As I thumbed through my new copy of a book entitled Abs in Four Weeks, engrossed in a regimen prescribing 12 different ab exercises a day for 30 days, I couldn’t help but wonder: “Will these ab exercises actually help me lose this excess belly fat?”
Well, no, technically speaking, stomach crunches themselves won’t help you lose body fat.
But many, many years since buying said ab workout book, throwing it in the bin 4 weeks later, and becoming a fitness trainer, hindsight is a beautiful thing.
Here’s what ab exercises are good for, and what you really need to do to lose belly fat.
What exactly IS belly fat and why do we get it?
Before I answered this question I thought that I better do a bit of research and discover what belly fat actually is. I mean I know it's fat, right, but why do we get it?
Why does it feel like first place that we tend to gain turn to gain weight?
And why do women seem to have more of it then dudes?
Well the first thing to know is that we all have some of it and we're supposed to! A little bit of belly fat helps to protect our organs (especially our reproductive organs for us girls).
Here the thing about belly fat though, backed by research from this helpful Harvard article.
It's made up of two types. There's an outer layer called subcutaneous fat and it lies just beneath the skin feels squooshy and cuddly to touch.
There's also another kind of belly fat, called visceral fat, and it's all around our organs like our liver and intestines.
Us girls, especially as we get older, tend to get a higher proportion of fat to body weight and the way we store fat starts to favour visceral fat around our midsection, which is why as we get older our waistline tends to increase.
Now it's this visceral fat that we need to be worried about, because without getting too science-y on you, visceral fat is linked to a very large number of diseases: heart disease, and high blood pressure, and insulin resistance, oh my!
How much of this visceral fat you're going to get is largely dependent on things like genetics, hormones, age and whether you've had children.
But there are ways that we can reduce visceral fat and subcutaneous fat, which is not only going to give you the flat stomach you're looking for, it's also going to reduce your risk of chronic disease.
Abs are built in the kitchen
I'm sure you've heard the phrase that abs are built in the kitchen and it is so, so true.
No amount of tummy crunches or planks are going to outdo a crappy diet.
A diet high in salt, excess calories, processed foods, or foods that don't agree with you, are going to either cause weight gain, water retention, or bloating.
As I talked about last week in my blog post on exercise vs nutrition, it's a lot easier to eat more calories than you burn than it is to burn more calories than you eat.
What I mean by that is, it if you train for 40 minutes a day, 3 days a week, you'll burn somewhere in the vicinity of 200 to 400 calories, depending on how hard you work, your current weight, and a lot of other factors.
That's 120 minutes of exercise in a week to burn off one maybe two meals.
It's a lot easier, and just makes more sense all around, to eat a healthy balanced diet in conjunction with an active lifestyle than it is to try and burn off an excessive amount of calories.
In fact, it would be unrealistic except under extreme circumstances. Like, if you're the Flash, for example.
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Is it belly fat or bloat?
Have you ever had, like, a perfectly flat stomach one day and then it looks like you're 5 months pregnant the next?
It's not likely that you gained a bunch of belly fat overnight.
It's more likely that you just get bloated sometimes.
Good news: this is completely NORMAL!
Everybody gets bloated sometimes. I tend to get really bloated if I overeat, drink a tonne of water, eat a lot of salt, have a gassy belly, and I definitely blow up like a balloon around that time and the month.
One time I got an a bus while I was on my period and some kind soul stood up to give me their seat, thinking I was pregnant.
No amount of ab exercises will fix bloating. In fact, depending on the cause, it's best to just let it run its course.
If you're concerned about regular bloating or a gassy stomach, it's really important to talk it over with your doctor to rule out a medical cause. You may have a food intolerance or underlying condition that's causing the bloat, so it's important to get it checked out.
So, do ab exercise work AT ALL?
There's another saying that goes "abs are built in the gym but revealed in the kitchen."
So, remember the other day we were talking about muscle mass and how, to get that "toned" look, we have to do a combination of decreasing body fat and increasing muscle mass so that the muscle shows through our skin?
Abs work exactly the same way.
So those ab exercises that you were doing are definitely going to help you build muscle mass in that area, but without losing body fat, you're not going to get that flat stomach you're after.
Now here is the place where most people trip: you cannot spot reduce fat from a particular area.
This includes abs.
There is just no one exercise that is going to cause you to lose fat from from a specific spot.
The best thing you can do is eat a balanced diet, get physically active with plenty of cardio, and with time, you'll lose fat over your whole body, including your abs.
Where you'll lose fat first depends entirely on your individual biological blueprint.
Me personally, I lose fat from my arms, collarbone, and tits before I lose fat anywhere else, followed shortly by my ass. #goddamit
Speaking from my own personal experience, the place you tend to store weight first also tends to be the place you lose it last. Thanks a bunch, God.
Now, this isn't to say that there's no place for ab exercises. Far from it.
I highly recommend that women especially to increase core strength by working the deep core muscles.
Without nerding out too much on fitness, what we think of as abs i.e. the six-pack on fitness models and Avengers, is actually the most superficial layer of muscle, or the muscle closest to the skin, called your rectus abdominis.
The abdominal muscles I exercise most are my transverse abdominis and internal obliques, which are the deepest ab muscles, and these run all around your midsection, protecting and stabilizing your spine and supporting your posture.
When these are strong, they help you stand up tall and protect the natural curve of your spine, which can help you look slimmer and even make your tummy look flatter. But more importantly, they make your workouts more effective, keep your spine stable throughout the day, and can even help prevent back pain.
Some of the best exercises for working the deep core muscles include:
So in answer to the question, will ab exercises help me lose belly fat, the answer is not specifically.
You cannot spot reduce or spot tone particular areas of the body.
Buuuuut, staying active with a mixture of regular cardio and resistance training, including core focused exercises, will help you to burn fat from all areas of the body, build lean muscle mass and eventually those good ole' abs will start poking through.
Combine an active lifestyle with a healthy, balanced diet and a whole lot of patience and you've got yourself a recipe for burning that stubborn belly fat.
Now, onto the Captain's Log for yesterday! P.S. if you're just joining us, I'm on a 90 day journey to transform my health and fitness and I'm bringing you with me!
You can catch up on Days 1 through 32 by scrolling to the "Related Articles" section at the bottom of this post. And to stay up to date with how the journey's going (and get an amazing free bundle of resources to get you started on your fitness journey), click the banner below to get started. Let's do this together!
Breakfast today was one of my favorites: oatmeal, half a cup of raspberries and a few tablespoons of yoghurt. Super simple, super nutritious so filling and satisfying.
For a mid morning snack, I treated myself to my daily green smoothie.
Lunch today was super late because I was filming for a new YouTube video.
I meal prepped a bunch of salads for the week and made myself lunch with what was left over. It was a chicken and mango salad with a mango dressing and oh my god, so delicious.
I can't wait to share the recipe over on my YouTube channel soon.
Dinner was also a meal prep recipe. This one was an Indian style shepherd's pie, from a recipe that I got off taste.com.au.
I made just a giant batch and put it all in containers for the week. Now I don't have to worry about dinner for the rest of the week, I can literally just pull it out and go. Winning!
Dessert was a Fibre One salted caramel square. I've seen them just all over TikTok and they look so amazing so I had to try one. It was indeed delicious, but it didn't last very long.
For my workout today, for some reason I decided to do the Jane Fonda challenge workout. It was a bit more intense that I was counting on, and I could really only push myself through half an hour but I worked hard in that half an hour. Chasing a bit more moderate intensity tomorrow I think.
Well glam babies, that wraps us up for today.
P.S. If you have a fitness question you'd like answered in an upcoming blog post, shout it out in the comments! Let's learn from each other and grow together.
Until tomorrow, keep shining bright.
- xo, Rhi