Doing crunches until the cows come home? Stop it! When you're down to your final inches of belly fat, the dreaded crunch won't be the exercise that finally reveals your six-pack. "You can't spot reduce," Jill says. Instead, she suggests doing functional exercises that use the muscles in your core—abdominals, back, pelvic, obliques—as well as other body parts. "These exercises use more muscles, so there is a higher rate of calorie burn while you are doing them," she says. Planks are her favorite functional exercise—they activate not just your core muscles but also your arm, leg, and butt muscles.
Research also shows that workouts involving high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can help reduce excess fat around your middle. Besides working your core, try incorporating a day or two of more vigorous exercise into your weekly schedule. (You can start with these three beginner routines.) Keep in mind that you can lower your total body fat percentage even by moving around more at work, according to another study.
There are a variety of definitions of what moderate-intensity exercise is, but it typically falls between about 70 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate, which would be a level 4 to 6 on a 10-point perceived exertion scale. That means you are breathing harder than normal but can carry on a conversation without much difficulty and you feel pretty comfortable with what you're doing. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) often recommends this level of intensity in its exercise guidelines. The lower end of this range usually incorporates the fat burning zone.
Rather than a long and low-intensity cardio workout, try the HIIT method of cardio: intense, fast-paced intervals that leave you completely exhausted after only a 20- to 30-minute session. This form of cardio training increases the afterburn effect, allowing your body to continue burning calories long after your workout is over. You can rotate between 30 seconds of your favorite exercises, with rest in between, as long as they work different muscle groups—such as squats, push-ups and kettlebell swings.
Build more muscle: Cardio gets all the glory for melting fat, but it’s actually far more important to focus on building muscle. It’s pretty simple: Lipolysis happens in the mitochondria of the muscles, so the more muscle you have, the more mitochondria, and the more potential to burn. Plus, the more muscle mass you carry, the more your BMR is burning calories at rest. Strength training is also one of the strongest ways to spark production of testosterone and growth hormone, which both help to break down fat, Seedman adds.
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