Warmer weather is just around the corner. Every year, as I shed the warm layers of clothing, I also start thinking about how to release the extra pounds. The desire to slim down isn't just for vanity reasons. It gets incredibly hot here in the summers and I can't stand to carry extra weight in the sweltering heat. It just makes everything so much more uncomfortable.
I tend to gain weight in my thighs/legs & in the abdomen. Obviously, the extra weight in my lower half doesn't bother me as much as the pot belly. Once, I messaged a personal trainer on social media about how I could target my abdominal fat. His answer, like many others, was that I could not target fat loss to one area of the body.
His response didn't alter my curiosity. I wasn't asking if there was a way to only loose fat in the belly and no where else. I'm aware that unless I got lipo, I wouldn't be able to loose fat on my stomach without trimming down in other areas. What I wanted to know is if there were exercises that really target abdominal fat like no other. Although most fitness professionals will tell you that this type of exercise doesn't exist, I think I may have stumbled upon the real answer to my question.
Because, according to a study published in 2010, there is a type of exercise that creates a significant reduction in belly fat. And no, I'm not talking about sit ups. Sit ups are meant to work on the abdominal muscles, not burn fat. In fact, all of your crunches will be in vain if there's excess fat surrounding the muscles.
Our next option is to do some aerobic exercise. "That'll get rid of our belly fat.....right?" Well, maybe. But typical aerobic exercise isn't as powerful for releasing belly fat as you may think. When you or I get on the treadmill or elliptical for 40 minutes, we're engaging in steady state exercise. Steady state exercise is better than nothing, but if you are on a mission to target fat (especially belly fat), you have to take an alternative approach.
And what is the alternative? It's High Intensity Intermittent Exercise (HIIE) also known as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). According to studies, this type of exercise can better target belly fat versus traditional cardio. When they compared the body fat percentage of a group of people who trained the traditional way vs. those who engaged in HIIT, they noticed that the HIIT group lost more overall body fat.
But what's even more interesting is that one study found that a group of women who engaged in HIIT for a total of 15 weeks experienced "a significant reduction in abdominal fat." In a study conducted with overweight men, 8 weeks of high intensity training resulted in a 44% reduction in belly fat. What they realized was the more fat a person was carrying prior to incorporating high intensity training, the more HIIT was in belly fat reduction.
Why is that? They speculate that the post exercise fat burning effect of HIIT could be a factor. Not to mention that intense training can help decrease appetite. Studies show that, in rats, "hard exercise resulted in lower food intake." And in humans, it's been shown that intense aerobic exercise can decrease feelings of hunger.
Have you ever noticed that your belly fat seems harder to shed than in other areas of your body? I have. Which is why I reached out to that trainer in the first place. What he didn't explain is that all fat cells aren't created equal. The fat burning process is mobilized by the production of catecholamines. Catecholamines travel our bodies and latch on to fat cells. Once that happens, they help the fat stores to be metabolized and utilized as fuel.
All fat cells have receptors for the catecholamines to attach to. The fat in our abdomen have high levels of alpha-receptors. Alpha-receptors are more resistant to lipolysis (the breakdown of fat). But fat cells located in other parts of our body have beta-receptors which are highly responsive to exercise. Because our belly fat cells are more resistant, they require higher levels of catecholamines to activate fat loss. Do you know which types of exercises create a spike in catecholamines? You guess it....HIIT.
So basically, our belly fat cells are extra stubborn and require additional amounts of catecholamines to break down. Steady state cardio (40 minutes on a machine) does not have the ability to elevate catecholamine levels like higher intensity training can. So in order to effectively target the belly fat, you've got to change your workout strategy.
The good news is that high intensity training doesn't require a lot of time. In fact, most people only recommend 20-25 minutes per session. Basically you push yourself to operate at almost maximum capacity for short period of time then recover. In some of the studies, the participants pushed themselves for 8 seconds then rested for 12 seconds or pushed for 12 seconds, rested for 24. The great thing about HIIT training, is that you can adjust sprint and rest periods to your fitness level. And if you're a beginner, start slow by toggling between a walk and job for short bursts instead of a full all out run.
I'm not a fan of HIIT training but I know it works so I'm willing to push through. And I'm really happy about how little time is required to get results. Results keep me motivated, so the faster they come, the better. Lastly, I love the after workout high I experience long after the interval training is complete. They say that you're burning calories at a higher rate even after the workout is complete. Best of all, you don't need to do this every day. In fact, you can do high intensity training only 3X a week and still experience impressive results.
Now that I think about it, the one time I had the flattest belly of my life was when I was training for a timed 5k race. To increase my speed, a personal trainer friend of mine suggested that I do high intensity sprint training. Little did I know, but I was activating the chemicals that metabolized my belly fat muscles with every sprint. And when I wanted to target belly fat with laser focused intensity, I also made sure to manage my carb intake and indulge in more leafy greens.
HIIT exercise, resistance traning and a healthy diet is absolutely the recipe for the flattest belly of your life.
Suggested reading: Your Ultimate Small Waist Routine.
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