High-Intensity Weight Training Burns Belly Fat

Woman weight lifting at the gym
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High-intensity training is now often recommended as the best way to burn abdominal fat. This is one place where the body likes to store excess body fat in most people.

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.

Benefits of High-Intensity Training

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 didn't 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 can be a vague concept with no precise definition, but it basically means you are working 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 your 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.

High-Intensity Weight Training

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 weight training circuits for different fitness levels, such as:

In summary, although it's worth trying to fit in some higher-intensity exercise, it's generally not as easy for beginners. 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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3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  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.