workouts like sprinting that use multiple muscle groups at once are great in general. But, in order to find out what workout is best for you and your goals, consider getting a specialized test like the FatMax Protocol test. This test measures fat oxidation at different exercise intensities — basically, the exercise intensity where your body optimally burns the most fat. From there, you can work with an exercise physiologist or a certified trainer to design a training program that is best for you.
Unfortunately, this test is most likely not offered at your primary care physician's office or at local gyms and fitness studios. Depending on where you live, you may be able to find a wellness company that offers the FatMax test and other body composition assessments. You can also contact local hospitals to see if they offer these specialized assessments. The Mount Sinai PhysioLab in NYC administers the test for $300. This price may vary depending on your location and who is administering the test. I haven't had the opportunity to get this test done, but I definitely think it's worth the investment to figure out the best fat-loss workouts for your body and your goals.
Weightlifting Can Help You Burn Fat
FatMax Protocol aside, I recommend incorporating weightlifting into your workout routine. I think lifting weights is one of the best ways to decrease your body fat while maintaining and building lean muscle. If you're new to strength training, you can get started with this beginner's program. If you're experienced with lifting weights, I suggest implementing more compound exercises — exercises that work larger muscle groups and, as a result, cause you to burn more calories and fat — into your routine. A few of my go-to compound exercises are:
How to Lose Belly Fat: Check Your Diet
Now that you have an idea about how you should be training, it's time to discuss your nutrition. You don't have to do the low-carb high-fat keto diet, but I do recommend minimizing or even completely cutting out alcohol, sugars, and processed foods. Similar to there being no one perfect workout to lose fat, there's not one perfect diet. It may take a lot of trial and error to figure out what works best for you, and I highly recommend working with a registered dietitian to devise a nutritional program that makes sense for your lifestyle and goals. Here's a simple meal plan for weight loss to start.
— Additional reporting by Sam Brodsky