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Exercises to Lose Belly Fat

I wanted to write this article on exercises to lose belly fat to complement our post on how to lose belly fat and go into a bit more detail on the exercise side of things.

If you have not read the post on how to lose belly fat, I’ll briefly summarize some of the key points before moving onto the exercise side of things:

1. If you put fat on around your belly, there may be increased health risks than if you gained weight at other areas of the body. So for people with a lot of belly fat, you potentially need to engage in a fat loss process earlier than other people.

2. Losing belly fat comes down to fat loss generally. Different diets and exercise regimes do not target fat loss at a specific area of your body. You simply need to aim for consistent fat loss to achieve a loss in belly fat.

3. Fat loss comes down to maintaining a basic calorie deficit. This approach to weight loss has a lot of research support and is recommended by health bodies such as the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the US Department of Health and Human Services [1] and the American Dietetic Association [2].

4. You want to aim for a consistent level of fat loss through the process. Many sources recommend you should aim to lose about 1 to 2 lbs of weight a week [1]. This implies creating a calorie deficit of 500 to 1000 calories a day. In other words to lose 1 to 2 lbs of weight a week, you want to burn about 500 to 1000 calories a day more than you consume.

Exercise for Fat Loss

The essential ingredient to establishing consistent fat loss is to maintain a basic calorie deficit. The exercises you do to help should be viewed in terms of their effect on your calorie balance. In terms of fat loss, it is possible to undo the benefit of exercise by over-compensating with your eating, so the exercise needs to be performed in conjunction with a controlled diet, so that a calorie deficit is maintained.

The best exercise routine for fat loss will involve a component of both aerobic exercise (or cardio) and weight training. As well as the health benefits of both of these activities and fitness in general, the aerobic exercise is useful to burn calories through performing the exercise, while integrating weight training is the best way to prevent losing lean muscle mass while loosing fat, thus preventing a lowing of you metabolism.

The Myth of Sit-Ups and Crunches to Lose Belly Fat

You sometimes find people who believe that the key to losing belly fat are abdominal exercises. It is important to understand that this is a myth. Specific exercises do not target fat loss at a particular area of the body, but simply target fat loss generally. So these sorts of abdominal exercises will be of no special benefit for a loss of belly fat. They may play part of a roll in an overall exercise routine targeting fat loss, as described below, but there is no impact on belly fat specifically because the exercise targets the abs.

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercises (or cardio) are exercises that cause you to use more oxygen. The sort of exercises we are talking about here include things like running, cycling, swimming or rowing.

Aerobic exercise has a number of benefits. Firstly, performing aerobic activity will burn calories as you do the exercise. The calories burned are a function of your weight, the intensity of the exercise and the duration you perform the exercise.

By increasing the calories you burn, providing you don’t overcompensate with increased calorie consumption, this should help maintain a calorie deficit and therefore help with fat loss.

The intensity of exercise is defined in terms of metabolic equivalents, or METs. A MET is basically a multiple of the calories you burn at rest, so an activity with 2 METs will burn roughly twice the calories you burn at rest, and so on. To get a feel for the benefit of a wide range of activities and exercises in establishing a calorie deficit, you need to get an idea of the calories that are burned by each given exercises.

You can do this by taking a look at this calories burned calculator. The calculator allows you to input your weight and the duration you will perform the exercise and will estimate the calories burned for a wide range of activities. You can use the calculator to compare say the calories burned by running at different speeds to cycling, swimming or sports such as soccer.

The calculator also shows the METs of each of these activities, to get an idea of the relative intensity of each of the exercises.

By using a calculator like this, you do not need to worry about specific exercises to lose belly fat, but can compare the calories burned in a full range of possible exercises and understand that an exercises impact on your belly fat will be based on the degree to which you are burning calories. This allows you to use your own preference in determining what exercises to perform, and by doing exercises you like, this will also help to maintain the habit for the long haul.

How Much is Enough Aerobic Activity

In terms of how much Aerobic activity you should perform for fat loss, again the overriding principle is that what ever the amount, you need to maintain a calorie deficit. Having said that, the more exercise you perform, with a higher intensity, the more calories you will burn.

In terms of the question of how much lets look at a few sources to see some recommendations:

Tom Venuto, in his fat loss classic Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle says that if he knew as much about fat loss as he now does and was overweight, he would be performing cardio 7 days a week until he had his weight under control. Tom is someone who has performed in natural bodybuilding competitions, and as such would be in a condition to do this.

Th American Collage of Spots Medicine recommend levels of exercise in terms of minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise [3]. They define moderate intensity as having a MET value between 3 – 5.9, so by listing the exercises MET values, the calories burned calculator mentioned above should help give an idea of the sort of activities they are referring to here.

They recommend that performing 150 to 250 minutes per week (for example, half an hour a day for 5-6 days a week) will be effective to prevent weight gain and will provide modest weight loss. This level will also improve weight loss in combination with a restricted diet. More than 250 minutes a week has been associated with more significant weight loss.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the US Department of Health and Human Services [1] recommends that a weight loss process should incorporate physical activity, and initially, moderate levels for 30 – 45 minutes, 3 – 5 days a week should be encouraged.

Another thing to keep in mind is that if you are obese, or have been inactive for a long time, you should build up your exercise slowly. They also recommend in this situation you may want to start by low intensity activities such as walking or slow swimming. If you believe you fit in this category, you should also involve a doctor in the process of starting an exercise program as they will be in a position to evaluate any potential risks there may be for you.

As well as helping maintain a calorie deficit, physical inactivity is considered a risk factor for many of the same health risks that are associated with being overweight or obese. So if you need to lose weight there is also additional health benefits associated with the being physically active over and above the benefit of weight loss.

Weight Training

The best exercise routine for fat loss will involve both cardio and weight training.

Weight training is the best way to minimize the degree to which you lose lean muscle while engaging in a fat loss process. By maintaining as much muscle mass as you can while losing fat, the reduction in your resting metabolic rate is minimized. This means that if you are able to maintain muscle, the calories you burn at rest will be more than if you lose you muscle mass during the process. By achieving a higher resting metabolic rate, this will help maintain an overall calorie deficit in order to achieve continued weight loss.

Another useful part of weight training for fat loss is that even though the exercise does not burn the calories that aerobic exercise will while you are doing an exercise, weight training has a high post-exercise metabolic rate. This means that for a period of time after you perform a weights session, you will have a raised metabolism and will be burning more calories.

How Much Weight Training

Tome Venuto provides some good guidelines here in Burn the Fat, Feed the muscle. He recommends your amount of weigh training should depend on how advanced you are.

1. For a beginner, he recommends working out 3 days a week, on non-consecutive days and working out your entire body on each of these days.

2. For an intermediate routine, he recommends breaking your bodies muscles into two groups, and doing a 2 day split (half your body one day and the other half on the next workout). You should work out at this level 3 to 4 times a week.

3. For an advanced routine he recommends a 3 or 4 day split routine, working out 4 or 5 days a week.

I hope this has helped give a good idea of the role of exercises to lose belly fat. If you want to take this further, I recommend taking a look at the Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle ebook, as it provides an in depth coverage of all elements of a fat loss process, including nutrition, aerobic exercise and weights training.


[1] The Practical Guide: Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults (2000). NAtional Institutes of Health. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. North American Association for the Study of Obesity.

[2] Position of the American Dietetic Association: Weight Management (2009). Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Volume 109, Issue 2 , Pages 330-346, February 2009

[3] Appropriate Physical Activity Intervention Strategies for Weight Loss and Prevention of Weight Regain for Adults, DONNELLY, JOSEPH E. Ed.D (Chair); BLAIR, STEVEN N. PED; JAKICIC, JOHN M. Ph.D.; MANORE, MELINDA M. Ph.D., R.D.; RANKIN, JANET W. Ph.D.; SMITH, BRYAN K. Ph.D. (2009). Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: February 2009 – Volume 41 – Issue 2 – pp 459-471

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