Women want a flat, toned midsection, men six-pack abs. Despite these aspirations, most of us are heading in the wrong direction and gaining more and more belly fat, year upon year. You might be overweight or might be lean and have too much belly fat. Irrespective of your BMI, there are many health risks associated with belly fat. You can’t sleep as well as you used to, your lower back aches and exercise causes your knees hurt. Worse than that, belly fat releases biologically active substances that cause metabolic dysfunction such as diabetes, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and more.
Your belly fat might just be killing you slowly. But lets be honest, despite all the health risks, losing belly fat is also about looking good. Unlike other problem areas, a large belly projects out and is instantly noticeable no matter what you wear. Too much belly fat screams look at me; look down here – look at my generous proportions. The good news is you can lose the belly fat.
The first rule of great abs is to blast the belly fat that is masking the abdominal muscles, which lie underneath. You could have the strongest, largest, toughest six pack in the history of mankind, but if they are covered by a layer of belly fat no one will ever know you got ‘em. Want to know you body fat percentage, use this body fat calculator.
1. CALORIES TO LOSE BELLY FAT
You want great abs, but to get there you first need to lose belly fat through a calorie controlled diet. First find out how many calories you need to maintain your current weight using this calorie calculator, then subtract that amount by at least 500 calories. However, women should not go below 1200 and men 1800 calories per day. Anything more than this and you risk failing in your diet, losing muscle along with belly fat or your body switching into starvation mode. Basically, you’re aiming for moderate calorie restriction. If you want to create a greater calorie deficit to blast weight fast, then you have to do through exercise.
Incorporate plenty of protein in your diet. Protein is very satiating – after eating relatively little you feel full. Eating plenty of protein with every meal makes it is easier to stick to a low-calorie diet, because though you are eating few calories you don’t feel hungry. It’s basically the whole premise of the Atkin’s diet. Lean protein foods are low in calories. Protein feeds your muscles and maximizes your muscle gains. Basically, protein will help you blast fat and gain muscle. Perfect!
3. FAT CAN HELP BURN BELLY FAT!
Fat helps you feel full after eating a meal, plus it tastes good. Therefore, don’t cut them out entirely, as getting sufficient fat in your diet will help you adhere to your diet. Ban trans-fat and swap saturated fats for unsaturated fats. Research shows that monounsaturated fats (MUFA) will help you blast belly fat. Therefore, include oily fish, olive oil, peanut butter, nuts and avocados in your diet. However, remember that they are still high in calories and to treat these foods like any other fats. MUFA rich foods are healthy and will help you blast belly fat, but only in moderation.
4. HOW CARBS AFFECT BELLY FAT
Scientists believe that refined carbohydrates may increase belly fat. Therefore, throw out the refined carbohydrates and replace them with whole grains. Stock up on natural, fiber-rich carbs such as fruits, vegetables and legumes. These foods are low in calories, high in nutrients and full of fiber, which makes you feel full.
5. EXERCISE TO BLAST BELLY FAT
You could choose to lose belly fat through diet alone. However, research shows that cardiovascular exercisetargets belly fat, particularly the dangerous, deep kind of belly fat (visceral fat) that causes health problems. Furthermore, exercise can help reduce the loss of muscle mass that occurs during dieting. A combination of exercise and diet will also increase the amount of weight loss and you’ll blast belly fat faster.
- Choose a cardiovascular activity you enjoy, whether it is running, biking, rowing, swimming or stair-climbing (see best weight loss exercises here).
- Exercise 4-6 times per week for 30 to 60 minutes at moderate to high intensity.
- If you been sedentary start slowly and build up
- If you have been active for a while, why not try HIIT (high intensity interval training). This is a proven weight loss method and will help you blast belly fat in no time. HIIT not only blasts fat in a workout that generally only lasts 20 minutes, it also tends to spare muscle mass.
- Exercise tips if you are overweight.
- Checklist before you exercise
6. STRESS BUSTER
Yes, it’s easier said than done, but stress may cause belly fat. Stress causes elevated levels of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol promotes increased deposition of deep belly fat. Cortisol also increases our appetite for sugar and fat laden foods. Therefore, stress makes blasting belly fat and general weight loss more difficult. Apart from taking time out, reading a good book or just relaxing, effective activities to reduce stress for those who struggle to unwind are Yoga and Tai Chi.
Smoking and alcohol increase cortisol levels, so if you’re serious about the blasting that belly fat, you know what to do…
5. AB EXERCISES
Now you’ve tackled the belly fat, you can start thinking about building those abdominal muscles. Abdominal muscles consist of three layers. The deepest layer is made up of the transversus abdominis muscle, which acts as a girdle or corset, pulling you in and providing support and stability. Next up lies the rectus abdominis (i.e. the “six-pack” muscle), which flexes the spine. Most superficial are the internal and external oblique muscles, which turn the trunk. Your goal is to target all these muscles. The transversus abdominis may not sound like much to you, but in truth it is one of the most important muscles to target, as unlike the others is actually pulls you in. In other words, it makes you thinner.
Go here to for a list of ab exercises that come with video instruction.
The abdominal exercises below should be performed two to three times weekly (beginners can start with two). Perform 1-3 sets of 15 to 20 repetitions. After each set rest for 30 to 60 seconds. Fat loss is visible pretty quickly; building muscle is a slower process. Expect visible results in approximately 4 weeks.
7. ABDOMINAL HOLLOWING. SAY WHAT?
Targets the transversus abdominis muscle.
- Get down on all fours.
- Let your belly hang down as you take a deep breath.
- Breath out. At the end of exhalation, gently draw your bellybutton inward and upward toward your spine. You should feel it tightening around your waist, as though you were trying to squeeze through a partially closed door.
- Hold for 10 seconds, rest for 10 seconds.
- Work up to 10 repetitions.
- During each movement, your spine position should not change. Also, don’t hold your breath, breath freely.
- You can also do variations of this exercise sitting or standing – any place, anywhere.
This move targets the rectus abdominis.
- Lie on your back
- Place your hands lightly behind your neckPull your knees in and keep your feet flat on the floor
- Gently lift your head and shoulders no more than 30 degrees above the groundHold for three seconds
- Slowly and controlled return your shoulders to the resting position.
9. BICYCLE CRUNCH
This move targets the rectus abdominis and the obliques.
- Lie flat on the floor
- Press you lower back into the ground.
- Place your hands lightly behind your head.
- Bring your knees in towards your chest and lift your shoulders off the floor (most of the lifting should comefrom your shoulders not your neck)
- Bring one knee up to a 45-degree angle, keep the other leg straight and slowly perform a bicycle pedal motion with your legs.
- Simultaneously, touch your left elbow to your right knee, and your right elbow to your left knee.
- Continue alternating sides in a ‘pedalling’ motion.
10. INCH WORMS
The exercise targets the hip flexors, obliques and other muscles which are recruited to aid stabilization as you move through this exercise.
- Start from plank position as though you are going to do a pushup
- Walk your feet towards your hands in little steps
- At the point which you have to start bending your knees, start walking your hands (instead of your feet) forward in little steps until you have returned to the plank position.
- Repeat for the exercise for 1 minute.
- Posture: Keep your head in alignment with your back.
- Important: Do this exercise slowly, as it is the controlled movement which engages your core.
Other exercises targeting the abs:
- Captain’s Chair Leg Raise
- Exercise Ball Crunch
- Vertical Leg Crunch
- Reverse Crunch
- Plank on Elbows and Toes
- Badrick E, Kirschbaum C, Kumari M. The relationship between smoking status and cortisol secretion. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2007;92:819-24.
- Badrick,E.,Bobak,M., Britton,A, Kirschbaum,C.,Marmot,M.,Kumari,M. The relationship between alcohol consumption and cortisol secretion in an ageing cohort. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008;93:750-757.
- Christopher Norris. Back stability: integrating science and therapy. Human Kinetics, 2008
- Robert Wolff. Bodybuilding 201: Everything You Need to Know to Take Your Body to the Next Level. McGraw-Hill. 2003.