Belly fat is a hindrance. It can hinder your confidence, your health, and your overall well-being.
You know there is no such thing as a “get skinny quick” exercise routine.
And while you can target the flab surrounding your abdomen, the best way to lose that pesky belly fat is to focus on your entire body.
Let’s cover exactly what belly fat is, what burns belly fat, and exercises that target your stubborn midsection.
What Is Belly Fat?
You know where belly fat is (obviously) but what is it exactly?
There are 2 types of belly fat: visceral and subcutaneous (1).
Visceral fat makes up about 10% of the fat in your abdomen.
It is located beneath your abdominal wall and surrounds your inner organs, liver, and intestines.
There’s also an “apron-like flap of tissue that lies under the belly muscles and blankets the intestines” called the omentum.
As your omentum fills with visceral fat, it gets harder and thicker.
The cells in visceral fat are biologically active.
These cells secrete hormones and molecules that affect the other tissues in your body.
These effects include (but are certainly not limited to): (2)
- Insulin resistance
- Heart attack/heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Breast cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Alzheimer’s disease
Subcutaneous fat makes up the other 90%.
This type is located just beneath the skin. It’s the fat you feel when you poke your belly (1).
Not all fat was created equal.
Subcutaneous fat, in fact, has 5 functions (3).
The first is that it’s a way that your body stores energy. It functions as padding to protect your body from impacts.
Think hits or falls.
It’s a passageway for nerves and blood vessels.
It helps regulate temperature and lastly, it attaches the dermis to the muscles and bones.
But don’t be fooled. While it does have functions and health benefits, too much of it causes health problems.
So on top of the health risks listed above, add:
- High blood pressure
- Sleep apnea
- Fatty liver disease
- Kidney disease
You can test yourself for these 2 types by measuring your waist circumference and calculating your body mass index, aka your BMI.
How to Lose Your Belly Fat
Losing belly fat isn’t a matter of just physical activity or just targeting your abs.
Spot reduction of certain areas of fat simply doesn’t work, regardless of the body part.
That being said, there are lifestyle changes to counteract fat gain to make you lose excess fat all over, including your belly.
The first thing to pay attention to is your diet. There’s the adage, “6 packs are made in the kitchen” for a reason.
It’s more than simply eating fewer calories. Eat a healthy diet* with plant-based foods: fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Choose lean sources of protein, like fish, beans, and poultry.
Limit added sugar (especially in beverages like fruit juice), alcohol, and saturated fat. (4)
Try intermittent fasting, cooking with coconut oil, low carbs, or adding apple cider vinegar to your daily routine.
But also, drink more water, get enough sleep and reduce cortisol aka the stress hormone in your body.
Easier said than done, I know.
Lastly, burn calories by exercising regularly and add a variety of exercises to your routines such as cardio, strength training, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
You don’t have to out sprint everyone, pump large amounts of heavier weights or work out for hours on end. The key to a smaller waist size is variety.
Think about it. For every pound of muscle gained, your body burns about 6 – 10 calories. (5)
This number comes into play for your resting metabolic rate, your RMR. Your RMR is determined by your age, gender, and lean muscle mass.
It’s how many calories your body needs to function.
While 6 – 10 may not seem like much, adding movement like aerobic, HIIT, and strength training will make your body burn off fat faster.
Logically, that means you’ll want to add abdominal exercises to your workout to target that abdominal fat while simultaneously working the whole body.
Let’s dive into the exercise routine.
So What Exercises Burn the Most Belly Fat?
As we’ve discussed, you want to focus on full-body workouts to boost your metabolism and burn away both kinds of fat found in your waistline.
So take a deep breath! Here are 7 options to do just that.
Burpees are a great calorie-burning and weight loss exercise.
You can burn roughly 10 calories for every minute of burpees performed.
It’s one workout move that torches your stomach fat and proves that the best exercise to lose abdominal fat doesn’t have to be an ab or core exercise.
Between the leg muscles used in the jumps to the arms and core muscles needed for push-ups, it lights your body on fire!
Keeping a fast pace will also increase your heart rate, torching even more calories!
- To perform a burpee, start in a standing position with your feet shoulder-distance apart.
- Lower into a squat, bending at the knees and keeping your torso neutral. Place your hands on the yoga mat underneath your shoulders.
- Shift your weight into your hands and jump back into a standard plank position.
- Complete 1 pushup.
- Then, the frog kick, jumping both feet to the starting position. Extend through your legs, jumping. Land back where you started, immediately starting the second repetition.
2. Kettlebell Swing
As a personal trainer, one of my favorite weight loss exercises is the kettlebell swing.
This resistance training workout targets every muscle group in your body. It works your quads, abs, and your upper torso.
This metabolism-boosting exercise is great for burning excess belly fat.
For this one, pick the appropriate kettlebell weight for your experience.
Naturally, if you’re a beginner, start with a smaller weight. As you build muscle and gain experience, you can then move onto heavier weights.
- Stand in front of the kettlebell and grip with both hands. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and engage your core.
- Shift your body weight into your heels as you lower your glutes back and down, swinging the kettlebell between your legs.
- Drive your heels into the ground as you rise to stand, extending through your hips, and swing the kettlebell to chest height, keeping your arms extended.
- As the kettlebell descends, return your body to the starting position and let the weight swing between your legs. That is 1 rep.
3. Mountain Climbers
Mountain climbers are another favorite that focuses on cardio endurance and core strength.
This cardio exercise hits multiple muscle groups from your arms, upper belly to lower stomach, and even your quads.
It’s also one of the best exercises to lose belly fat because it ups your calorie burn and builds your stamina while effectively targeting your abdominal muscles.
All in all, mountain climbers offer an effective way to tackle your abdominal fat while burning up your glutes and quads too.
- Start in a push-up position*, palms on the yoga mat under your shoulders, with your feet shoulder-distance apart. Keep your weight evenly distributed between your hands and feet.
- Your hands should be directly underneath your shoulders and there should be a straight line from the tip of your head to your heels.
- On an exhale, bring your right knee into your chest.
- Quickly switch, returning your right leg to the push-up position and pulling your left knee into your chest.
- Continue switching, essentially running in place.
Want to target your oblique muscles? Twist your knees to the opposite elbow!
If you are doing this exercise correctly, you’ll feel the fat burn in your quads, hamstrings, and abs.
Avoid dropping your back or hips throughout the movements.
*Alternatively, you can perform this exercise in a forearm plank.
4. Medicine Ball Slams
Medicine ball slams are another fun exercise with a choose-your-own-adventure pace.
The faster your move through your reps, the higher your heart rate.
You can also easily adjust the exercise to make it easier or harder by changing the weight of your medicine ball.
If you are not sure, it’s a good idea to start with a lighter medicine ball to learn the movements before going heavier.
While medicine ball slams don’t come across as the best belly fat exercises or even ab exercises, they are in fact an excellent weight training workout for your belly fat.
By just slamming a ball into the ground, you are working dozens of muscles including your lower belly.
- Firmly hold your medicine ball in both hands over your head and stand with your feet hip-width distance apart.
- Bending at the waist and engaging your core, use your upper body to slam the ball into the ground in front of you.
- Catch the ball as it bounces back up and repeats.
Let’s talk about a HIIT workout.
As previously mentioned, High-Intensity Interval Training, aka HIIT exercise, is a great way to torch fat throughout your entire body.
HIIT burns more calories, helps you lose weight, builds multiple muscle groups, improves oxygen and blood flow, lowers blood pressure and blood sugar. (6)
For a 15-minute total-body workout, cycle through the previously mentioned 4 workouts in 30-second intervals with 30 seconds of rest to light your body on fire.
Rest time is important.
5. Bicycle Crunch
Rotational ab exercises such as the Bicycle Crunch and Russian Twist are a great way to reach an area of your body many other ab and core exercises can’t reach such as lower belly, obliques, and even upper belly.
- To perform bicycle crunches, start by laying on your back.
- Press your lower back into the mat with your head and shoulders raised to hit that upper belly fat.
- Stack your hands behind your head with your elbows out.
- Pull both of your knees into your chest as if you’re curling up into a ball. Shins are parallel to the ground.
- Extend your right leg out to a 45-degree angle.
- Rotate through your torso and obliques, bringing your right elbow towards your left knee on an exhale.
- You don’t have to touch it! With practice, you’ll get closer and closer.
- As you pull your right leg back in, extend your left leg as you twist in the opposite direction.
- Alternate sides for your desired number of reps.
6. Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic exercise is a generalized term for exercises that provide cardiovascular conditioning (7).
It works dozens of muscles all at once!
A few examples of these exercises include taking a jog, using an elliptical trainer, cycling, running, jump rope, and rowing.
Essentially, it’s any exercise that works your whole body and raises your heart rate.
This exercise directly combats the impact of the 2 types of fat stored in your belly such as decreasing the risk of heart disease, lowering your blood pressure, and controlling your blood sugar.
Aerobic exercise is also particularly helpful in creating a calorie deficit which is a great way to increase your fat burn.
7. Squats to Overhead Press
Last, but certainly not least, is the squat to overhead press. This 2 part movement focuses on your posture, quads, glutes, arms, and abs.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-distance apart. Grip a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in. Hold them at shoulder height.
- Press back through your hips as you lower into a squat with a neutral spine.
- As you press through your feet to rise to stand, extend your arms above your head into an overhead press.
- With control, lower the dumbbells back to shoulder level.
- Complete your desired number of sets and repetitions.
Weight loss is hard. You can’t choose the part of your body where the fat collects and burn just that.
The only way to get rid of that pesky belly fat is to form healthy habits that help rid you of body fat all over, not just your abdominal muscles.
To recap, there are 2 types of fat in your belly: visceral and subcutaneous. Each layer of fat comes with its own set of side effects.
Fat loss takes time and to be frank, a lot of effort.
It’s a good idea to add a variety of kinds of exercise to your exercise routines such as cardio, resistance training, and weight training to lose that excess belly fat.
Consider your diet (not just the number of calories but the quality of your calorie intake), exercise habits, and other factors such as water intake, sleep, and stress levels to rid yourself of excess abdominal fat.
It’s not easy. But the fat loss is worth it.
*For healthier eating and getting your hormones and digestive system back on track, check out our post: “7 best ways to lose belly fat fast”.
- “Taking Aim at Belly Fat”. Harvard Health Publishing. April 12, 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/taking-aim-at-belly-fat.
- A. Gotter. “Visceral Fat”. Healthline. January 31, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/health/visceral-fat#complications.
- S. Frothingham. “What is Subcutaneous Fat?” Healthline. July 18, 2018. https://www.healthline.com/health/subcutaneous-fat#risks.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Belly Fat in Women: Taking – and keeping – it off.” Mayo Clinic. March 12, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/womens-health/in-depth/belly-fat/art-20045809.
- P. Koch. “How Many Calories Does 1lb of Muscle Burn?” Built Lean. September 14, 2018. https://www.builtlean.com/muscle-burn-calories/.
- K. Burch. “5 Major Health Benefits of HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training”. Insider Health. August 5, 2020. https://www.insider.com/benefits-of-hiit.
- “Aerobic Exercise.” Cleveland Clinic. July 16, 2019. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/7050-aerobic-exercise.