Is belly fat a trouble area for you? You’re not alone if losing abdominal fat has been a bit of a sore spot for you. Yet there are ways through a combination of diet and exercise (and a healthy dose of discipline!) that you can beat the bulge. The master stroke, if ever there was one, would be if you could zero in on those abdominal exercises that really work. Luckily for you, experts have done a fair bit of research on this front, so now all you need to do is read up and get moving.
What Works Best?
With a choice of doing aerobic exercise, resistance training or weight training, and interval training – not to mention a whole lot of different styles of exercise to achieve each of them – where should you focus your time and effort? According to one piece of research that compared the effectiveness of resistance exercise that works those muscles (like push-ups), interval sprinting exercise, and aerobic exercise(like swimming/walking/dancing/tennis), interval sprinting emerged strongest. Researchers found that this process of sprinting for a short interval followed by a slower pace, then repeating with a sprint, was best at reducing belly fat as well as overall fat in the shortest amount of time.1
Another suggestion from research is that rather than do low-intensity training like a short walk at a comfortable pace, you aim at walking or jogging at a pace where you are out of breath and find it hard to talk while exercising. This high-intensity exercise training, according to them, was better at reducing that abdominal fat among the test subjects – obese women with metabolic syndrome.2
Overall however, most experts agree that to achieve weight loss – even if you have just one trouble area you want to target – it is best to use a mix of these various kinds of activities. Instead of just relying on ab exercises to lose abdominal fat, you should combine toning and strength building exercises with high-calorie burn workouts including aerobic exercises or cardio. Working weights will help build muscle and resistance training will strengthen that core, making your abs fits from the inside out.3
So in addition to the specific exercises that follow, which aim at the abs, in particular, you should also look at working in between 150 to 300 minutes of aerobic exercise of moderate-level intensity in a week. As your burn off calories and combine that with building muscle in your abdominal region, you should start to see the results you seek. Assuming of course, that your diet and lifestyle too stays on track!4
Best Exercises To Lose Belly Fat
Here’s a look at the best ways to lose abdominal fat through exercise:
1. Bicycle Maneuver
Topping the charts on a study by the American Council on Exercise(ACE) was the bicycle maneuver. This move needed the individual to constantly work at abdominal stabilization, required body rotation, and brought the most muscular activity of the obliques. The best part of this exercise is you need absolutely no equipment. To do this:
- Lie down flat on the floor ensuring your lower back is pressed into the ground.
- Place your hands on either side of your head as you bring your knees up to a 45-degree angle.
- Now move them as if you were riding a bicycle, pedaling as you move them.
- Raise your shoulders up a bit as you bring your right elbow to touch your left knee, and then your left elbow to touch your right knee.
- Continue the pedaling movement, alternating legs and ensuring breathing remains relaxed.5
The ACE summer ab workout suggests 1 to 3 sets of 12 to 20 reps.6
2. Captain’s Chair
Coming in second on the ACE list of best exercises for your abs is the captain’s chair. You’ll need to invest in a power tower for this one.
- Grip the hand holds and stabilize your torso and upper body as you press your lower back into the support pad for the back.
- Hold your body up as your legs are left dangling down.
- Now begin pulling your knees into your chest slowly and deliberately.
- Then return them to that dangling position. Repeat.7
3. Exercise Ball Crunches
All you need for this exercise is an exercise ball, making it something you can do easily at home or when you are working out outdoors.
- Bring out your exercise ball out and sit on it keeping your feet flat on the ground.
- Slowly roll the ball back so you can recline on it with your torso and thighs parallel to the ground.
- Tuck your chin in and cross your arms across your chest.
- Contract your abdominal muscles as you raise your torso to a 45-degree angle(not more).
- Exhale as you contract your muscles and breathe in as you come back to the original position.
If you find yourself wobbling, move your legs a little wider apart. As weeks progress and you build that core, you will be able to do this exercise with your feet closer together, making it a more challenging workout.8
4. Oblique Crunch And Abdominal Crunch
According to the NHS, the good old fashioned abdominal crunch, as well as the oblique crunch, can really work those abs.
To do an oblique crunch:
- Lie down on your back with your knees bent so your feet are flat on the ground.
- Hold your hands behind your ears or place them across your chest.
- Now slowly rise up lifting your shoulders off the floor, towards your hips. Keep your shoulders held about three inches from the floor for a few seconds.
- Then lower them down slowly.
A set of 12 such crunches on each side of recommended.9
5. Planks And Side Planks
Other exercises that are great for your stomach are planks and side planks. All of these target your core muscles and can help you get closer to that flat toned stomach you desire and come recommended by mainstream health authorities as well as by yoga practitioners for building core strength. The plank is a staple most are familiar with and one that just needs an exercise mat.
- Lie down on your stomach keeping elbows tucked in close to your body under your shoulders, palms flat with fingers facing forward.
- Keep your abdominal muscles taut, contract your thighs so your legs are straight and ankles flexed.
- Lift your torso off the ground keeping it rigid.
- Your back and ribcage must not sag and legs too must stay rigid.
- Don’t let your shoulders move up into a shrugging pose, and do not bend your knees or hike your hips up.
- Ensure shoulders remain over the elbows and palms stay flat down throughout.
- Hold your abdomen strong for at least five seconds – more if you can manage.
- Lower yourself slowly down retaining the same stiff leg and torso as before. Your back should not hurt. The American Council for Exercise suggests contacting a doctor if you feel lower back pain during this exercise.10
The side plank is also called the Vasisthasana in yoga and is best done by those who are more advanced in yoga. It is also not recommended for those with shoulder, elbow, or wrist injuries and could cause serious damage if undertaken by anyone with these problems.11
- To do this, prop yourself up sideways on your elbow so that your shoulder is directly above the elbow.
- Raise your hips and straighten your legs to create a perfect diagonal line from your toe to your head.
- Contract those abs and hold the pose for at least 5 seconds, more if you can manage. Between 8 to 10 reps are ideal.
- Switch sides and repeat on the other elbow and leg.12
6. Other Yoga Poses
Yoga asanas can also help you work that core.
In yoga, there are certain poses and movements that target the abdominal region like the cobra pose or Bhujangasana which requires you to lie down on the ground on your stomach arching your upper back so your chest lifts off the ground.
The Bow Pose or Dhanurasana is another pose that is good for your abs and according to experts can elevate the effects of both the Locust and the Cobra poses.
For this you have to:
- Lie flat on your stomach with your knees bent, pulling your heels in towards your buttocks. Your core should remain engaged as you do this.
- Reach back to hold your ankles or feet. Initially it may be easier to just hold any part of your leg that you can reach.
- Try lifting your legs off the ground, and then your shoulders and head, as your calves and thigh muscles contract pushing your feet into your hands.13
Remember to always do yoga under the guidance of a trained practitioner until you can master the movements – this will help you avoid injury.
|↑1||Boutcher, Stephen. Belly Fat Breakthrough. Simon and Schuster, 2014.|
|↑2||Irving, Brian A., Christopher K. Davis, David W. Brock, Judy Y. Weltman, Damon Swift, Eugene J. Barrett, Glenn A. Gaesser, and Arthur Weltman. “Effect of exercise training intensity on abdominal visceral fat and body composition.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise 40, no. 11 (2008): 1863.|
|↑3||Targeted Fat Loss: Myth or Reality?Yale Scientific.|
|↑4||Weight-loss and Nutrition Myths. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.|
|↑5, ↑7, ↑8||New Study Puts the Crunch on Ineffective Ab Exercises. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑6||5 Summer Ab Exercises with Jessica. ACE Fitness.|
|↑9, ↑12||10-minute abs workout.NHS.|
|↑10||Front Plank.American Council on Exercise.|
|↑11||Side Plank Pose. Yoga Journal.|
|↑13||Finney, Sumukhi. The Yoga Handbook. The Rosen Publishing Group, 2009.|