How to Reduce Abdominal Fat Through Core Exercises

sit ups to reduce belly fat
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It is easy to feel lost in the sea of suggestions when it comes to addressing abdominal fat. But you are not alone. Everyone wonders what they can do to reduce their fat around the midsection as well as questions whether or not the things they are doing are even working.

These feelings and doubts can be perplexing, especially considering that abdominal fat can have an impact on overall health and well-being. Here we help you make sense of this dilemma by explaining what abdominal fat is and how it can be impacted by nutrition and exercise, specifically core exercises. Read on to learn more about what you can do today to help reduce abdominal fat.

What Is Abdominal Fat and How it Impacts Health

There are two types of fat in your body—subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. Subcutaneous fat is just below your skin, and you can grab it with your hand. Abdominal fat is called visceral fat and lies deeper in your stomach.

Visceral fat, which is the fat that wraps around your abdominal organs, has a direct impact on health. For instance, it can negatively affect how the body responds to insulin, causing an increase in blood sugar and insulin levels. It can also cause high cholesterol and heart disease. So, what's around your waist is more important than the number on the scale.

This is because your body's organs are inundated with free fatty acids from visceral fat, and the cells don't know what to do with the fat. The result can be a variety of health problems.

When visceral fat builds up around the waist, you may be at a higher risk for a heart attack, heart disease, stroke, insulin resistance, diabetes, and some cancers. Because visceral fat is deep in the stomach's cavity and surrounds the organs, it can have a number of impacts.

For instance, the liver makes all the different types of cholesterol in the body from fat. Fat and cholesterol in normal amounts, are vital to the body as it is used to make hormones, helps with making human tissues and helps with making bile used to absorb fat and fat-soluble vitamins into the body from the food you eat. However, when LDL, or bad cholesterol, is too high in the bloodstream, it builds up in arteries causing the arteries to harden and narrow. This is known as atherosclerosis.

Abdominal fat may also lead to insulin resistance, which can develop into type 2 diabetes. Being overweight is not as much of a factor as how much visceral fat exists. Some people have a normal BMI (body mass index) and increased fat, while those who are technically overweight don't.

High levels of a specific protein (retinol-binding protein 4 ) also have been shown to increase insulin resistance. Visceral fat secretes this protein, which is how having more of this particular fat increases your risk.

 Body Mass Index (BMI) is a dated, biased measure that doesn’t account for several factors, such as body composition, ethnicity, race, gender, and age.

Despite being a flawed measure, BMI is widely used today in the medical community because it is an inexpensive and quick method for analyzing potential health status and outcomes.

How to Reduce Abdominal Fat With Nutrition

While you can't control your genetic make-up, which could contribute to where you carry fat, you can control what you eat and how much you move. The combination of diet and exercise will help keep abdominal fat to a minimum.

While diet and exercise work well together to reduce visceral fat, you don't have to limit calories to 1,000 to 1,200 a day, as you would with a hypocaloric diet. Studies have shown that an exercise program without this extremely low-calorie intake is effective at reducing abdominal fat. The exercise intensity needs to be moderate to vigorous for the best results. Here are some things you can try to help reduce abdominal fat.

Reduce Carbohydrate Intake

Some research indicates that limiting carbohydrates may help reduce abdominal fat. In fact, when compared to a low-fat diet, one study found that the low-carb diet is significantly better at reducing fat around the waist. In this study, a 43% carbohydrate diet was compared to a 55% carbohydrate diet.

Keep in mind, too, that a low-carb diet doesn't need to be a zero-carb diet. It can simply involve reducing your intake of simple, processed carbohydrates and adding in higher fiber, complex carbohydrates.

Increase Fiber

Increasing your fiber intake can reduce abdominal fat. In fact, for every 10-gram increase of fiber per day may reduce your risk of gaining abdominal fat by up to 3.7% according to a 2012 research study. Meanwhile, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends getting at least 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you consume in a day. For example, if you get 2,000 calories a day, you need 28 grams of fiber.

To increase your fiber intake, try adding more whole grains to your eating plan. Some examples of whole grains include oats, wild rice, barley, brown rice, farro, quinoa, and popcorn.

Reduce Sugar

Added sugar is also directly linked to increased visceral fat. Those who include sugar-sweetened drinks in their diet have more abdominal fat than those who don't. Although the occasional sugar-sweetened drink doesn't affect visceral fat, a daily drink is associated with more visceral fat.

Because sugar-sweetened beverages are a leading source of added sugar, it's a good place to start. The limit for women is 25 grams and for men is 36 grams per day.

How to Reduce Abdominal Fat With Exercise

Diet alone does not always reduce abdominal fat, so consider adding regular exercise to your routine for an effective way to reduce and prevent visceral fat. But keep in mind you generally will not be able to target only the abdominal area. Instead, the exercises you perform will reduce body fat all over.

Spot reduction in exercise is the term for reducing fat in a certain area, such as the midsection. While exercise can generally reduce abdominal adiposity—or excess fat in the abdomen—it's not possible to only reduce fat in one area of the body. You need an overall exercise plan. For instance, in one study participants experienced a decrease in abdominal fat after a 12-week exercise program. They exercised on a bicycle for 45 minutes several times a week.

However, you don't necessarily have to invest in an exercise bike. Regular exercise training of any kind may reduce abdominal fat. Additionally, adding core strengthening to your exercise plan may help you tone up the midsection while your cardio activities help you reduce overall body fat.

Benefits of Strengthening the Core

According to Alexz Parvi, who is Chris Hemsworth's hand-selected personal trainer, strengthening your core has a number of benefits that extend far beyond aesthetic appearance. Parvi, who has a Certificate III in Fitness and is trained in pilates, reformer, mat, and barre, is the founder of HUSTL in Australia and a trainer with Centr.

"Training your core ultimately helps with your balance, protecting your organs, assisting with a strong posture, and the overall stability of your body," she says.

Here is a closer look at some of the benefits you will experience from working to strengthen your core.

Improve Posture

While strengthening your core can reduce visceral fat, it has many other health benefits. Building a strong core helps you sit up straight and improve your posture. You'll also have better balance, reducing your chances of falling.

Reduce Back Pain

Core exercises that work the deep core muscles can reduce chronic lower back pain and increase muscle thickness. For instance, one study found that the exercises that helped were motor control exercises, segmental stabilization exercises, trunk balance exercises, and stabilization exercises.

Impact Performance

High core endurance has been shown to improve the quality of movement and a wide range of fitness abilities. This includes running, exerting maximum force and power, push-ups, and even the quality of movement.

Improve Balance

One in four adults age 65 and older falls every year. In fact, it is the leading cause of injuries, both fatal and nonfatal. Fear of falling is common with older adults and can limit their activities. A study on older adults found that core exercises, specifically, stabilization training, improved balance and reduced the risk of falls. Implementing core exercises can create better balance and reduce these risks.

Core Exercises and How to Perform Them

There are a number of core exercises you can implement to help you achieve your goals and make your core stronger. For instance, Ben Walker, CPT, a certified personal trainer from Anywhere Fitness and EMT Paramedic, recommends adding sit-ups, burpees, and thread the needle to your exercise regimen.

He notes that you can benefit from strengthening your core in a number of ways. For instance, your balance and coordination come from the abdominals, and core muscles stabilize movements, he says. Having a strong core also protects your lower back and makes you less vulnerable to injury.

"Training the core muscles increases the function of your hips and pelvis," Walker adds. "This improves the range of motion on how we flex, extend our legs and rotate our torso."

As you begin to implement core exercises into your routine, Parvi urges you to complement your exercise routine with nutrition. In fact, nothing will derail your goals quicker than poor nutrition. Eating nutritionally-dense foods will provide your body with the energy it needs to perform these exercises. Likewise, proper nutrition can also help your body recover after a workout as well.

"Creating a toned mid-section takes lots of work and commitment and is best achieved when your diet equally complements your training regimen," Parvi says.

Here are some core exercises you can use to help strengthen your core. Be sure you talk with a healthcare provider before changing your fitness routine. You also may want to consult with a certified personal trainer as well. Both can guide you on which exercises are best for you and your situation.

Front Plank

According to Walker, the front plank is crucial for strengthening and developing core muscles. Not only it is a full-body workout that targets abdominal and oblique muscles, but it also works back, shoulder, arm, and leg muscles.

"The plank is great for improving posture and keeping muscles healthy and well balanced," he says.

Meanwhile, Parvi notes that you may not even notice your core burning in this exercise, but urges people not to doubt its impact.

"Trust me, [the plank] is an incredibly efficient and non-invasive exercise that has the ability to switch on all your core muscles," she says.

How to Do a Front Plank

Walker recommends these steps to doing a plank:

  1. Come down to all fours on a mat.
  2. Place both hands on the surface directly under your shoulders.
  3. Step back with both feet and make sure they are hip-width apart. The position you are in should replicate the starting stage of a push-up.
  4. Hold this position while keeping your lower back straight and aligned with the rest of your body.
  5. Brace your core and keep it engaged at all times.
  6. Time yourself to see how long you can hold the plank.


Aim for three sets of 60 seconds. But it's fine to begin with shorter sets if you are just starting out.

Bicycle Crunch

Bicycle crunches can burn deep through the lower and upper abdominal muscles, Parvi notes.What's more, she says they are most effective when your movement is controlled and your breath is in a deep complementing rhythm.

Walker also recommends the bicycle crunch, noting that it's one of the best dynamic core exercises because it targets all four abdominal muscles. It even targets those lower abs because your feet are off the floor. The alternating movements keep your heart rate elevated, vital for burning energy.

How to do Bicycle Crunches

Walker provides these tips for doing bicycle crunches:

  1. Lie flat on a mat against the floor. Your body should be rested on its surface from the waist up.
  2. Before starting the exercise, your feet should be planted on the ground with the knees slightly bent. Both hands should be resting at each temple.
  3. Stabilize your spine by contracting your abdominal muscles and drawing your belly button inwards.
  4. Retract your shoulders slightly with your hands at both temples and elevate your upper body off the mat.
  5. Start the pedal motion with your left leg first, bringing your feet off the floor.
  6. Bring your left knee above your waist and towards your chest. At the same time, extend your right leg away from the body (facing south).
  7. Rotate your torso while performing this movement so that you draw your right elbow towards your left knee.
  8. Perform the same movement on the opposite side.
  9. Alternate side to side to complete your set of bicycle crunches.


You can shoot for three sets of 15 repetitions. But feel free to start out with fewer reps and work your way up if you want.

Sit-Ups

Sit-ups target your rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis. They also work your hip flexors, chest, and lower back.

"Sit-ups are one of the best exercises to strengthen and sculpt the core-stabilizing muscles," says Walker.

How to Do Sit-Ups

According to Walker, sit-ups involve the following steps:

  1. Lie flat on a mat with your knees slightly bent.
  2. Place your toes under a ledge or pair of dumbbells.
  3. Keep your hands at the sides of both temples for the duration of the workout (Don’t hold around the back of the neck).
  4. Contract your abdominal muscles as you curl your upper body upwards and towards your thighs.
  5. Make sure to focus on pushing with your abs and hips to lift your body weight.
  6. Lower yourself back to the starting position slowly once your torso is upright.


Beginners do two sets of 15 to 20 sit-ups, resting for 90 seconds between sets. Intermediates do two sets of 20 to 25 sit-ups, resting for 60 seconds between sets.

Thread the Needle

The thread the needle exercise not only works your core, but also impacts your lats, deltoids, and obliques. Plus, it's a great cardio workout.

"The 'thread the needle' plank exercise is a very versatile workout that builds muscular stability and strength in your core," notes Walker. "It also improves your functional ability to rotate your torso and increases your range of motion."

How to Do Thread the Needle

Walker offers these tips on how thread the needle:

  1. Start in a side plank position with your elbow stationed directly under your shoulder. Your body should be evenly aligned with your legs and feet stacked together.
  2. Keep your hips elevated off the floor while lifting your arm on the opposite side towards the ceiling.
  3. Rotate your feet first and then your torso as you turn to a front elbow plank position.
  4. Thread the arm that isn’t holding your body weight across the underside of your body.
  5. Repeat the movement slowly in reverse and reach your arm towards the ceiling to come back to the starting position.

Beginners do two sets of 30 seconds (each side), resting for 90 seconds between sets. Intermediates do three sets of 60 seconds (each side), resting for 60 seconds between sets.

Burpees

Walker recommends burpees because they're a full-body, fat-burning, high-intensity exercise. The jumping movements are all controlled by your core and is perfect for building muscle in your core.

"This workout is a “go-to” drill for achieving quick weight loss results and getting those defined abs," he says.

How to Do Burpess

Here's how Walker recommends doing burpees:

  1. Start in a standing position with a mat in front of you.
  2. Lower yourself to the floor while bending your knees and pushing back with your hips.
  3. Jump back with both feet as you place both hands on the mat until positioned in a “high plank."
  4. Jump forward using your abs, hips, and legs and land on both feet (close to your upper body).
  5. Drive from your heels as you jump vertically in the air with your arms above your head.


Beginners do two sets of 15 burpees, resting for 90 seconds in between sets. Intermediates do three sets of 20 burpees, resting for 60 seconds between sets.

A Word From Verywell

Although abdominal fat may lead to health problems such as heart disease, insulin resistance, and stroke, you can make reductions through diet and exercise. By using core strengthening exercises to help reduce that visceral fat, as well as other cardio and strength training exercises, you will be well on your way to reducing your visceral fat level.

Just don't neglect nutrition along the way. Focus on increasing fiber intake, limiting sugar, and reducing carbohydrates. You also should consider eliminating sugar-sweetened drinks. Talk to a healthcare provider or registered dietitian before making changes to your exercise regimen and meal plan. They can help you create a plan that is right for you.

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