When we set out to lose weight, many of us focus on getting a toned, flat stomach first. After all, it's motivating when you find yourself slipping into jeans that haven't fit you in years, and the compliments that come flying your way can help you stick to your healthy-eating and exercise routines. What's more, losing fat around your middle is a surefire way to improve your health: Research links larger waist size to heart disease, diabetes, and even some cancers.
However, if you think you'll be successful "spot treating" your belly fat with crunches, think again, says Julie Buckley, a UK-based personal trainer and author of Ignite: 4 Weeks to a Leaner, Faster, and Hotter Body. "There are a few key exercises you can incorporate into your workout routine that are effective at burning fat from the belly and the rest of your body," she says. Here, Buckley and other personal trainers share their favourite belly fat-blasting workouts that'll help you whittle your middle—fast.
Run on an incline
Running at an incline rather than on a flat surface has been shown to increase total calorie burn by as much as 50%, says Jill Penfold, a Los Angeles-based personal trainer. Whether you're outside on a hill or at the gym on an inclined treadmill, start out walking for 5-10 minutes, then jog, suggests Penfold. "Your heart rate should elevate pretty quickly as you pick up your pace," she says. Maintain the jog for 5-10 minutes, then pick your pace up again and start running. "This doesn't have to be an all-out sprint," says Penfold, but you should be working hard enough that you couldn't have a conversation with someone running next to you. Spend 5 minutes running, then drop your pace back down to a jog. Continue alternating 5-10 minutes of jogging with 5-10 minutes of running for 30-45 minutes.
Use the rowing machine
Just because you may not have access to open water—and a crew team—doesn't mean you can't work this fat-blasting cardio workout into your go-to gym routine. Not only does rowing get your heart rate way up, which helps you blast calories and burn fat, but it also works muscles in your legs, core, arms, shoulders, and back that you may not be used to using, which "surprises" your body and helps you increase muscle, says Penfold. She recommends this belly fat-blasting circuit, which is great for beginners and pros alike: Begin with 20 seconds of rowing followed by 10 seconds of rest, and look at how many meters you traveled in that time. (Don't get off the rowing machine or even let go of the handle when you rest, says Penfold.) Repeat this eight times, trying to beat your distance each time. When you're finished with this 4-minute circuit, row a fast 500 meters and note how long it takes you. "That's the number you'll want to match or beat during your next rowing session," says Penfold.
Add high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to your go-to routine
While the old thinking was that long, steady-state cardio sessions were best for burning fat, we now know that intense, fast-paced cardio is much more effective, says Buckley. "For maximum fat-burning and body-sculpting results, you need varied, intense workouts that include short intervals which leave you totally spent," she says. Researchers hypothesise that this contributes to your body's "after-burn" effect, where you continue to burn calories long after your workout is finished. Hope Pedraza, an ACSM personal trainer and the creator of inBalance, a San Antonio-based fitness and wellness studio, suggests doing intervals that alternate between exercises that work different muscle groups. After a 10-minute warm-up, spend 30 seconds doing as many reps as possible of squats, push-ups, kettle bell swings, and single-arm rows. In fact, choose any of your favourite exercises—just make sure you alternate between exercises that work different muscle groups, which will help certain muscles recover while you work others, letting you amp up the intensity and minimise the amount of rest you need.
Intensify your plank using a BOSU ball
You know that your cardio sessions are crucial when it comes to burning the layer of fat sitting on top of your abdominal muscles. But it's still important to work those abs even as you're trying to shed fat, says New York City-based personal trainer Adam Sanford, founder of Adam Sanford Fitness. His favourite move to do that? Holding plank on a BOSU ball. "It's more challenging than a normal plank where your hands are on the floor, because the BOSU tests your balance," says Sanford. "When your body tries to find control as your balance is challenged, your abs, obliques, and deep transverse abdominal muscles are activated." Strengthening these core muscles also helps increase your metabolism, ultimately helping you to burn more calories and fat.
Lift heavier weights and rest less between reps
If you've been lifting moderately-heavy weights but are still looking to drop belly fat, it's time to pick up the intensity by using heavier weights and cutting down on rest time between reps, says Tyler Spraul, CSCS, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and the head trainer at Exercise.com. "Lifting heavy is where you see more 'after burn effect,'" says Spraul, "where your body continues to burn calories even after you leave the gym." Just be sure that your technique doesn't suffer as you increase your weight, which can lead to injury.
Yes, you read that right. Simply walking can go a long way toward helping you shed belly fat, says Sahmura Gonzalez, a master trainer at Crunch in New York City. "It seems so simple, but 45-60 min of brisk walking every day can do wonders for your metabolism," says Gonzalez. "Plus, it ensures that you don't over-train, which can lead to an over-production of cortisol—a stress hormone that's been shown to contribute to belly fat." In fact, if your walking workout helps you unwind after a stressful day or work through emotions that might otherwise rile you up and stress you out, there's a chance it'll help you lower cortisol levels, which in turn can keep belly fat in check, says Gonzalez. And brisk walking is an effective way to drop kilograms—including the belly fat that's hiding your abdominal muscles. "One hour of rapid walking a day can lead to 0.5 kilograms of fat loss a week," says Gonzalez. "That is significant!"
This article originally appeared on Prevention.