The way your body looks isn’t necessarily a reflection of how healthy you are inside and, if you and your doctor agree that you’re in good shape, there’s no need to do anything differently. But if you have excess weight around your midsection that you’d rather not be there, you may prioritize the best exercises to lose belly fat. Just know this: Contrary to popular belief, hundreds of daily stomach-firing crunches—or in technical terms, spot reduction workouts—won’t get you to your six-pack goal any faster than a well-rounded regimen will.
“Spot reduction isn’t a viable approach to losing belly fat,” explains fitness trainer and nutrition expert Corey Phelps, creator of the Cultivate by Corey Fitness Program. “But there are some great core-focused exercises that will torch fat all over the body, resulting in a strong and more chiseled core.” Research confirms this—a study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that six weeks of regular isolated ab workouts resulted in zero change in abdominal fat compared to a control group.
Meet the experts: Corey Phelps is a fitness trainer, nutrition expert, and creator of the Cultivate by Corey Fitness Program; Jillian Michaels is a celebrity trainer and nutrition expert; Albert Matheny, R.D., C.S.C.S., co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab; Ramona Braganza is a celebrity trainer; Chris DiVecchio is a trainer and founder of Premier Body & Mind; Adam Sanford, New York City-based personal trainer and founder of Adam Sanford Fitness; Tyler Spraul, C.S.C.S., is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and the head trainer at Exercise.com; Jill Penfold, is a Los Angeles-based personal trainer.
Instead of limiting your focus to one area, celebrity trainer and nutrition expert Jillian Michaels recommends doing exercises that combine cardio, strength, and core work to ultimately help you reduce body fat. “I’m a big fan of exercises that are core-focused, but work multiple muscle groups simultaneously with a HIIT component for added calorie burn,” she says.
Of course, it’s worth noting that exercise is only one component of weight loss—what you eat plays a role, too. Eating healthy, vitamin-rich foods and a balanced diet play a big role in overall fitness and helping you reach your goals, although it’s best to consult your doctor before making any drastic changes to your lifestyle.
But if you have a healthy eating plan in place and you want to work toward weight-loss goals through working out, personal trainers say these are the best exercises to lose belly fat.
WHAT IS BELLY FAT?
Belly fat is simply fat around your midsection, says Albert Matheny, R.D., C.S.C.S., co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab. “It’s not necessarily different in any kind of unique way from other types of fat,” he says. Most people gain belly fat as their overall body fat percentage increases, Matheny says. “There is some genetic differences in terms of where people gain fat,” he says.
However, Matheny points out that drinking a lot of alcohol and eating a diet high in carbohydrates may lead to more belly fat than other things you take in. The big concern with belly fat is its link to serious health conditions. People with higher amounts of belly fat are at higher risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure compared to those with less fat in that area. Worth noting, though: New researchsuggests that some people have genes that protect them from these conditions when they have higher amounts of belly fat.
BEST EXERCISES TO BURN BELLY FAT
This exercise works your core, as well as your chest, shoulders, lats, triceps and quads, explains Michaels. Because burpees involve explosive plyometric movement, they’ll get your heart pumping too.
HOW TO DO BURPEES:
Stand with your feet shoulder-distance apart and send your hips back as you lower your body toward the ground in a low squat. Then, place your hands right outside of your feet and hop your feet back, allowing your chest to touch the floor. Push your hands against the floor to lift your body up into a plank and then jump your feet just outside of your hands. With your weight in your heels, jump explosively into the air with your arms overhead.
TRY: MOUNTAIN CLIMBERS
Like burpees, Michaels is a fan of this moving plank exercise because it works your core, in addition to a slew of other body muscles.
HOW TO DO MOUNTAIN CLIMBERS: Get into a high-plank position with your wrists directly under your shoulders. Keep your core tight, drawing your belly button in toward your spine. Drive your right knee toward your chest and then bring it back to plank. Then, drive your left knee toward your chest and bring it back. Continue to alternate sides.
Try: TURKISH GET-UPS
The Turkish get-up is a 200-year-old total-body exercise that involves using a kettlebell, and it’s a favorite of celebrity trainer Ramona Braganza. While it is slightly complicated, she says that the total-body conditioning move is seriously effective.
HOW TO DO A TURKISH GET-UP:
Holding one kettlebell by the handle with both hands, lie on your side in a fetal position. Roll onto your back and press the kettlebell up toward the ceiling with both hands until the weight is stable on one loaded side. Release your free arm and free leg to a 45-degree angle with your palm facing down. Slide the heel of the loaded side closer to your butt to firmly grip the floor.
Pushing through the foot on the floor, punch the kettlebell up with the loaded arm and roll onto your free forearm. Don’t shrug your shoulder toward your ear with the supporting side. Be sure to keep your chest wide open. Straighten the elbow on the ground and lift yourself up to a seated position. Weave your front leg through to the back. To protect your knees, your shin on the back leg should be perpendicular to your shin on the front leg.
Perfectly align your arms: wrist over elbow, shoulder over elbow over wrist. Raise your torso to make your upper body erect. Swivel your back knee so that your back shin is parallel with your front shin. Get a grip on the floor with your back toes, then take a deep breath, and stand up.
TRY: MEDICINE BALL BURPEES
How to do medicine ball burpees:
Standing with your feet shoulder-distance apart, hold a medicine ball with both hands. Extend the ball up overhead, then slam the ball down on the ground as hard as you can, hinging over and sitting your butt back as you slam. As you hinge over, bend your knees. Place your hands on the ground outside of your feet and jump back into a high-plank position. Keep your body in a straight line. Then, jump your feet back towards the outsides of your hands so that you are squatting. Pick up the ball and press it overhead, extending your body and standing tall.
The sprawl is basically a burpee on steroids—a full body exercise that works as many muscles as possible and burns calories while shaping and toning upper- and lower-body, especially your abs. “It takes the traditional burpee to the next level by having you touch your chest to the ground, then push-up to plank as you continue the move,” explains Braganza.
How to do a sprawl:
Standing with your feet shoulder-distance apart, squat down and place your hands on the ground. Jump your feet back to a plank and lower your body to touch the ground. Push yourself up to a plank and then jump your feet outside of your hands into a squat. Stand back up. That’s one rep. “If you want to burn even more calories, add a jump between each sprawl,” Braganza adds.
Try: SIDE-TO-SIDE MEDICINE BALL SLAMS
“Medicine ball slams are a dynamic, explosive, and highly metabolic exercise that does not simply target one muscle group,” explains Chris DiVecchio, trainer and founder of Premier Body & Mind. On the surface, the obliques, hamstrings, quads, biceps, and shoulders are the primary movers of this exercise. “But as time goes on and fatigue sets in, nearly every other muscle in the body, in one way or another, may become involved as a secondary mover,” he adds. Doing side-to-side ball slams versus overhead slams incorporates more oblique ab work.
How to do lateral medicine ball slams:
Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart with the medicine ball on one side. Pick up the ball and simply rotate your body as you slam the ball a few inches away from your pinky toe. Make sure to pivot your feet and bend the back knee as you come into a split squat position to catch the ball on one bounce. Alternate sides. Make sure you tighten your core as you bring the ball overhead and to the side.
Try: Overhead Medicine Ball Slams
Overhead medicine ball slams strengthen your core as it works against gravity. This exercise also tests your endurance, getting your heart rate up each time you pick the ball up and bring it overhead. To get the most out of this exercise, be sure to use a heavy weighted ball.
How to do overhead medicine ball slams:
Standing tall with your feet hip-width apart, hold a medicine ball with both hands. Reach both arms overhead, fully extending your body. Slam the ball forward and down toward the ground. Extend your arms toward the ground as you slam and don’t be afraid to bend your knees as you hinge over. Squat to pick the ball up and then stand back up.
Try: RUSSIAN TWISTS
The Russian twist is a core exercise that improves oblique strength and definition, explains DiVecchio. The move, typically performed with a medicine ball or plate, involves rotating your torso from side to side while holding a sit-up position with your feet off the ground.
How to do Russian twists:
Sit up tall on the floor with your knees bent and feet off the ground. Hold a medicine ball with your hands at chest height. Lean backward with a long, tall spine, holding your torso at a 45-degree angle and keeping your arms a few inches away from your chest. From here, turn your torso to the right, pause and squeeze your right oblique muscles, then turn your torso to the left and pause to squeeze your left oblique muscles. The movement should come from your ribs and not your arms.
Try: BOSU BALL PLANKS
You know that your cardio sessions are crucial when it comes to burning the layer of fat sitting on top of your abdominal muscles. But it’s still important to work those abs even as you’re trying to shed fat, says New York City-based personal trainer Adam Sanford, founder of Adam Sanford Fitness. His favorite move to do that? Holding plank on a BOSU ball.
It’s more challenging than a normal plank where your hands are on the floor, because the BOSU tests your balance, says Sanford. “When your body tries to find control as your balance is challenged, your abs, obliques, and deep transverse abdominal muscles are activated,” he says. Strengthening these core muscles also helps increase your metabolism, ultimately helping you to burn more calories and fat.
How to do BOSU ball planks:
Flip a BOSU ball on its rubber side and hold onto the edges of the flat surface with both hands, about shoulder-distance apart. Hold the plank for 30 to 45 seconds, increasing the time as you get stronger.
Try: RUNNING ON AN INCLINE
Running at an incline rather than on a flat surface has been shown to increase total calorie burn by as much as 50 percent, says Jill Penfold, a Los Angeles-based personal trainer. Whether you’re outside on a hill or at the gym on an inclined treadmill, start out walking for five to 10 minutes, suggests Penfold. “Your heart rate should elevate pretty quickly as you pick up your pace,” she says.
Try this treadmill workout:
Walk or jog on an incline for five to 10 minutes. Maintain a jog for another five to 10 minutes, then pick your pace up again and start running. “This doesn’t have to be an all-out sprint,” says Penfold, but you should be working hard enough that you can’t carry a conversation. Spend five minutes running, then drop your pace back down to a jog. Continue alternating with five to 10 minutes of jogging and five to 10 minutes of running for 30 to 45 minutes.
Try: THE ROWING MACHINE
Just because you may not have access to open water, it doesn’t mean you can’t weave this fat-blasting cardio workout into your gym routine. Not only does using a rowing machine get your heart rate way up, which helps you blast calories and burn fat, but it also works muscles in your legs, core, arms, shoulders, and back, says Penfold.
Try this 4-minute rowing circuit:
Begin with 20 seconds of rowing followed by 10 seconds of rest. Look at how many meters you traveled in that time. (Don’t get off the rowing machine or even let go of the handle when you rest, says Penfold.) Repeat this eight times, trying to beat your distance each time. When you’re finished with this four-minute circuit, row a fast 500 meters and note how long it takes you. “That’s the number you’ll want to match or beat during your next rowing session,” says Penfold.
While the old thinking was that steady-state cardio exercises were best for burning fat, we now know that short and intense bursts of fast-paced cardio is much more effective. Hope Pedraza, an ACSM personal trainer and the creator of inBalance, a San Antonio-based fitness and wellness studio, suggests doing intervals that alternate between exercises that work different muscle groups.
Try this HIIT workout:
After a 10-minute warm-up, spend 30 seconds doing as many reps as possible of squats, push-ups, kettlebell swings, or single-arm rows. Then, rest for 30 seconds and do a different exercise for another 30 seconds. Continue for 10 rounds. Choose any of your favorite exercises—just make sure you alternate between exercises that work different muscle groups, which will help certain muscles recover while you work others.
Try: STRENGTH TRAINING
If you’ve been lifting moderately heavy weights but are still looking to tone up more, it’s time to pick up the intensity by using heavier weights and cutting down on rest time between reps, says Tyler Spraul, C.S.C.S., a certified strength and conditioning specialist and the head trainer at Exercise.com. “Lifting heavy is where you see more of an after-burn effect. Your body continues to burn calories even after you leave the gym,” Spraul says. Just be sure that your technique doesn’t suffer as you increase your weight, which can lead to injury.
How to do strength training:
There are a wide range of moves to try with strength training. If you’re new to strength training, this 15-minute total-body workout is a great place to start.
“It seems so simple, but 45 to 60 minutes of brisk walking every day can do wonders for your metabolism,” says Gonzalez. “Plus, it ensures that you don’t over-train, which can lead to an over-production of cortisol—a stress hormone that’s been shown to contribute to belly fat.”
If your walking workout helps you unwind after a stressful day or work through emotions that might otherwise stress you out, there’s a chance it’ll help you lower cortisol levels, which in turn can keep belly fat in check, says Gonzalez.
How to do walking as a workout:
You probably know how to walk already but, like many exercises, it can take time to build your stamina. Matheny recommends starting small—say, going for a mile-long walk—seeing how you feel, and adding more mileage from there. You can also pick up your pace or walk on an incline on the treadmill to increase the workout.
Getting your Om on isn’t as intense an exercise as a hilly run or lifting weights, but it can help build muscle and improve your endurance, which are all crucial for boosting your metabolism.
How to do yoga:
There are a lot of yoga practices you can try and even moves you can cycle through. Some of the more challenging yoga poses include plank, chair, Chaturanga, and wheel. You can download an app, like the Peloton app, for online classes or try a studio near you