Repeat after me: "Crunches do not burn belly fat." And it's not just crunches. Neither will planks, leg throws, nor the yoga boat pose.
"These exercises can strengthen your abs muscles, but those muscles will still be hidden under a cover of chub," says Chris Piegza, training manager at DavidBartonGym Limelight in Manhattan.
If you want to lose the stomach fat, and actually uncover those abs, you've got to take a more total-body approach.
Follow these five expert-approved tips to finally knock out the fat on your belly (and everywhere else).
1. Skip Cardio for Strength Training
"Fat mass can be shrunk by cardio and dieting. However, cardio can burn away both muscle and fat leaving you skinny but soft," celebrity trainer Nick Hounslow, personality on E!'s upcoming reality fitness show, Hollywood Cycle.
That's why, when researchers with the Harvard School of Public Health followed 10,500 healthy men over 12 years, the guys who spent 20 minutes a day weight training had a smaller increase in abdominal fat compared to men who completed aerobic exercise for the same amount of time.
2. Complete Compound Moves
Since spot reduction is a myth, you've got to work your whole body to burn fat. While any strength training workout will help you do that (and while burning fat, not muscle), compound moves like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses require moving multiple joints and muscle groups, burning more fat and building more calorie-torching muscle. Think about it: Rep per rep, rows work more muscle than curls do.
"The more muscle you build through proper exercise programming, the more fully-firing your body's engine becomes, and less effective fat is at staying stuck to your stomach," Piegza says.
3. Eat More Protein
Eating whole, healthy sources of protein is vital to building muscle and burning more fat, says Sean W. Meadows R.D., a nutrition and wellness coach with The N.E.W. Program, a weight-loss center in Newport Beach. While a pound of fat burns two calories per day, a pound of fat burns six— and takes up a whole lot less room on your frame.
And in one 2014 Pennington Biomedical Research Center study, when people ate 40 percent more calories than they needed for eight weeks, the people on high-protein diets stored 25 percent of those extra calories as muscle. Those who ate low-protein diets stored 95 percent of them as fat. That's not to say you should up your caloric intake (we'll get to that next), but you should up your protein intake.
4. Cut Some Calories
Fat loss, whether it's centered on your stomach or in your chins, requires achieving a calorie deficit— burning more calories than you're taking in. Exercise can certainly help you achieve that, but a healthy diet is probably going to make the biggest dent in your caloric balance, Meadows says. After all, it might take you an hour to burn 400 calories in the gym, but so can swapping out a greasy burger with a baked chicken sandwich.
5. Chill Out
"While diet and exercise will get you damn close to your physique goals, living a healthier lifestyle is what may finally get you the body you want. Lifestyle factors, such as stress, sleep, and relaxation are so important because they affect your hormonal system, which controls nearly every process in your body," Meadows says.
For instance, too-high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, in response to work demands, a lack of sleep, or zero "me" time, can lead to storage of fat around the mid section. Your move: Learn to more effectively manage what stress you do have, and be willing to cut things out of your life that are constant unnecessary stressors.
Score That Six Pack
OK, so now that you are actually going about burning that belly fat the right way, we can talk about building the muscles that you'll soon uncover. Here are the only five ab exercises you'll ever need.