High-Intensity Weight Training Burns Belly Fat

Caucasian woman working with personal trainer in gym
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High-intensity training is now often recommended as the best way to burn abdominal fat—the infamous belly fat that plagues us all at various times. This is one place where the body likes to store excess calories, in most men and women. From a health perspective, there are two types of belly fat of significance—the subcutaneous fat just below the skin surface, and the visceral fat, which is deeper and around the internal organs like the intestines, liver, and kidneys. Visceral fat, according to the medical experts, is the fat that has the worst metabolic and health consequences, reducing good cholesterol and raising bad cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. In medical terms, visceral fat is associated with metabolic syndrome, a condition with abnormal blood fats and glucose, high blood pressure and obesity. The trouble is, you can't tell who has more visceral or subcutaneous fat by looking at a big belly.

High-Intensity Training Could Help

Either way, we know that losing weight and exercising is good for us, but what if we could target visceral fat with a certain type of exercise? According to some recent research, both types of belly fat can be reduced more successfully with training at a higher intensity, even when compared with the same energy expended in less intense exercise. Although the research is mixed, and some studies did not find any difference in training intensities or duration on belly fat loss, recent experimental studies, including one in the journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, suggest that high-intensity exercise could be beneficial by targeting visceral fat.

High-intensity exercise is a vague concept when it comes to precise definition. It basically means you have to work at a higher heart rate. Some trainers and weight loss experts explain it as sprint-type interval training in which you run or cycle at a high intensity for an interval of, say, 20 to 60 seconds, recover, then repeat the activity.

Yet high-intensity exercise certainly does not mean interval training exclusively. It can mean running or jogging (depending on your aerobic fitness) at a level at which your VO2 or oxygen utilization is at or above 75%, which is usually at a heart rate of around 85% of your maximum heart rate. Sprint interval training will often be at a heart rate approaching 95% of maximum. And here's the thing to remember. You can't just do 10 minutes of sprint interval training and think you will match a 30-minute run at 85% maximum heart rate. When it comes to results, you just cannot cheat energy expenditure. Your interval training has to be substantial.

A High-Intensity Weight Training Circuit

Circuit training is a combination of various exercises performed in progression from one to another. One way to include weight training in a high-intensity exercise program that burns a lot of calories is to use a weight training circuit in which you move quickly, or even jog between exercises, with little rest. This keeps the heart rate high, provides further intensity in the actual weightlifting exercise, and generally qualifies as high-intensity exercise if you keep on the move.

Here are three weight training circuits for different fitness levels.

In summary, although it's worth trying to fit in some higher-intensity exercise, it's not easy for beginners who are unfit. It's not worth being disappointed and discouraged when this sort of exercise just does not work for you. As long as you put in the time, most forms of exercise will work for fat loss at some level.

The trick is to start slowly with low-intensity exercise, or even very short bursts of high-intensity exercise, and try the harder stuff as you get fitter.

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Article Sources
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  1. Maillard F, Pereira B, Boisseau N. Effect of High-Intensity Interval Training on Total, Abdominal and Visceral Fat Mass: A Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2018;48(2):269-288. doi:10.1007/s40279-017-0807-y

  2. Yang X, Sui W, Zhang M, et al. Switching harmful visceral fat to beneficial energy combustion improves metabolic dysfunctionsJCI Insight. 2017;2(4):e89044. doi:10.1172/jci.insight.89044

  3. Irving BA, Davis CK, Brock DW, et al. Effect of exercise training intensity on abdominal visceral fat and body compositionMed Sci Sports Exerc. 2008;40(11):1863–1872. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181801d40

Additional Reading
  • Irving BA, Davis CK, Brock DW, et al. Effect of exercise training intensity on abdominal visceral fat and body composition. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008 Nov;40(11):1863-72.