Can abdominal exercise alone reduce belly fat?

Posted: May 20, 2015 in Strength and Conditioning for Health and Fitness
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burn-belly-fatNo. Spot reduction is a term used to describe a localized reduction of subcutaneous fat and this is considered a myth if done by exercise. There are exercise routines that are hyped and marketed with fancy terms and claims similar to “trim your belly fat in just 5 minutes of exercise a day” and many people are misinformed and end up wasting time and effort. Here are facts and an actual study about the effects of abdominal exercise on the abdominal region and its subcutaneous fat.

 

We all have washboard abdominals. But we do not see them because most of us have a thick amount of fat under our skin. This subcutaneous fat in the abdominal area covers the Rectus Abdominis or the muscles that make up the “washboard abs”. Pinch the skin on your tummy near the belly button. If you can pinch more than an inch thick, your “abs” are covered by fat and cannot be seen.Abdominal fat

 

High repetition abdominal exercises increases the tonus of the abdominal musculature and helps to deepen their separations which make them stand out. It improves their form and function but it does not strip off the fat that flat-stomach-pictures[1]covers the abdominal muscles. Doing abdominal exercises alone won’t reduce your belly fat. There was a study published in 2011 involving 24 healthy but sedentary individuals. The participants were of both gender, between 18 to 40 years old and were divided into two groups. One group performed abdominal exercises, 5 days per week for 6 weeks. The other group did not do any exercise. All participants did not increase or decrease their food intake during the period of study. Measurements showed was that there was no significant effect of abdominal exercises on body weight, body fat percentage, amount of fat in the belly region, abdominal circumference, and abdominal and suprailiac skinfold measurements. The only difference was that the group that did abdominal exercise performed significantly greater amount of curl-up repetitions compared to the group that did not exercises during the posttest. This study showed that 6 weeks of abdominal exercise training alone is not sufficient to reduce abdominal subcutaneous fat, total body fat, or body weight, but it can significantly improve abdominal muscular endurance.

 

The chiseled look of “6 packs” is achieved when a well toned rectus abdominis becomes noticeable because of a very thin subcutaneous fat in the abdominal area. This requires lowering our body fat and since we cannot selectively “trim off” body fat from a specific area of our body via exercise, we will have to reduce our total body fat. The fastest way to do this is to significantly increase our physical activity and decrease our food intake (eat less food than you need).

 

Read related post: Why lose weight?

 

Just 5 minutes of abdominal exercise a day is not enough to significantly increase energy expenditure but it does help in deepening the separation of the abdominal muscles. The “washboard abs” can only be seen once the percentage body fat is really low like approaching around 10 percent or even lower. The lower the body fat percentage, the more muscular striations can be seen.

 

An actual suggestion:

To effectively decrease belly fat, one needs to reduce total body fat. Make small objectives that are achievable and build momentum from them. Try using stairs instead of elevators and avoid drinking sugary drinks for a week. You can reward yourself at the end of the week if you did well but do not over indulge. Then take up a physical activity that challenges you and that you can do at least 2 to 3 times a week. Or take up different activities but spread them apart over the course of a week. Example: enroll in a boxing class on Friday evenings; run 8km every Tuesdays; do interval sprints every Wednesdays; or swim at least five 50 meter laps every Saturdays. Increase distance or total volume of your activities bit by bit every week while at the same time practice eating smaller meals and make better food choices like having fruits for snacks instead of chocolate bars. Your stomach will slowly adjust and its capacity will lessen a bit after some time so you won’t feel as hungry as you once felt a few weeks ago. Maintain or even slightly increase your physical activities and make it a point to do them on a regular basis. And drink enough water and have enough sleep. The energy from what you eat may now not be enough to for you to perform and to recover from all those activities. You are now in a negative energy balance and your body will now use its stored energy- your body fat. Soon your love handles will feel looser because the stored energy in the fat is being used up. Try pinching the skin near your belly button again. It should not be as thick as before. But this process will not make your stronger, in fact you may lose some strength. But your endurance will improve if you do a lot of endurance activities. Incorporating a strength training routine, like kettlebell lifting or barbell lifting, lets you improve your strength and still support the process of decreasing body fat. Try Strength Training one to times a week with your other activities of choice.

Read related post: The easiest way to trim off that belly fat… or is it?

The length of this process depends on how much physical activity you actually do, the intensity of how you do them, your food choices, and how less is your total caloric intake. Take note that very low caloric intake with very high activity levels will not be sustainable. So do what you are able to consistently do for many months ahead. Usually, it may take around two weeks of some sacrifice until you have small but perceptible changes like a slightly thinner pinch on your abdominal area. Persist for 2 more weeks and more changes will happen. Persist long enough until you have established healthy habits, which may take around 2 months or more. Do not expect big changes in a short period. Tell yourself that the time, effort, and money that you invested will make you enjoy your life more. Enjoy what you are doing and try to learn more about them, and hopefully by this time, you have a lifestyle that supports a healthy body.  Train to look great but most importantly, Train Better, Live Better!

Reference:

The Effect of Abdominal Exercise on Abdominal Fat. Vispute, Sachin, Smith, John; LeCheminant, James; Hurley, Kimberly; Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: September 2011 – Volume 25 – Issue 9 – pp 2559-2564

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