Finding a workout to lose belly fat isn’t easy. Anyone who has tried to lose belly fat and succeeded will know that shedding excess fat in this area is as much to do about exercising, as it is to do with your diet.
So before you invest in one of the best ab rollers, also consider looking into one of the best protein powders for weight loss. Everyone has a unique body composition and holds weight in different places, but when it comes to the question of how to lose body fat, there are several things we can all do to reduce excess abdominal fat. But before we delve into that, it’s important to note that fat is an essential component of our diets. We need body fat to survive and function. However having too much visceral fat (opens in new tab) – which is the fat that lies between the outer layers of your body and your internal organs – can come with greater risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and certain cancers.
So, to help you on your quest of how to lose belly fat, we’ve done all the research and rounded up a list of the very best workouts to lose belly fat, along with top tips from fitness experts.
Workouts to lose belly fat: how it works
Fitness trainer Julia Buckley (opens in new tab) sees many clients looking to shed excess fat from around the abdominal area who hope that exercising that one spot will do the trick. But, she warns, “No exercise causes fat to be burned from any specific area. The body will, of course, release fat from fat cells to create energy for you to exercise. But this energy is taken from fat cells all over the body. So no preference is given to fat cells located in the area where the muscles are working hardest.”
Research backs this up. In one study (opens in new tab), six weeks of training just the abdominal muscles had no measurable effect on waist circumference or fat in the abdominal cavity.
According to research (opens in new tab), aerobic exercise — like brisk walking, running, and swimming — can allow significant reductions in body fat, including abdominal fat. Another study (opens in new tab) found that as little as 80 minutes a week of aerobic or resistance training had positive effects on preventing weight regain following a diet-induced weight loss. More importantly, aerobic and resistance training prevented the regain of potentially harmful visceral fat.
Five workouts that target belly fat
ACSM certified personal trainer Chris Summers says, “The short answer is that to lose belly fat, you need to lose fat overall. Even if you do that, you can’t guarantee it will come off your belly. Ab exercises are great for definition, but if the muscles are hidden under layers of fat, you won’t see the results of 100 crunches a day.”
Following a balanced diet that adheres to your recommended daily number of calories is essential for fat loss. Choose nutrient-dense whole foods over processed foods or foods containing refined sugar.
Stress can make you gain belly fat by triggering the adrenal glands to produce cortisol, known as the stress hormone. Research (opens in new tab) shows that high cortisol levels increase appetite and drive abdominal fat storage. To help reduce belly fat, engage in stress-relieving activities like yoga or meditation.
Chris Summers recommends the following five exercises to help blast fat:
- HIIT workouts
- Resistance training
- Running on an incline
- Rowing machine
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts involve short bursts of intense aerobic exercise, followed by a recovery period. These workouts are quick and effective, and many studies have shown that they can help you lose body fat.
A 2017 review (opens in new tab) of 18 studies found that HIIT was more effective at reducing body fat and improving fitness than traditional, low-intensity, continuous exercise. It’s also proven to be a powerful tool against belly fat. For example, one study (opens in new tab) found that adding HIIT to workouts was more effective at reducing belly fat than traditional training alone.
Summers says the beauty of HIIT workouts is you can do them with or without equipment. He recommends trying HIIT workouts on an indoor bike or elliptical trainer or trying a program of cardio exercises such as jumping jacks, burpees, or squat jumps.
Summer says, “When we think of resistance training or strength training, we think about building muscle mass, but resistance training is vital for weight loss. Lifting weights builds lean muscle tissue, which can boost your metabolism to burn more body fat.”
Research backs this up. Studies (opens in new tab) involving people with type 2 diabetes, and fatty liver disease, showed that resistance training might also be beneficial for belly fat loss. In addition, one study (opens in new tab) involving adolescents showed that a combination of strength training and aerobic exercise led to the most significant decrease in visceral fat.
Research (opens in new tab) shows that strength training one to three non-consecutive days a week can promote fat loss combined with cardio. For more on this, head to our guide covering the best adjustable dumbbells.
Running on an incline
Research (opens in new tab) has shown that running at an incline rather than on a flat surface can increase total calorie burn by over 50%.
If you have access to one of the best treadmills, here’s how you can make use of it.
Summers recommends the following treadmill workout for blasting fat:
- Start with a five-minute warm up at a brisk walking pace without an incline
- Walk on an incline for five minutes
- Pick up the pace and jog for another five minutes
- Run for five minutes, not at a sprint but hard enough that you can’t carry a conversation
- Drop your speed down to a jog for five minutes
- Continue alternating with jogging and running for 30 to 45 minutes
“Not only does using a rowing machine get your heart rate elevated, which helps you burn fat, but it also works muscles in your legs, back, core, arms and shoulders, and back,” says Summers.
A simple rowing circuit to try with one of the best rowing machines:
- Begin with 30 seconds of rowing followed by 10 seconds of rest. Look at how many meters you traveled in that time
- Repeat this circuit eight times, trying to beat your distance each time
In the fight against belly fat, do not underestimate the power of the humble walk. "Daily brisk walking, for 45 minutes or more can boost your metabolism," says Summers. "Plus, walking can be a way to de-stress or unwind after a tough day at work, which can help with the stress levels that can contribute to belly fat.”
To help with this, check out the best shoes for walking.
Want to read more? Head to our feature on muscle recovery after workouts: what to do.
Catherine is a freelance journalist writing across titles such as Verywell Health, Healthline, The Daily Telegraph, Refinery29, Elle, and Vogue. She specializes in content covering health, fitness, wellness, and culture.
A once reluctant runner, Catherine has competed in 30 running events in the past five years and looks forward to one day running the London Marathon.