You know that your cardio sessions are crucial when it comes to burning the layer of fat sitting on top of your abdominal muscles. But it's still important to work those abs even as you're trying to shed fat, says New York City-based personal trainer Adam Sanford, founder of Adam Sanford Fitness. His favorite move to do that? Holding plank on a BOSU ball.
“Medicine ball slams are a dynamic, explosive, and highly metabolic exercise that does not simply target one muscle group,” explains Chris DiVecchio, trainer and founder of Premier Body & Mind. On the surface, the obliques, hamstrings, quads, biceps, and shoulders are the primary movers of this exercise. “But as time goes on and fatigue sets in, nearly every other muscle in the body, in one way or another, may become involved as a secondary mover which makes this a total gut blaster,” he adds. Doing side-to-side ball slams versus overhead slams incorporates more oblique ab work.
Focus on cardiovascular exercise. Cardiovascular exercise is one of the best ways to lose weight. Studies show that cardiovascular exercise like walking, jogging, and running is highly effective at any degree of intensity. That's because cardio/aerobic exercise works the muscles in your arms, legs, and hips, and increases blood flow to all sets of muscles. Effective cardio exercises include:
Many television ads are now pitching devices that supposedly stimulate muscles to contract repeatedly without exercise. I even saw an infomercial for an "ab belt" that claimed it does the work of 700 sit-ups in 10 minutes! The ad shows people doing various abdominal exercises the wrong way, hating every second of it, versus smiling men and women going about their days with "Ab-whatevers" strapped around them. How enticing!
Get active in small ways. Even the slightest amount of activity is better than none at all. Studies show that fidgeters, on average, weigh less. Non-fidgeters are even more likely to store calories as fat. So in addition to cleaning the house, walking the dog, and parking on the far side of the parking lot, find time to fidget, if that's your kind of thing!
Cut back on carbs: Remember how insulin has the biggest impact on fat storage? Well, carbs have the biggest impact on insulin. ”Too many carbohydrates leads to a spike in the hormone and then to more fat storage,” Seedman explains. Not only should you cut back on carbs, but your insulin will spike even more from processed ones, so cut any carb that’s not a whole grain or from real produce completely. And don’t worry: Carbs are traditionally thought of as your body’s main source of energy, but your body also has the ability to fuel from fat, so if you’re increasing your fat and protein intake, your body doesn’t need as many carbs to run. You still need some amount of carbohydrates to regulate certain biological processes, like your muscles’ ability to stay hydrated and maintain structural integrity, so don’t cut the macronutrient completely, Seedman warns. For a high-fat, low-carb diet, aim for at least .5 of your bodyweight (so a 200 lb person would eat at least 100 grams of carbs per day), he suggests. For a more balanced calorie-restricted diet, that number jumps to .75 to 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight.
Eat small meals more often. In simple terms, eating spurs your metabolism — the process by which your body turns food into energy. Eating more often, then, may kick your metabolism into a higher gear more times per day (e.g., if you eat six times a day, you get six “spikes”). But, you must make sure that eating more often does not also mean eating more; it's essential that you reduce your overall average daily calories.
Aim to do ab work 3 or 4 times a week on non-consecutive days with at least 24 hours of rest in between sessions, says Gagliardi. During those sessions, you can start with simpler moves like crunches, bicycle crunches, and planks. Even though you may only be directly targeting your abs 3 or 4 times a week, you should still be activating your core (aka, tightening your ab muscles) in every workout you do, says Gagliardi.
It’s important to do full-body strength training if you want to lose belly fat—especially if you’re trying to keep it off for the long haul. “Strength training should be a part of just about everybody’s exercise plan,” says Dr. Cheskin. That’s because strength training helps you build muscle, which will replace body fat. And because muscle is metabolically active, you'll continue to burn calories after working out, thereby, reducing overall body fat. Bonus: When your metabolic rate becomes faster due to muscle growth, you’ll have a little more wiggle room in your diet if that’s something you struggle with, says Dr. Cheskin.
There's no way around the fact that, when it comes to burning more fat, you have to work at it. There is no magic exercise, workout, or pill that will do the job for you. The good news is that it doesn't take much activity to push the body into that fat burning mode. Try incorporating some type of activity every day, even if it's just a quick walk, and build on that over time as it becomes more of a routine. Do that and you're on the way to burning more fat.