In the last lesson of this series, I showed you which exercises are the best for building your abs, and why you need a variety of exercises to build the various groups of abdominal muscles. Today I’m going to show you how to combine them into a belly fat-burning workout.
The phenomenon of specifically burning fat from a targeted body part is called spot reduction. There are two common schools of thought on spot reduction.
Fitness publications aimed at casual readers- like most magazines, or Dr. Oz- will say that any abdominal workout will burn belly fat.
On the other hand, the vast majority of personal trainers and fitness publications aimed at advanced trainees will say that spot reduction is impossible. The consensus view among most trainers is that you can’t target fat loss to specific body parts.
The truth is, spot reduction is possible, and has been demonstrated in over a dozen well-designed, published, peer-reviewed studies. However, it doesn’t work quite like the “casual” fitness publications suggest. Any old abdominal workout will not necessarily burn belly fat- you have to design it right.
Here’s how it actually works. When you use a muscle, blood flow to that muscle and the tissue around it increases. So when you train your abs, there’s more blood flow to both your abs and the fat around your abs, during the workout and for a few hours afterward.
Ab training does not specifically signal the body to burn fat from your belly as opposed to other body parts. However because there’s more blood flow to your belly, a disproportionate share of any fat burned in this time period will come from your belly- since fat is transported via the bloodstream, it goes where your blood goes.
The reverse is true too though- if you gain fat during this window of time, a disproportionate amount of that fat will go to your gut. So it’s not spot reduction per se- it’s spot fat mobilization.
So, in order to preferentially burn belly fat, it’s not enough to just train your abs. You also need your body to be in fat-burning mode during and for a few hours after that workout. Here’s how you do that.
First off, your pre-workout nutrition needs to be pretty minimal. Within the last hour before your ab workout, you should eat 20-30 grams of protein, along with only 3-5 grams of fat and 5-20 grams of carbs. This pre-workout meal should be under 200 calories, and before that your most recent meal should have been 3-5 hours earlier, and also fairly small.
The idea here is that once you start exercising, you’ll very quickly put your body into a caloric deficit since you aren’t digesting a lot of calories, but you still have enough protein to build or at least maintain muscle mass in your abs.
Second, you work your abs for about 15-30 minutes, using the exercises I showed you in the last lesson. This stimulates muscle growth in the abs while also boosting blood flow to the belly so you’ll preferentially burn fat there, and starts putting your body into fat-burning mode.
Third, you’ll want to do cardio. This will burn more calories than the ab training- and since you’ve boosted blood flow to your belly, it will burn belly fat. The best types of cardio are those that involve both the upper body, like swimming, an upper-lower body ergometer, or using an elliptical machine while pushing and pulling the levers with your arms to assist your legs.
Finally, you’ll want to avoid eating any big meals for a few hours afterward to extend the fat-burning window. 1-3 hours after the workout, eat another small high-protein meal similar to your pre-workout meal. Don’t eat a bigger meal until a few hours after that.
Got all that? Here’s an example spot reduction workout:
A1) Front plank, 3 sets to failure
A2) Dumbbell side bends, 3 sets of 8-12 per side
A3) Swiss ball twisting ab crunch, 3 sets to fatigue
B1) Side plank, 2 sets per side to failure
B2) Slow myotatic crunch with dumbbells in hand, 2 sets of 8-12
B3) Captain’s chair, 2 sets to failure
C1) Ab suction on hands and knees, 2 sets of 10-12
C2) Bicycle crunches, 2 sets to failure
D) Elliptical machine, 30 minutes at a steady pace. Raise the resistance and use your arms as well as your legs.
Exercise groups A, B and C are circuits- do A1, A2, A3, then back to A1, until you’ve completed all sets, then move to the next circuit. Keep the rest periods between sets under one minute.
And that’s how to exercise to burn belly fat. Over the next few lessons, I’m going to discuss some of the other things that you may not have realized could be making your belly bigger, like stress, bloating and water weight.