Do Ab Exercises Really Help You Burn Belly Fat?
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Do Ab Exercises Really Help You Burn Belly Fat?

Dr. Khoobsurat Najma
5 min read

Do Ab Exercises Really Help You Burn Belly Fat?

  • 1 Comment

There is enough evidence to suggest that you cannot lose belly fat by just exercising your abs. It is best to target whole body fat and opt for a combination of aerobic exercises and resistance training.

Abdominal muscles, popularly known as the abs have become a symbol of fitness and are a part of all major work out regimens. People seem to be obsessed about ways to get those 6 packs.

Many fitness experts believe that abs, when done correctly can help in getting rid of that stubborn belly fat. But do these ab exercises seriously burn that belly fat? Read on to find out: Firstly, let us try and understand what abdominal muscles are. 

Abdominal muscles are a group of muscles that help stabilize your core. They also help you when you are breathing, assist a wide range of movements, protect your vital organs and provide balance and support.  There are four main abdominal muscles:

  • Rectus abdominis.
  • Transverse abdominis.
  • External oblique.
  • Internal oblique.

It is essential that all of these muscles are strong and in optimal working condition. When abdominal muscles are strong, they improve posture and balance and reduce back ache.

So, what exactly is belly fat?

belly fat

Excessive abdominal fat also known as the belly fat has been linked to risk of diabetes and heart ailments. But all of the abdominal fat is not the same. There are 2 types of abdominal fat- subcutaneous fat and visceral fat.

Subcutaneous Fat

This is that fat which you can pinch and feel. It is located right under your skin between your skin and muscles. This fat has not been directly linked to risk of metabolic diseases like diabetes and heart diseases.

Visceral Fat

This is the fat that is stored in the abdominal cavity, surrounding your internal organs. Visceral fat is the kind of fat that has been associated with metabolic syndrome which includes diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart diseases.  Also, visceral fat releases certain compounds that affect various disease related processes in the body.

Do Ab Exercises Burn Belly Fat?

Most people opt for ab exercises since they want to get rid of belly fat. However, studies suggest that just doing ab exercises (spot reduction), hoping to burn belly fat, is not effective.

The term "spot reduction" refers to the misconception that you could get rid of fat in one spot by doing exercises for that particular part of the body. Human body however does not function that way. You may feel the burn when you do spot training workouts, since the muscles around that area are getting strengthened.

Ab Exercise

But studies suggest that this won’t help you get rid of the belly fat.

  • In a study conducted on 24 people who did ab exercises for 5 days a week over a period of 6 weeks, it was observed that spot training alone did not reduce belly fat.
  • In another study, the influence of a 27 day sit up program was analyzed. The findings suggested that neither did the fat cell size nor did the subcutaneous belly fat reduce at the end of the program. This does not hold true for just the abdominal area, it applies to all the areas of the body.
  • In a study, participants were asked to finish a 12 week program of resistance training, by exercising only their non-dominant arm. The researchers measured subcutaneous fat before and after the program. They found that participants lost subcutaneous fat evenly throughout their bodies, not just in their trained arms.

Why does Spot reduction not work?

One reason why the targeted fat loss may not work is because muscle cells cannot use the fat contained in fat cells directly. Fat needs to be broken down before it can reach the blood stream. This fat could come from anywhere in the body and not from that body part which is undergoing spot training. Also doing crunches is not very effective when it comes to burning calories.

So, What Exercises Should You Do?

  • It is advisable to opt for exercises that are regular and involve the entire body. These exercises help in boosting the metabolism and in burning excess calories and fat, Aerobic exercises ( cardio- like running)  could also help in targeting the visceral belly fat. Intensity plays a role as well.
  • Exercising for a good amount of time regularly is the key to losing belly fat.
  • A moderate intensity 30 minute cardio done 5 times a week or high intensity cardio done for 20 minutes for 3 days a week will help you burn body fat.
  • As the muscles undergo changes due to regular exercise, this process in turn promotes fat loss. This means the more muscles that you build, the more fat will you end up burning.
  • Try HIIT. High-intensity intermittent exercise (HIIE) has been shown to be effective to burn more body fat than aerobic exercise. It combines short bouts of exercises that are high in intensity with slightly longer, less intense recovery exercises. It works by suppressing your appetite and burning more fat during exercise.

Changing Your Diet Is Key to Losing Body Fat

There is a saying "Abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym." This is somewhat true, since what you eat impacts your body fat.

  • Cut down on processed and packaged foods.
  • Limit sugar and salt intake. Focus on including more protein in your meals.
  • Studies suggest that having a high protein diet leads to feeling of fullness, which in turn may help in cutting down calorie intake. A protein intake of around 25–30% of your daily calories could increase your metabolism by up to 100 calories per day.
  • Having more fiber in your diet will also help in weight loss and in turn help in getting rid of belly fat.
  • Consume vegetables that are high in soluble fiber, as they curb your appetite and help in reducing calorie intake.
  • Another effective tool is practicing portion control. It is very effective in promoting weight loss. So make sure you include whole foods, increase your fiber intake and add protein to your diet, to help in cutting back on calories.
  • Studies have shown that people can get rid of belly fat through either moderate or vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise, as long as they maintain a caloric deficit.


There is enough evidence to suggest that you cannot lose belly fat by just exercising your abs. It is best to target whole body fat and opt for a combination of aerobic exercises and resistance training, such as lifting weights. This, coupled with creating a calorie deficit by eating healthy will help you get rid of whole body fat, including belly fat. Have good amount of protein, whole foods and fiber and practice portion control to burn body fat.  All these methods will help you burn calories, boost your metabolism and help you lose belly fat. 

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