Now that’s out the way, the second thing we should probably discuss is how fast you should be expecting to lose fat. This depends on how much fat you have to lose. The higher your starting levels of body fat, the faster you can expect to lose; conversely, the leaner you start, a slower rate of loss will be best to minimise muscle and strength loss.
Make sure to program your cardio exercise in with your weight training the right way, though — a 2017 study found that performing cardio and weight training workouts on alternate days was far more effective for burning belly fat than stacking the workouts on top of each other in the same session. Put the two together, and watch that unhealthy midsection shrink.
Physical activity helps burn abdominal fat. “One of the biggest benefits of exercise is that you get a lot of bang for your buck on body composition,” Stewart says. Exercise seems to work off belly fat in particular because it reduces circulating levels of insulin—which would otherwise signal the body to hang on to fat—and causes the liver to use up fatty acids, especially those nearby visceral fat deposits, he says.
Since muscle mass actually increases your metabolic rate, building muscle through weight training increases your caloric burn, says Alberty Matheny, C.S.C.S., R.D., and co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab. To increase your muscle mass, he suggests doing three to four sets of exercises like bicep curls, triceps pull downs, squats, lunges, bench presses, and upright rows. Perform eight to 12 reps per set, taking a 45 to 90 second breaks between sets. Tackle this sequence three times per week and increase the weight and sets to keep making progress as you get stronger, he says.
At its core, burning fat comes down to the process of lipolysis—the breaking down of fat lipids, explains Seedman. This happens in the mitochondria of the muscles, or the powerhouses of the cells, responsible for generating the energy our cells need to do their jobs. Exercise has been shown to improve mitochondria function, which then promotes fat breakdown, Seedman adds. Plus, working out helps regulate pretty much all the hormones that optimize fat loss.