Crunches, sit-ups and leg lifts all work your stomach right? Yes! All of these exercises DO work the muscle of the stomach (your abs), but they are probably the worst, most ineffective exercises you can do to get rid of belly fat. Please notice the distinct difference between the “washboard” (abs) and the laundry (fat) that covers them. Muscle is separate from fat, therefore getting better abdominal muscles by doing lots of stomach exercises (planks, sit-ups, etc.) will in no way cause the fat on your midsection to magically shrink, as the myth of “spot reduction” would have us believe.
How then, does one get rid of belly fat, arm flab or love handles? Let me tell you.
The myth of spot reduction
To cut straight to the point, the only way to reduce fat in one certain area (“How do I get rid of my back fat?”) is to well… cut it off. Surgically.
If you want to get rid of the fat on your back, arms, stomach, thighs, elbow or armpit (anywhere!) without surgery then there is only one way to do it. Your calories in (food) must be less than your calories out (activity+resting metabolism). The result of that negative energy balance will be a loss of mass (body fat+muscle) from EVERYWHERE on your body. Lose fat on your stomach and you will also lose fat on your back, this is unavoidable. There’s nothing you can do to change it.
If your goal is to get more “toned” arms, that means that your goal is to lose fat on your arms and either maintain, or build muscle on them. To do that you need to lose fat by being in a negative caloric balance and lift weights to maintain or build muscle. If you don’t lift weights then you risk also losing muscle and the result will be what we like to call “skinny fat”. Your arms will not be toned, just mini versions of their former selves.
Trust me when I say that lifting weights won’t make you “bulky”. Compare the pictures below for example. The girl on the left diets and does lots of cardio to keep her skinny, weak, frail looking figure. The woman on the right lifts heavy weights and eats well to maintain her lean, strong, powerful figure. Do you want to be skinny or lean?
The Best Exercise For Belly Fat (for real)
So if you want to lose belly fat, you have to be in a negative energy balance. The best way to do that is through diet. But! Exercise is also a part of that equation and some exercises will be better for both creating that deficit and “toning”.
Squats! When someone asks me what the best exercise to lose (insert any body part here) fat is, my answer is almost always squats. “Squats are the best exercise to get rid of fat on my arms, stomach, back, etc. ??” Pretty much.
Why are squats better than crunches? Because squats use your whole body. It takes more (and bigger) muscles to do them and that means more calories burned. If they challenge you enough then they can even leave you burning extra calories long after you stopped doing them (your body recovering from the challenge).
Squats aren’t the only exercise that does this though. It really just depends on the amount of muscle tissue used. Pick exercises or circuits that use lots of big muscle groups to get the best bang for your buck.
Some examples include deadlifts, walking up stairs, kettlebell swings, lunges, chin-ups, bodyweight rows, olympic lifts, incline walking/running vs on the flat, short fast sprints and circuits that include a few lower body and upper body exercises. My recommendation would be to pick a resistance (bodyweight or added weight) that would allow you to do between 8 and 12 repetitions only before you fail.
Here’s a snapshot video of my awesome little brother Lloyd doing a circuit with bodyweight rows, kettlebell deadlifts and kettlebell swings.
As requested, here is a video showing a proper squat and some variations to make it easier (holding onto a rope or harder
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, toes pointed out slightly. Start by sticking your bum back as if there is someone pulling on the back of your belt. Ensure that you keep your knees directly above the outside of your foot. Do not let your knees travel inwards at all.