Want to burn stomach fat? It'll take more than crunches and sit-ups

You can't spot-target fat around your abs, so here's what to do instead

Man doing crunches on a wall
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Working your abdominal muscles with exercises like crunches, sit-ups, and planks is a great way to build core strength and start developing six-pack abs. But these spot-targeted exercises won't help you shift fat from around your stomach.

There's good reason to create a stronger core with the best workouts for abs, as this helps prevent lower back pain, reduces your risk of injury, and promotes good circulation. However, you need a different approach if you want to burn fat.

It's a commonly held belief that targeting specific areas of the body will build muscle and burn fat in that region. Despite this perception, a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research says otherwise.

The team wanted to examine the effect of a six-week ab-focused training program on abdominal fat. They found that "abdominal exercise did not result in [any] change in measures of abdominal fat," although it did "improve abdominal muscular endurance."

The trial ran five sessions each week with seven exercises targeting the rectus abdominis—the "six pack" muscles at the front of the abdomen—performed for 10 repetitions for two sets. The workout would take around 15 minutes each day.

The activities included bent-knee sit-ups, lateral trunk flexions, leg lifts, oblique crunches, stability ball crunches and twists, and abdominal crunches. Despite these muscle-building exercises, there were no changes to levels of abdominal fat.

Man performing a sit-up

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The authors concluded that "it is likely necessary to include aerobic exercise along with reducing energy intake to have more favorable changes in body fat percentage," which is pretty typical weight loss advice.

Meanwhile, a separate study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that a leg-focused resistance training program could reduce body fat in a group of young men and women but "was not achieved in the trained body segment."

This is a consistent finding; exercise can help you shift body fat, but not in specific areas. So whether you want to tone your stomach or make your newly trained ab muscles visible, you need to take a more holistic approach. 

If you're wondering how to lose fat, it involves setting a calorie deficit (burning more energy than you consume), getting enough protein into your diet with the best protein powders for weight loss, and exercising consistently. 

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is one of the most efficient ways to exercise, especially if you use this HIIT workout for fat loss. The five-move routine includes a mix of cardio-focused and strength training moves and takes just 25 minutes. 

The key is to keep the intensity up throughout the routine, so you can add a set of the best adjustable dumbbells to many of the moves if you want to add some resistance and increase the fat-burning potential.

James Frew
Fitness Editor

James is a London-based journalist and Fitness Editor at Fit&Well. He has over five years experience in fitness tech, including time spent as the Buyer’s Guide Editor and Staff Writer at technology publication MakeUseOf. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a chronic health condition, which spurred his interest in health, fitness, and lifestyle management.

In the years since, he has become a devoted meditator, experimented with workout styles and exercises, and used various gadgets to monitor his health. In recent times, James has been absorbed by the intersection between mental health, fitness, sustainability, and environmentalism. When not concerning himself with health and technology, James can be found excitedly checking out each week’s New Music Friday releases.