Budge The Pudge

One simple tweak may help you lose ab fat to the tune of 10 per cent. Adopt the new exercise rules that could make this flat tummy yours.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

One simple tweak may help you lose ab fat to the tune of 10 per cent. Adopt the new exercise rules that could make this flat tummy yours.

Photos Artiga Photo/corbis
Photos Artiga Photo/corbis

Fat is lazy. Mostly it just sits there, daring you to burn it. While it can seem that you have to work really hard to chip away at a muffin top, the inspiring truth is that it’s easier to exercise off ab fl ab than any other fat on your body. In a nutshell, to incinerate fat, you first have to mobilise the stuff out of its little storage units, aka adipose tissue, and into the bloodstream, where it can be ferried to your muscles as fuel. And contrary to what it feels like from atop your spinning bike, the adipose tissue in your belly is more than willing to free up its fl ab.

To put it more scientifically: “That adipose tissue has a greater density of receptors for the substances that stimulate fat mobilisation than adipose tissue in other areas of the body,” says Jeff Horowitz, a professor of movement science at the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology in the US. Pay attention now, because you’re about to learn the crucial workout rules that will forever change the way you sweat and rep away ab fat.

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Discover the new fatburning zone

It used to be all about low-intensity cardio. Remember that? The old theory posited that, because your body burns a higher percentage of fat calories at lower intensities than at higher ones, you should cruise in the slower “fat-burning zone” to melt off the kilos. But the maths never worked . In fact, when you go harder, you’ll burn more calories overall as well as more fat calories in total. We now know a way to incinerate fat in much less time: HIIT. A review of research in the Journal of Obesity found that high-intensity intervals may be more effective at reducing ab fat than any other kind of workout. In one study, a group of women sprinted on stationary bikes for eight seconds and rested for 12 seconds, and repeated that for 20 minutes, three times a week, while others pedalled for 40 minutes at a slow, steady pace. After 15 weeks, the interval group had a 9.5 per cent decrease in abdominal fat, and the steady cyclers had an increase of 10.6 per cent. (Why the gain? Researchers don’t know – possibly extra snacking.) Bottom line: The HIIT group shed fat because the body registers highintensity exercise as a stressor and elevates fat-freeing hormones, called catecholamines, including some that prep for a fight-or-flight response. Because the body doesn’t elevate catecholamines to the same extent during steady-state cardio , you’re likely to melt more ab fat doing HIIT even if you burn the same number of calories, says study author Gail Trapp. So push your pace regularly during cardio – the exact timing doesn’t seem to matter: Other HIIT studies showed ab-fat loss with intervals ranging from six seconds to four minutes. Just get out there and mix it up.

When doing steady cardio, keep it snappy

You’re not always going to be up for sprintervals, and you shouldn’t do them more than three times a week, anyway. Plus, there’s the endurance and zen boost you get from going steadily that you wouldn’t want to miss. The key to making steady cardio a more effective belly burner is to maintain a sweet spot of intensity at around 75 per cent of your max (fast enough that you can talk only in choppy sentences). When you’re exercising for more than 20 minutes at this challenging pace, your body starts searching for new sources of fuel, so it steps up its springing of fat from adipose tissue. At this specific intensity level, your body releases enough catecholamines – and growth hormone – to ensure that the freed fats are delivered to the muscles for energy, explains Robert McMurray, a professor of nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health in the US. Go slower, and the stress hormone cortisol will throw a wrench in that fat-burning rhythm.

Speed up your strengthtraining routine

HIIT-ifying your resistance workout can stimulate fat mobilisation just as cardio does. Be sure to make your sessions moderate- to highintensity (or build up to it), involving lots of reps and very little rest, and including moves that keep your legs working continuously. “This guarantees that your heart rate stays elevated and that both catecholamines and growth hormone trigger fat to be released,” says Nicholas Ratamess, a professor of health and exercise science at the College of New Jersey in the US. So work in intervals of burpees, squat jumps, and mountain climbers (doing as many reps as possible in a minute) between toning exercises like bicep curls or chest presses. And Nicholas recommends adding some heavier power-lifting moves, such as dead lifts, if you’re up to it. “Loading helps contribute to a larger metabolic response,” he says.

Make room for yoga

Yoga doesn’t get much respect when it comes to losing fat, but it should. It’s less about the calories you burn (although a good power yoga class could melt 432 calories) than it is about the calm you get. Again, this has to do with the stress hormone cortisol and its ability to short-circuit fat burning. Basically, yoga and other relaxation techniques can help keep your cortisol levels in check, says Shawn Talbott, author of The Cortisol Connection, so fat that could potentially be used as fuel doesn’t get packed back into storage around your middle. In a study by Kyungsung University in South Korea, women who did yoga three times a week decreased their ab fat by about 1 per cent in four months – maybe not headline-grabbing, but when you consider that yogis also tend to have lower body-mass indexes than the general population, you’ve got to figure they’re on to something. Worth a few down dogs to find out if it works for you.

You’ll melt more ab fat doing HIIT even if you burn the same number of calories during steady cardio.