No matter how many ab workouts you do, they won't help you reduce belly fat. Instead of focusing on spot reduction — targeting one specific area on your body — you've got to train your entire body, fuel up with nutritious foods, and make sure that you're recovering (nope, all-nighters won't help) to lose fat in general. And losing body fat all over means you will be losing some on your belly as well.
If you aren't sure how often you should be training, or what exactly you should be doing once you're at the gym to get reduce body fat, here's what I recommend.
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Because you can't control where exactly you lose fat on your body, I recommend changing your goal to lowering your overall body fat percentage. In order to do this, you should start by training five days a week. This of course will vary from person to person based on age, goals, and physical capabilities, so if someone else is following a plan that's slightly different, don't worry.
Since you'll be training five days a week, I recommend starting with three days of weightlifting and two days of cardio. On the strength days, do full-body workouts that incorporate compound exercises — multijoint movements like deadlifts and push-ups that work large groups of muscle. I prefer these movements because they require more energy to perform, which means you'll burn more fat and calories, and you can get a more efficient workout with them as opposed to doing isolated movements like a bicep curl.
Another reason you should do a mix of strength training and cardio is because they'll both help improve your metabolism. Strength training helps you build muscle, and because muscle is more metabolically active than fat, you'll burn more calories in a day.
Since it helps you burn more calories, cardio boosts your metabolism. In a previous interview with POPSUGAR, Avigdor Arad, PhD, RDN, CDE, director of the Mount Sinai PhysioLab explained that you burn more energy/calories with cardio per workout than you do with lifting.
Cardio can help burn fat, but if done too often, it can also burn muscle. This is one of the reasons I advise doing fewer cardio workouts. For the two days of cardio, I suggest sprinting, swimming, cycling, running, or using a machine like the elliptical.
Follow this training split for four to six weeks, making sure you're tracking how you feel physically and mentally. If you're constantly feeling sore and tired, you should decrease the amount of sessions you're doing, for example: do three strength sessions but go down to one day of cardio.
If you're feeling great, then you've built a foundation of strength. You've improved muscular imbalances, and you can progress your workouts; this is when a trainer comes in handy. Two simple ways to progress your workouts are by increasing the amount of days you're training or simply increasing the complexity of the exercises you're doing.
Exercise is just one part of the fat-loss equation, and if you're diet isn't up to par, you may not get the results you're after. A simple lifestyle change I always share with clients is drink more water and stay hydrated. The next thing I tell them to focus on is eating whole, minimally processed foods. I also recommend cutting out alcohol. It doesn't have to be permanent, but it can help speed up the fat-loss process.
Eating in a calorie deficit may work for some, but according to Brittany Linn, RD, CDN, clinical nutrition coordinator at Mount Sinai Hospital, "Many times, women are way too restrictive with their calorie intake." There isn't a universal amount of calories you should consume per day, but this formula can help you determine how many calories you need in a day. I also recommend speaking with a registered dietitian who can give you more individualized nutritional advice.
If you're wondering if there's a set list of foods to eat to lose fat, there isn't. Instead, most experts recommend consuming foods that are high in fiber like lentils, kale, and sweet potatoes to help you stay full longer. You should also try to consume no more than 25 grams of sugar a day, and cut back on refined grains like white bread, since they can affect your insulin levels and cause weight gain.
As you can tell, losing body fat is complex and won't happen overnight. But if you're consistent and patient, you will begin to see results. If you're motivated to start strength training tomorrow, get started with this four-week plan for beginners.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Sheila Gim