Do Ab Workouts Burn Belly Fat? The 4-Way Truth

Working out your abs can help build core strength – but can they also help burn belly fat? For many who are looking to lose out on some excess fat in their belly, an ab workout might seem the best way to go. But if they do it wrong, there will be no results.

Eventually, they lose hope and just stop working out altogether. Well, for them and everyone else, now we will look at the solution to this simple yet fascinating problem.

1. Why is it Hard for Ab Workouts to Burn Belly Fat

Observe whenever you enter a gym. There would be buffed guys doing all the heavyweights. There would be skinny guys who are just there taking mirror selfies. And then there would be overweight guys, continuously running on treadmills. They would only do two things, cardio and ab workouts. Keeping yourself completely in the extremes is never healthy.

1.1. Fat Distribution

The fat is distributed differently in different human beings. Some store it in their thighs, some in their hips, and some in their belly. There is no one-size-fits-all mantra for body composition. Moreover, there are two types of belly fat.

  1. Subcutaneous Belly fat: This type of fat is found beneath your skin. It is the visible fat that you see around your belly. This fat is not that harmful but still excess of it can cause type 2 diabetes. Women are more prone to this fat.
  2. Visceral Body Fat: This is the unseen fat surrounding your organs such as the liver. This can cause serious health issues like metabolic diseases. It can cause systematic inflammation too. Men are more prone to this type of fat.

It’s healthy to maintain some quantity of Subcutaneous fat. However, visceral fat should be completely reduced. It’s important to find a middle ground between having excess fat and having a single-digit fat percentage.

1.2. Anatomical Aspect

do ab workouts burn belly fat?
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When we look at abdominal muscles in general, they are already there. Building abs mean that we are working on them to become bigger and stronger. Just like any other muscle, the abdominal muscle too requires progressive overload. It still requires eating in a caloric surplus and eating enough protein. Treat abdominal muscle like any other muscle.

1.3. The Biggest Misconception: Spot Reduction

There’s always a myth going around in the fitness community. It’s that one can spot reduce the fat. Spot reduction means reducing fat from a particular area of the body. This is not the right strategy. You can spend hours doing as many sit-ups and crunches as you want. Still, you would not see the desired results. This is because you are just training your ab muscles without losing belly fat overall. And there’s nothing like “fat converts into muscle”.

What you are not doing is reducing fat. You are still eating as you were. For your abdominal muscle to become visible, you first have to reduce your overall fat percentage.

1.4. Having the Wrong Mentality Doesn’t Help

Whenever we go to the gym, we go with a fixed mentality. If we are fat, we think only about cardio exercises. If we are skinny, we go all in on strength training. For example, initially, when you go to school, you study every subject. It’s after a certain grade that you are given a choice on which subject you want to major in. The world of fitness is no different. If you do not do both, you will never know what’s better.

2. What’s the Right Approach?

do ab workouts burn belly fat?
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After carefully analyzing the problem it’s clear. An ab workout doesn’t burn your belly fat away. Then you may ask what does! Answering it would be simple if we looked at a case study.

2.1. What do Case Studies Say?

There are two friends, Sara and Chloe. They both just started their fitness journey. Both are a bit overweight. There’s not a significant difference in their belly fat percentage. Both joined the same gym at the same time.

Sara is the most active one in the gym. She does cardio and all kinds of fancy ab and core exercises too. However, she focuses less on lifting weights and more on her glutes and ab exercises. On the other hand, Chloe incorporates an equal amount of cardio and weight training in her routine. She only works on the ab muscle once or twice a week. 6 months later, they both compared their progress. Interestingly, Chloe lost significantly more body fat than Sara.

2.2. What’s The Right Way to Burn Belly Fat?

The right way to approach reducing belly fat is never to do ab exercises every time. What you should do is check on what you are eating. In the above example, what Chloe did right was eat a little calorie deficit than her maintenance calories. She approached both strength training and weight training equally.

That should be your mantra for losing that stubborn belly fat. Cut out all the processed foods like chips from your diet. Add whole foods like veggies and milk to your diet. It’s not always about the hours spent in cardio. It’s all about things to eat in your kitchen.

2.3. Science Behind Fat Loss

Just to make sense of things, let us look at fat differently. A person gets fat when they eat more than they move. They eat so much more than required until they have a protruding belly.

On the contrary, when a person eats in limit and moves more, they lose weight. This is because when they eat a balanced diet, they deprive their body of those extra calories. In turn, their body now uses the fat as fuel to carry out daily activities. This results in the reduction of fat in the body. The fat is mostly breathed out as CO2 from the body.

2.4. Ways to Reduce Overall Fat Percentage

After looking at the case study and discussion above, one thing is clear. There’s nothing like spot reduction. Doing ab exercises every time won’t make your belly fat go away. Instead, try incorporating the below-mentioned changes in your routine.

2.5. Calorie Deficit

do ab workouts burn belly fat?
by Kimzy Nanney/ Unsplash copyrights 2017

Try calculating calorie intake and calories with a calorie tracker while you eat normally. Then decrease the calories by 200-250 calories from your diet. This is what is known as a caloric deficit. Eating less than you should be will help your body to use your fat as energy. This will help you lose fat and get toned.

2.6. Incorporate Some Type of Cardio Smartly

do ab workouts burn belly fat?
by Scott Webb / Unsplash copyrights 2015

Fat loss is not all about cardio as you saw in the case study above. Sara did cardio every time while Chloe incorporated it smartly. Apart from being good for fat loss, it also improves cardiovascular health. It increases the blood flow in our body.

Anything that involves movement is cardio. Whether it’s a walk or a 3 km run. Try incorporating any of these. A famous form of cardio out there is HIIT exercises. HIIT also burns calories the most.


2.7. Weightlifting is Must

do ab workouts burn belly fat?
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Fat loss is also not all about cardio. Just like dieting, weight training is an equally important aspect of reducing belly fat. People undergoing massive fat loss without strength training can have “loose skin”. If you don’t want that saggy “loose skin”, then do some strength training. It helps you to achieve fat loss in a more balanced way.

Plus, you will have muscles. So, your body will need to spend extra energy to carry the muscle mass. In turn, it would help you to burn fat and even more calories. It may speed up your fat loss journey. Also, you burn calories while weight training.

3. Too Much of Anything is Harmful  

While it’s good to lose fat and be healthier, it’s also important to do so in moderation. Don’t try to achieve that single body fat percentage. Set a realistic for yourself. Don’t be intimated by those fitness influencers.

Take appropriate cheat days in your diet and train 4-5 days a week only. Don’t try to rush your fat loss journey, and give yourself appropriate time for your goals. A balanced way is the right way to approach. Doing things too soon would lead you to fall short of your goal.

4. Final Words:

FYou don’t burn belly fat by just doing ab exercises. Reducing overall body fat percentage is a reality and spot reduction is a myth.

But “yes”, it can be incorporated into your regime to develop a strong core. Along with a balanced diet, weight training, and cardiovascular, it helps an individual to develop a well-developed physique. Your goal should always be to become healthy.

Last Updated on December 22, 2023 by