How can I reduce belly fat? This is the most popular question asked to trainers and one of the most problematic one to answer. The answer though is simple: exercise and proper diet. However, the type of exercise is more complex. Experts do not have a conclusive answer on the best training to maximize belly fat expenditure.
Resistance Training vs. Cardio Workout
Some say strength training is best to decrease the midsection. “Lifting weights is more effective at burning fat than a long, slow run because of the damage it causes to the muscles,” says Joe Warner in “7 Rules of Building Muscle.” “A hard weights session creates an oxygen debt in your muscle that should be replenished. This is called excess post oxygen consumption (EPOC) and its accompanied by an increased consumption energy.”
In other words, while a steady run keeps you burning calories for around 30 minutes after the session, weight training can stretch out this caloric expenditure for up to 48 hours.
Certainly, muscles are caloric burners. However, body fat is also tied to aerobic exercise. “Cardio helps expand your network of capillaries—the tiny blood vessels that allow nutrients to be exchanged between body tissues. The more capillaries you have, the more efficient your body becomes in liberating and using fat, particularly from stubborn areas,” says Brad Schoenfeld, author of The MAX Muscle Plan. Therefore, a cardio session expands the size and number of mitochondria (the place where fat gets burnt) and increases the aerobic enzymes, which will accelerate the process.
Fit vs. Fat
Depending on your intensity, duration, fitness level and even diet, when you exercise fat may provide anywhere from 30% to 80% of your energy supply. In fact, the more fit you are, the more fat your body burns. This is to preserve other energy sources, such as glycogen (glucose storage in the muscle and the liver) and protein.
So, what should you do: lift weights or jump on the cardio machine? And how much should you devote to either one? Can isolated exercises like crunches get rid of specific fat deposits?
Let’s begin with these two recent studies that show: 1. no matter how many abdominals you perform, you cannot shrink belly fat; however, you will strengthen your abs muscles; 2. aerobic exercise seems to have a greater effect on reducing visceral fat compared to resistance weight.
The first study was expected. It is known you can strengthen and tone a muscle—but cannot spot fat reduce. Nevertheless, the second study needs to be approached with caution. This is because previous studies have shown strength training does decrease visceral fat, but only depending on the exercise selection, order, and intensity you perform them.
Diet? Diet+ Strength? Diet + Strength+ Cardio?
A recent study compared three groups—diet (reduce carbohydrate intake), diet-strength training, and diet-strength-cardio—to evaluate the most effective strategy to decrease abdominal fat among other health variables. The results show the latter three-tier approach was most effective at shrinking body fat. How many times a week did the subjects work out? Twice a week! Not too bad.
20 Minute Combo Belly Fat Burner Workout
To lose that pesky abdominal fat, you cannot go wrong mixing both resistance training and aerobic. However, you cannot maximize the results without the right exercise selection, order, and intensity.
Your cardio intensity makes a significant difference in your mid-section. Belly fat is highly stimulated by sympathetic activity. Exercise increases the sympathetic response through the release of epinephrine, dopamine, and other catecholamine that love to use your mid-waist fat as a preferred source of energy. Thus, the higher the intensity, the more fat you burn.
In fact, High intensity exercise training (HIET) was more effectively for reducing total abdominal fat, subcutaneous fat, and abdominal visceral fat than low intensity training, concluded a study published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
Following the same exercise protocol used in the study in which strength training and cardio were paired together in the same workout, my exercise routine calls for what it’s known as a Peripheral Heart Action Super-Set, which means alternating between one upper and lower body part. It also selects exercises that work big muscles. Your heart has to work harder to pump blood from one extreme to the other, which increases the intensity right away along with a brief cardio burst in between.
Exercise Routine Guidelines
- Perform this routine in super-set (two exercises: one for the upper body and one for the lower body) for 60 seconds each. Select a weight in which you struggle to make it to the end. This is followed by 2 minutes of cardio—jogging in place, bike, squat jumps, elliptical, etc.—and alternating between 30 seconds high intensity and 30 seconds recovery during the 2-minute span. Total hard workout: 16 minutes
- Recovery time at the end of each strength-cardio super set is no longer than 90 seconds.
- Perform this routine two to three times a week on alternating days.
- Warm-up for 2 minutes with some dynamic stretching and cool-down for 2 minutes with static and foam roll stretching. Total warm-up and cool-down: 2 minutes.
- Want more of a challenge? Repeat the routine twice for a 40-minute total workout.
Don’t forget! At the end of each super set do 2 minutes of your choice of cardio as explained above.
Peripheral Heart Action Super-Set
Super-set one: Barbell Chest Press followed by Barbell Squat.
Super-set two: Lat Pull Down followed by Straight Leg Deadlift. (You can do this with a tubing or lat pull-down machine.) For the Straight Leg Deadlift this make sure your buttocks is out while your back remains straight. Set your legs a little bit wider than shoulder width apart to work the glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and inner thighs. Go as low as you can while keeping your back straight. Keep the weight close to your body, your chest up, and use your hamstrings and glutes, not your back.
Super-set three: Barbell Shoulder Press (top) followed by Barbell Lunges.
Super-set four: Barbell Back Row (below) followed by Leg Press (not shown). For the Back Row, bend at a 45-degree angle, and keep your chest up, core tight, and your arms close to your body. Do not shrink your shoulders. You should feel the effort in the middle of the back. For the Leg Press, use the standard seated leg press machine in either a wide or close stance. A wide stance shifts the focus to the inner thighs while the close one works the outer thighs.
Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning coach and master trainer, who teaches as an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website, martamontenegro.com, combines fitness, nutrition and health tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.