If you Google anything to do with fitness, there’s one search that comes up again and again.
Which exercises will get rid of belly fat?
No matter how body positive we all try to be, it’s normal to still have some hang ups about appearance – and it seems loads of us are really keen to shift our stomach rolls.
But is it actually possible to target your belly fat – or fat on any body part for that matter – when you’re working out?
You’re probably familiar with the pain of working really hard in the gym and seeing very little in the way of physical results.
Squats are a classic example. Insta-fitness types promise us the world when it comes to squats. And by the world, we mean the perky, peachy butt of our dreams.
We’re out here squatting every day, and our peach butts are yet to materialise. There’s a reason for this.
We’re really sorry to be the ones to tell you this, but all the evidence suggests that it’s not actually possible to target a certain area of your body through exercise alone.
So if you’re in the gym doing specific exercises to lose fat around your middle – they’re probably not working.
‘Spot reduction is simply not possible,’ explains personal trainer Hannah Lewin.
‘There is absolutely no solid scientific evidence to suggest that you can target fat-loss on specific areas of your body through exercise alone.
‘For example; core work alone will not reduce body fat on your stomach. ‘Fat-loss occurs through a combination of caloric deficit and regular movement (this doesn’t have to be in the gym!)
‘Safe, sustainable fat-loss is around 1-2lbs per week, which allows for a greater chance for progress to be maintained.
‘But beware of any diets or products that offer quicker results, as often the only pounds you lose are from your wallet.’
Why is it so hard to target fat?
Belly fat is particularly linked with refined carbohydrates, so ‘apple-shaped’ individuals, generally find a low carbohydrate approach to be most effective.
This type of fat is the most damaging to health, but also the easiest to shift.
‘Pear-shaped’ individuals, who store fat around the hips and legs, will generally find it harder to lose weight, but can take comfort from the knowledge that this fat doesn’t lead to diabetes and heart disease in the same way as abdominal fat.
An overall reduction in calories, combined with muscle-toning exercise is the best approach.
Dr. Clare Morrison, Medexpress
Personal trainer and gym owner Richard Tidmarsh gets pretty angry when he hears people promising to help you burn belly fat.
He says the way many people approach belly fat and toning their stomach muscles is fundamentally wrong.
‘Let’s be clear.
You cannot target specific areas of body fat.
And anyone that tells you otherwise is an idiot, a liar, or a combination of both! ‘The other important thing to realise is, we all have abdominal muscles already, if we didn’t have them, we would all fall over as they are part of the system that holds us upright, along with the spine.
‘Want to expose these muscles?
You can by decreasing your overall body fat percentage, but you won’t see any definition on your stomach until your body fat is around 18% for women and below 16% for men.
‘How do you do this? An overall reduction in body fat comes from a consistent calorie deficit each day, backed up with exercise that includes big compound movements such as squat and deadlift.
‘Even then, getting a six pack is probably an unrealistic goal for most people.’ While it’s normal to want to improve certain things about your body – it might be more beneficial to work on changing your mind-set about exercise.
What if, instead of going to the gym with a list of physical things you want to change, you went with goals centred on your overall health and fitness.
Tracking your speed, endurance and strength, rather than how many inches or pounds you’ve lost, might make working out more enjoyable.
And any physical changes will be a welcome bonus. Aiming to lose weight in the gym can be a healthy goal, but you need to make sure you’re doing it in a safe and sustainable way.
Dr. Clare Morrison, GP and medical advisor at Medexpress, gave us her top tips on how to approach weight loss in a realistic, healthy way:
Do it gradually
‘To lose weight safely, one should aim for gradual sustained weight loss over a period of a few months, rather than a sudden drop in weight, which is unlikely to be maintained.’
Reduce refined carbohydrates
‘These foods contain sugar or starch, and include desserts, biscuits, cakes, bread, potatoes, pasta, waffles, scones, pancakes, chips, and doughnuts, for example. ‘They are low in valuable nutrients, and cause a sudden spike in blood sugar, causing the level of insulin to rise. ‘The sugar is converted into fat very quickly. The blood sugar then drops after a short time, leading to increased appetite.’
Don’t cut out fat
‘Although fat is denser in calories than carbs, it’s important not to cut it out. It contains essential fat-soluble vitamins, and keeps hunger away for longer than carbs. ‘Don’t think that “low-fat” foods are helpful for weight loss, as they often contain lots of sugar instead, and this can be worse overall.’
Eat a Mediterranean diet
‘Instead of refined carbs, go for high-fibre foods such as fruit, salads, and vegetables, together with protein, and healthy fats, as epitomised by the Mediterranean diet. ‘For example, eat olives, tomatoes, oily fish and olive oil. Because these foods take time to digest, they keep you full for longer, and help maintain a healthy metabolism.’
‘To lose weight, you will need to reduce your overall daily calorie intake, but don’t count them them obsessively, as this isn’t helpful and will make you feel deprived.’
‘Regular exercise doesn’t just burn up calories. It also reduces your appetite, and keeps muscles toned. Aim for a 30-minute brisk walk everyday, or the equivalent.’
‘Eat slowly, with awareness of what you’re doing. Eat sitting down, with a knife and fork, and don’t eat while doing something else. Smaller portions will look better on a smaller plate.’ Drink plenty of water ‘There is water in our food, so eating less will make you more thirsty. Sometimes people confuse thirst with hunger, so instead of reaching for a snack, try drinking a glass of water instead.’
Cut down on alcohol
‘There are lots of empty calories in alcohol, as well as the sugar that we tend to drink with it. Dilute your drinks with low sugar mixer, and make them last. Use a smaller glass.’
So, if you see a workout plan that promises to melt away your belly fat – know that this is lies. It can’t be done. All bodies are different, and some of us are more prone to having stubborn areas of fat on our belly or our bums or our thighs. Losing weight is best achieved through a consistent, challenging fitness plan and a sensible diet. But no fitness plan can target an area of your body like some kind of precision laser – it just doesn’t work like that.