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Sunday, February 9, 2014

How to: Lose Belly Fat

Hello!  Hello!  I hope you all had a wonderful weekend!  I spent mine just the way I like it- with my family and in the weight room!

Last week I was eavesdropping overheard a conversation between two men discussing their "guts" (their words, not mine).  To no surprise they were comparing which abdominal exercises to really work the best to target their midsection.

It blows my mind how many people are out there spending so much time and attention on their abdominal workout in hopes to gain rock hard abs when really it's just a SMALL piece of the puzzle.

Last year I wrote a post addressing the dreaded belly fat and how to tackle it.  After the conversation I heard take place, I think it's time to revisit......

*This post originally was published 7/1/2013

How do I get rid of my belly?
What can I do about my stomach?
What are some good exercises to get rid of the fat around my midsection?
I need to work on this. (said as they squeeze a handful of love handles) 

In my past four months of being a certified personal trainer I have heard these questions more times than I can count and I find it hard to answer.  As a wellness coach it's part of my job to help guide you, not just tell you what to do, and I'm finding that a lot of people are miseducated about the best way to tackle the belly problem.    

So let's talk about what we know....

You can not spot reduce fat.  All the crunches, sit ups, and bicycles in the world are not going to magically melt fat from your abs.  Don't get me wrong, core strength is so important for a variety of reasons but exercise alone will not get the job done.  

I'm not surprised people believe that you can crunch your way to six pack abs though.  Look at this month's cover of Shape magazine.  

Really?  If I do 3 moves, four times a week for say four weeks I'll have a "flat belly"?  Don't fall for it. 
I  love Shape but that's totally misleading.  

We also know 80% of your body composition is determined by your diet.  I'm sure you've heard this and "Abs are made in the kitchen." before right?  I'll be honest I searched and searched for the origin of the 80% diet, 20% exercise fact and this is what I found: 
"say you eat 3 square meals a day. Better yet, as a fitness athlete you know about the advantages of meal spacing and eat 5 meals/snacks a day. That’s 21-35 opportunities a week to directly impact your muscle building and fat burning goals.
A common question in the fitness industry is, “what percentage of my physique enhancement goals will be a result of exercise, and what percentage will be a result of my diet?” Common answers are something like, “Well, they are both important. You can’t really assign percentages” or “training is 100%, diet is 100%”. But that doesn’t really give novice trainees an accurate depiction of the bigger picture. And in the big picture, diet will always have a bigger impact than training.
In our above example of 9 training sessions and 35 meals/snacks geared toward body composition improvement a week, that works out to about 20% accounted to physical activity and 80% accounted to diet. I’d say that’s a pretty accurate assessment of the physique enhancement process. If you want to look good, 80% of your results are determined by the food that you eat."
 I found this explanation a few different places but I liked the way this guy explained it the best.  Truthfully,  I'm not sure the validity of that "science" but I do believe diet plays a huge role in our ability to lower body fat.  And, just like you can't spot reduce fat through exercise, you can't pick and choose where you'll lose fat so the best way to reveal your six pack is to lower overall body fat.  
I bet I can guess what your next question is gonna be.... "Ok Annie, I get all that.  So, how do I lower my body fat?:  
Great question!  
Lowering your body fat is easier said than done.  Trust me, I know...I'm workin' on it!  I'm still in the process of learning, exploring, experimenting and researching all of the studies and information out there on the topic.  I'm not a "believe it because I read it/heard it somewhere" type of gal. And thus far I've found a few simple (read simple to incorporate not simple to perform) changes anyone looking to lower body fat can make.  
1. Add some HIIT to your cardio plan!  I know it's hard to believe that a 20 minute HIIT workout can help you lose more fat than an hour long run that leaves you drenched in sweat and totally exhausted but it can and it will! The studies do not lie.  You don't have to take my word for it.  Read this.  You don't have to take his word for it either.  All of the studies and research to back this up at linked at the bottom of his article.  
2.  Find a weight, lift it, repeat.  One of the most effective ways to burn more fat, even at rest is to have more muscle! You're not going to get bulky. You're not going to look like a man.  I have yet to meet a woman who tried weight lifting and stopped because she got too strong. 
But please, stop wasting your time with the light weights! Women, quit selling yourself short! Find a weight you can perform 10-12 repetitions.  When you can perform more then 12 reps UP THE WEIGHT, do a little dance, be proud of yourself and then lift it again!  *I'm referring to general strength training, not specifically powerlifting. 

3.  Watch what you put in your mouth.  Oh, this is a hard one for me but arguably the most important for reasons I've mentioned above and so many more.  Don't negate all your hard work in the gym with a poor diet.  It took me years to figure out I couldn't out exercise my crappy food choices.  I'm not a dietitian but if you want to see how I figured out my macros you can read it here.  
Your turn: What's the most bizarre advice you've been given about 
how to bring out your six pack?


  1. I loved this and say the same things all the time to the people I train at the gym. At the end of the day, you can't work off a bad diet!!

  2. love the post, Annie! feel free to link it to my link-up today! :D

  3. I agree! It's so frustrating when I hear others complain about their mid-section while they are telling me all the junk they eat. It just doesn't work like that. I think the major misconception that many fitness "experts" ingrain in everyone is that you need to do all these crazy number of crunches, sit-ups, all these ab workouts to get a six-pack but they are missing the bigger picture. I also noticed my stomach looks the best when I am on a strict paleo diet, no grains, no gluten, etc.

  4. This is currently driving me a bit crazy. I'm an endurance athlete (read, lots of swimming bike running very little strength) and a decent diet. Would like to see the midsection shrink but calorie reduction just makes me feel sick with my training. So lifting, huh??

    1. disclosure: There aren't too many situations where I wouldn't recommend lifting :) I think it depends on what your goals are…. knowing that you're a serious triathlete, adding in strength training in the peak of your tri season may not be the best idea but for sure incorporating it into your off season training could help improve body composition, leg strength, upper body strength, etc which obviously help your tri work. And I agree, eating too little for an endurance athlete is never good! Give it a try! Feel free to PM with questions if you have any!

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