Let’s be clear: anyone who tells you that you can target belly fat, or any other fatty area of your body with a specific type of exercise, is either lying, an idiot or (quite possibly) both.
If there is one fitness myth that the internet is riddled with, it’s that you can target belly fat with certain exercises.
The fake fitness gurus are praying on people’s desire for quick results.
And there’s plenty of search results for this term: in a few seconds you can find a huge number of articles, posts and videos from fake fitness gurus claiming that they know the ‘top 5 exercises to shed belly fat’.
Targeting body fat by body part, or ‘spot reduction’, I’m sorry to say; is nonsense.
I know why people want to believe it’s true – because for many, the holy grail of fitness is a defined waistline.
Whether it be a six pack or just slender hips, countess numbers of people have big ambitions when it comes to their midsection.
And, because this is 2020, they want to achieve those ambitions as quick as possible.
Why you can’t target belly fat with a certain exercise
Our bodies store fat in different regions depending on genetics, but generally we all store a large portion of body fat around our waist and belly area.
In men, a lot is stored as visceral fat, meaning it’s behind the abdominal wall.
But for women, it’s usually stored outside the abdominal wall – making it more noticeable. Bummer, eh.
Body fat storage is a fact of life –if our bodies are not using the calories we consume, we store the excess calories.
Whilst this was incredibly useful for our ancestors, when food access was limited, for many of us in the 21st century it’s seen as pain-point.
Because food is so easy to access and tastes so damn good, it sometimes feels as though life would be easier if we didn’t store these calories.
Whilst we might be thankful of this evolutionary fact if there is a food shortage in our lifetimes, for now, let’s deal with the issue at hand.
If we want to remove fat from our belly area, there is only one way to achieve this.
And it is not by doing a whole load of sit-ups.
Sit-ups work the muscles in our abdominal region, and yes, doing lots of this exercise will firm up the muscles nicely. But it won’t do anything to remove the fat layer that sits on top of these muscles.
Sit-ups burn very few calories and so actually, these exercises are pretty useless when it comes to shedding that unwanted fat layer.
This has been shown in several studies, including this one where 24 people who only completed exercises targeting the abdominals for six weeks found no reduction in belly fat.
Ultimately, you can do ab exercises all you want, if there is a fat layer in front of the abdominal wall, the waist won’t have that toned look many people seek.
How to reduce body fat, including belly fat
Reducing belly fat has to be part of a whole-body fat reduction program. Because we can’t tell our bodies where to burn the fat from, we therefore can’t tailor our workouts to just target belly fat.
But we certainly reduce overall body fat, which will in turn lower the amount of fat around our belly and waist area.
Achieving this result comes from being in a state of calorie deficit. Now I know this sounds unpleasant, but it doesn’t have to involve strict diets. It just means eating smart – and doing enough exercise to consume those extras calories.
Getting started with a simple bodyweight training routine that tones muscles around the whole body but also burns calories is a great way to get started with this journey.
I’ve often seen the positive effects of this approach to fitness and weight management. In my years spent as a military officer, I had to ensure that my teams were in peak condition to be able to function at the top of their game when it mattered most.
As studies have shown, there’s very little obesity (including too much belly fat) in the military. They achieve this through simple, yet highly effective training programs to keep in great shape – often without access to gyms or equipment.
But if it’s so simple, why do fitness sites seem to make it so complicated?
There is one simple answer to this question: money.
Staying in shape is not complicated. Anyone can achieve a great physical body with determination and a little know-how. But that doesn’t make gyms, personal trainers or fake fitness gurus any money.
They want to keep the mystery alive – because that mystery helps pay their bills. Other than maybe a small one-off payment to acquire of this basic knowledge, I can’t see any reason to be shelling out $800 a year (on average in the US) on gym memberships.
How to get started with reducing body fat today
The best thing you can do today is start thinking about what you’re eating. Do you really need all those calories? That extra glass of wine? Those snacks throughout the day?
This 4 minute video from TED-Ed gives an excellent overview of calories. In the video, Emma Bryce explains how a few different factors should go into determining the recommended amount for each person.
Once you’ve rethought your calorie intake, the next step would be to begin a genuinely effective training program.
Something as simple as my 20-Minute Bodyweight Workout Plan gives you a 10-week step-by-step guide to getting in shape at home using just your own bodyweight to tone up and burn body fat. If you want to give it a go, it’s totally free – get it here.
We’ve established that you cannot target belly fat with one type of exercise. But, whole-body fat can be targeted through a calorie-controlled approach to eating and a simple yet effective bodyweight training routine at home.
Yes, that’s right: simple, effective and proven to work.
Don’t listen to those fake fitness gurus and save on monthly subscriptions through a little know-how and determination.
Related: 5 Hacks to Staying Fit at Home