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Do ab exercises burn belly fat?

Everything to know about ab exercises and belly fat

Do ab exercises like crunches and sit-ups really help burn belly fat?

Weight Management
Evidence-based
This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
We look at both sides of the argument and strive to be objective, unbiased, and honest.
Do ab exercises burn belly fat?
Last updated on November 27, 2023, and last reviewed by an expert on August 30, 2023.

Lots of advice on shedding belly fat focuses on exercises or gadgets aimed at working out the abdominal muscles, claiming these strategies can help you lose belly fat. But these methods aren’t as useful as they’re often made out to be.

Do ab exercises burn belly fat?

Having toned abs has come to be seen as a sign of being fit and healthy.

That’s why the internet is brimming with tips and tricks on how to get that coveted six-pack.

This article breaks down what you should really know about abdominal exercises and their true impact on belly fat.

What are abdominal muscles (abs)?

Abdominal muscles help stabilize your core.

Not only do they aid in breathing, but they also enable movement and protect internal organs while providing support and balance.

There are four main abdominal muscles:

It is important to maintain strength in all these muscles.

Strong abdominal muscles can help improve posture and balance. They can also help reduce back pain and increase flexibility.

Summary: Abdominal muscles not only provide movement, but also stability, support, and balance. Strengthening them can prevent back pain and other issues.

The two types of abdominal fat

Having too much fat around your belly is linked to increased chances of insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and heart issues.

It’s also a major contributor to metabolic syndrome.

But it’s important to note that all belly fat isn’t the same. There are two kinds: subcutaneous fat and visceral fat.

Subcutaneous fat

This is the type of fat you can pinch. It’s located under the skin, between your skin and muscles.

Subcutaneous fat is not directly related to metabolic risk. In moderate amounts, it will not dramatically increase your risk of disease.

Visceral fat

This type of fat is located in the abdominal cavity around your internal organs.

It’s linked to metabolic syndrome and health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Visceral fat is hormonally active. It releases compounds that influence several disease-related processes in the human body.

Summary: There are two types of fat in the abdomen: subcutaneous and visceral. Visceral fat releases hormones that are linked to disease.

Muscular abs are just part of the equation

Working out your abs will indeed make them stronger.

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However, exercises like twists, crunches, and side bends won’t reveal your abs if they’re hidden beneath a layer of fat.

Excess subcutaneous fat, which is the fat under your skin, will keep your ab muscles from being visible.

To show off that six-pack, you’ll need to shed the subcutaneous fat around your abdomen.

Summary: Exercising your abs will strengthen and tone them, but visible results require reducing subcutaneous fat.

Do ab exercises burn belly fat?

Many people do ab exercises because they want to lose belly fat.

However, the evidence suggests targeted ab exercises are not very effective.

Spot reduction may not be effective

There is a common misconception known as “spot reduction” which suggests that exercising a particular part of your body can help you lose fat in that specific area. While exercises that target specific muscles may make them stronger and give you a burning sensation, research indicates that they cannot reduce belly fat.

One study followed 24 people who did ab exercises 5 days a week for 6 weeks. This training alone did not reduce subcutaneous belly fat.

Another study tested the effects of a 27-day sit-up program. It found that neither fat cell size nor subcutaneous belly fat thickness decreased.

This is not only true for the abdominal area. It applies to all areas of the body.

For instance, one study asked participants to complete 12 weeks of resistance training, exercising only their non-dominant arm.

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They measured subcutaneous fat before and after the program and found that participants lost fat throughout their bodies, not just in their trained arms.

Several other studies have shown similar results.

But some research begs to differ

Some studies appear to challenge these findings.

One research project tested the idea of spot reduction by focusing on subcutaneous fat in the arm. The study found that exercising a specific arm area did lead to fat loss in that particular region.

Another study looked into whether the location of subcutaneous fat made any difference. It compared fat near muscles that were being exercised to fat near muscles at rest.

Intriguingly, the rate of blood flow and fat breakdown was consistently higher in the subcutaneous fat near the muscles that were active, regardless of exercise intensity.

However, it’s worth noting that the methods or ways of measuring used in these studies might be behind the differing outcomes.

Summary: The evidence is mixed, but studies have shown that targeting one area of your body through exercise will not lead to fat loss in that specific area. Additionally, ab exercises alone do not reduce subcutaneous belly fat.

The best exercises for fat loss

Muscle cells can’t directly utilize the fat stored in fat cells for energy.

Before it can be used, fat has to be broken down and then released into the bloodstream. The fat that gets used can actually come from any part of the body, not just the area you’re exercising.

Moreover, exercises like sit-ups and crunches aren’t really efficient at calorie-burning.

What exercises should you do?

Whole-body workouts can rev up your metabolism and help you burn both calories and fat. Cardio exercises are particularly good at targeting that deep belly fat.

The intensity of your exercise matters, too. Either moderate or high-intensity workouts can lead to a reduction in belly fat, more so than low-intensity cardio or strength training.

Suggested read: The 9 best ways to lose arm fat

To see significant results, you’ll need to exercise regularly. For instance, you could opt for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio five days a week, or 20 minutes of high-intensity cardio three days a week.

Building more muscle through exercise also aids in fat loss. Simply put, the more muscle you have, the more fat you’ll burn off.

Combining multiple types of exercise may be effective

High-intensity interval training (HIIE) is another method proven to be more effective at shedding body fat than traditional aerobic exercise.

HIIE involves bursts of intense exercise followed by slightly longer, less intense recovery times.

What makes HIIE particularly effective are benefits like suppressed appetite and increased fat-burning both during and after the workout.

Additionally, combining strength training with aerobic exercise has been shown to be even more effective than just aerobic exercise on its own.

Even if HIIE or strength training isn’t for you, research shows that even just taking brisk walks regularly can be effective in reducing both belly fat and overall body fat.

Summary: Aerobic exercise and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can burn calories and increase metabolism. Combining aerobic exercise with resistance training has been shown to be particularly effective.

Revamping your diet is crucial for shedding body fat

You might’ve heard the saying, “Abs are built in the kitchen, not just the gym,” and it’s true. Good nutrition is vital for fat loss.

First, cut back on processed foods, which are often loaded with sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Consuming too much sugar can lead to weight gain and raise your risk for metabolic issues.

Instead, focus on increasing your protein intake. Diets rich in protein have been shown to make people feel fuller, which could result in lower overall calorie consumption.

In one study involving overweight and obese men, a protein intake that made up 25% of daily calories increased feelings of fullness by 60%.

Additionally, a daily protein intake between 25–30% of your calories can boost your metabolism by up to 100 calories per day.

Eating more fiber is another effective strategy. Vegetables high in soluble fiber can help you lose weight by making you feel fuller and reducing your calorie intake over time.

Portion control is another useful tool; simply moderating the amount you eat can help induce weight loss.

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When you eat more whole foods, increase your fiber and protein, and keep an eye on portions, you’re more likely to reduce your calorie intake.

Creating a long-term calorie deficit is key to losing both weight and belly fat.

Research has shown that sustaining a calorie deficit can lead to belly fat loss, whether you’re doing moderate or high-intensity aerobic exercises.

Summary: For losing belly fat, it’s essential to follow a healthy diet. This includes reducing processed food intake, controlling portions, and increasing protein and fiber intake.

How to lose belly fat effectively

It’s been proven that just focusing on ab exercises alone won’t help you get rid of belly fat.

To effectively lose body fat, you should mix aerobic activities with strength training, like weightlifting.

Also, maintain a balanced diet rich in protein and fiber, and be mindful of portion sizes. These steps are all backed by evidence to help lower body fat.

By using these strategies, you’ll burn more calories, boost your metabolic rate, and lose fat overall. This will naturally lead to losing that stubborn belly fat and flattening your tummy.

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