It’s very hard to lose weight around the tummy, even with a good diet and a steady gym routine. That’s because the lower abdominal muscles are one of the most ‘exercise resistant’ parts of the body. It takes a lot of dedicated, patient exercise to carve off these last few pounds. In desperation, many people turn to diet drugs or liposuction just to achieve a fat-free, fabulously flat tummy. Some companies try to market special ‘belly fat burning machines’ or exercise DVDs that consist of nothing more than endless sit ups, side bends and leg raises. However, these are based on ‘belly fat’ myths. Here’s a guide to knowing what really works, what doesn’t, and what you can do to conquer belly fat forever.
1. Fat patterns are hereditary.
Unfortunately, all of us have a unique ‘fat fingerprint’ or genetic patterns of where our body stores fat. Some people are predisposed to big thighs, a large behind, or bulky arms. Some are cursed with particularly large love handles.
Fat patterns are also affected by gender. Women tend to accumulate fat around the hips, thighs and waist, while men will accumulate it in the lower abdomen (the infamous ‘beer belly’).
The point is that your stubborn belly fat isn’t a sign that you’re doing something wrong, or that your exercise regimen is pointless. That’s just the way your body is built, so don’t get discouraged or give up!
2. There’s no such thing as ‘spot reduction’
You can also lose fat with a steady and correct combination of diet, aerobic exercise, weight training and abdominal training. Your body burns fat systematically, accessing it from all parts of the body. So, despite 1,000 crunches a day, you can’t fool your body into using fat from a specific area.
3. Abdominal training isn’t enough
So what happens when you do all that abdominal training? You’re tightening and toning the muscles, but you aren’t erasing the fat that obscures it. Chances are, if you’ve been training for several months, you actually have great abdominal muscles but the fat layers are hiding what should be a perfect six pack!
The good news is that muscles burn fat, even if you’re asleep. But this process takes many months, and because of your particular ‘fat fingerprint’ you may tend to lose the fat in other areas before your belly becomes noticeably smaller. Still, you’re getting there—just be patient!
4. Cardiovascular exercise burns belly fat best
If you want to lose belly fat, don’t just do weights or sit ups. Aerobic exercise consumes a lot of calories, and if you keep your heart rate long enough, your body will shift from using carbohydrate stores and begin burning fat. However, you need to exercise longer than 20 to 30 minutes.
Unfortunately, many people stop exercising too early in their routine. For example, a typical gym regimen will have just 15 to 20 minutes of warm up on the treadmill before you hit the weights. If you really want to burn your belly fat, you need a cardio workout of at least 30 to 60 minutes at least three times a week. If treadmill bores you, sign up for a dance class or join a jogging group. Many fitness experts recommend alternating a weight workout with cardio workout every other day.
5. There’s no such thing as ‘belly fat diet.’
You may have heard of trendy diets that use a fancy combination of special ingredients. However, there’s no shortcut. The only way to lose fat is to burn more calories than you consume. One way to do that is to eat smaller but more frequent meals, so you don’t overeat or suffer from carbohydrate spikes and crashes.
Diet experts also say that you’re more likely to stay on a healthy diet if you eat a variety of food, so you don’t feel deprived or get bored. Just maintain this simple formula: 55% of your food should come from carbohydrates, 30% from protein, and 15% from fat. You may slightly increase your protein and decrease your carbohydrates, especially in your last meal before you go to sleep. Don’t cut carbohydrates out completely, because your body will think that you’re starving and actually store fat as a survival instinct.
6. Sit ups and leg raises don’t burn belly fat.
These exercises actually use the hip flexor muscles, which connect the thighs to the spinal column. In fact, constantly using these muscles may worsen back pain, because of the strain on the lumbar area. A much safer and more effective exercise is the crunch, reverse crunch or hip lift.
Crunches are defined as partial sit ups. Basically, you lie down on a mat, with your back flat, and curl your head, shoulders and upper back to lift your upper body off the floor. Your lower back actually shouldn’t move, but remain on the mat, so you don’t use your hip flexor muscles. Reverse crunches, on the other hand, involve rocking your knees toward the chest. Many trainers recommend doing crunches with, literally, a twist: raise your elbow to your knee, or lie on your side while doing crunches. This helps tone the muscles on your sides.
There are ‘crunch’ machines that can help you focus on these muscles, and they can certainly help make sure that you’re not putting too much stress on your lumbar area. However helpful these machines are, however, you also need a total workout!
7. Don’t just train your abs, train your whole body
You will have muscular imbalance if you train one muscle group and ignore the others. For example, if you stress the abdominals but leave out developing the spinal erectors in the lower back, you’ll probably injure yourself. Plus, even if you have a good cardio workout (which burns a lot of calories) weight training is the perfect complement because the more lean body mass you have, the faster your metabolic rate becomes. This lets you burn calories even when you’re at rest!