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What Are The Best Exercises For Losing Belly Fat?

As a fitness coach this has to be one of the most frequently asked questions I get asked from people I meet out in public. It typically goes something like this as they grab on to their belly fat with both hands…”Ok Shane now tell me, what should I be doing to get rid of this?”

I can tell my answer is not what they were expecting when I get a funny look with my reply. You see I think a lot of people mistakenly assume I’m going to tell them to do lots of sit-up’s or crunches, when in reality these exercises are last on my list in the hierarchy of importance.

Now don’t get me wrong sit-up’s and crunches have their place in a fitness program (when done properly), but one thing is for certain…they don’t burn fat.

Therefore these exercises are going to take a back seat to more effective ways at eliminating unwanted body fat.

More after the jump…

Ok, so you’re probably wondering what the answer is that I provide?

It goes like this…

“Total body resistance exercises done in burst training fashion.”

Huh? So I should be doing what? That doesn’t sound like ab exercises to me. Exactly.

Remember, the primary objective is to remove that layer of fat covering up your abs first or you’ll never be able to see them anyways.

So yes, in short the best way to get rid of a gut is not to focus on it. Instead you want to focus on working the larger muscle groups so they can burn the fat that’s being stored around your stomach.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s the truth.

In reality an exercise like a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell squat is far more effective at helping to lose belly fat than any amount of sit-up’s or crunches could ever be.


Because an exercise like squats is going to work large muscle groups and help to boost metabolism whereas abdominal exercises work much smaller muscle groups and require very little energy expenditure.

Now before I get into the part of my answer where I talk about completing the exercises in burst training fashion, let’s make sure we’re clear on the best exercises in general.

When I talk about total body resistance training exercises, I’m primarily referring to compound movements that work multiple muscle groups at the same time.

Here are some examples of highly effective exercises at burning belly fat:

  • Push-Up’s
  • Inverted Rows
  • Pull-Up’s
  • Pull Down’s
  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Overhead Presses
  • Flat Bench Presses
  • Deadlifts
  • Rows

There are numerous variations of each and it doesn’t matter what you used for the driver (form of resistance). It could be a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebell, cable machine, resistance bands, etc.

These exercises are often referred to as basic “old school” weight lifting movements. You don’t need to have fancy equipment or a health club membership to do them. Right now there’s someone doing kettlebell goblet squats in their garage or living room.

The idea is to simply work the muscle to burn fat.

So how does burst training factor into all of this?

While traditional weight lifting routines can certainly work to reduce body fat, a more effective method of completing resistance training for fat loss is to perform the exercises with short bursts of high intensity effort, followed by incomplete recovery periods (aka. burst training)

Here’s an example of a basic burst training workout:

Kettlebell Goblet Squats – 10 reps
Push-Up’s – 10 reps
Inverted Rows- 10 reps
Dumbbell Lunges – 10 reps
Dumbbell Bicep Curl to Overhead Press- 10 reps

There are lots of variations here and don’t get hung up on the exercises themselves or the number of reps I showed for this example.

By working through the exercises in circuit fashion with minimal rest periods between each movement, the body will begin to experience metabolic disturbance.

This is the key component behind burst training, regardless of the variation, that is to provide a metabolic disturbance with the workout. By working large muscle groups with increased intensity as you progress, there’s an overload stimulus provided to the central nervous system.

This triggers all kinds of good stuff to happen from a fat loss perspective.

  • Insulin sensitivity improves in the muscles.
  • Hormones that stimulate fat oxidation such as adrenaline and nor-adrenaline are secreted.
  • Testosterone and growth hormone secretion is stimulated.
  • Metabolism is increased as more lean muscle is added.
  • Resting energy expenditure (REE) is increased post-workout, therefore you’ll burn more calories over the next 24 hours.

This may sound weird but the way you’ll lose fat from around your stomach is by having the body break it down and sending it to the large muscle groups for energy production.

Let’s say we had two people who both had approximately the same amount of fat to lose from around their stomach. The first person did nothing but sit-up’s and crunches for 30 minutes, 5 times a week and did spinning at home for 20 minutes once a week. The second person did nothing but squats and push-up’s for 30 minutes, 3 times a week.

Which one would lose more belly fat? Without question, it would be the second person who didn’t even do a single ab exercise!

Muscle burns fat, period.

You may be thinking I’m not in favor of doing ab exercises, but that’s certainly not the case. I just think they’re often misused in attempts to trim a waistline.

Think about it this way, ab exercises are great for putting on the finishing touches after the majority of fat has been removed from the stomach area. In other words, they should be side items, not the main course of a workout recipe.

It’s also important that we clarify between core strengthening and stabilizing exercises versus ab exercises in general. Establishing a strong and stable core should be at the foundation of your fitness regiment. In order to progress the intensity with the main compound movements I listed, you’ll need to strengthen and stabilize your core muscles.

How do you do that?

For starters, you can improve core strength and stability just by doing the compound movements themselves with proper form and technique. A barbell squat or deadlift for example done with proper form and technique will work to strengthen and stabilize your core better than just about any exercise you could do.

For added measure throw in some of the following core exercises:

  • Planks
  • Cable or Band Rotations
  • Medicine Ball Chops
  • Tall Kneeling Cable Diagonal Chops
  • 1 Leg Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts
  • Reverse Crunches
  • Stability Ball Rollout’s
  • Slider Knee Tucks
  • TRX Knee Tucks

There are lots of great core/abdominal exercises and this is just a short list with a few examples. The idea is that even the best core/abdominal exercises should take a back seat to compound resistance training exercises when it comes to removing belly fat.

Slide some into your workout routines, but make sure you’re primarily working the large muscle groups in a way that produces a metabolic disturbance. You’ll see much better results this way compared to the reverse.

A final note on cardiovascular exercise as I didn’t mention it during this post. Cardio or aerobic exercise can certainly play a role in helping to lose belly fat, there’s no denying that. It’s just that the emphasis on cardio work shouldn’t come before resistance work that produces a metabolic disturbance.

In the hierarchy of importance of exercise for losing belly fat, my list looks something like this:

  1. High intensity / short bursts of resistance exercise that produces a metabolic disturbance (burst training). Strength training routines that promote lean muscle development and elevates metabolism.
  2. High intensity / short bursts of cardiovascular exercises that produces a metabolic disturbance (interval training). Anaerobic exercise that burns calories and elevates metabolism.
  3. Low-moderate intensity aerobic cardiovascular exercise. Activities that burn calories but don’t necessarily build or maintain muscle or elevate metabolism.

This hierarchy is much different than what I see a lot of people doing with attempts to lose belly fat through lots of cardio and abdominal isolation exercises like sit-up’s and crunches.

Obviously diet is the primary factor in this whole equation, but that’s a whole other subject. From an exercise standpoint, hopefully I’ve helped to clear up any misconceptions on what’s really best.

Work the muscle ya’ll, that’s what transforms bodies, not sit-up’s and crunches.

Shane Doll CPT, CSCS is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. He specializes in helping middle age adults achieve a body transformation with burst training exercise and whole food nutrition. You can receive a FREE no-obligations trial of his Charleston personal fitness programs and start experiencing the Shaping Concepts difference today.

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Category: Fat Loss.