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Battle of the Bulge: Does Any Exercise Really Target Belly Fat?

From the Show: Train Your Body
Summary: Crunches, planks and sit-ups: you've tried them all, but do they actually work on that belly fat?
Air Date: 2/17/15
Duration: 10
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest Bio: Michele Olson, PhD
OLSON-HeadShot 13 resizedMichele Olson is a Professor of Exercise Physiology in the Department of Physical Education and Exercise Science at Auburn University Montgomery (AUM). Known internationally as THE Exercise Doctor, since coming to AUM Dr. Olson has directed numerous research studies resulting in over 90 publications in peer-reviewed professional journals. Areas of research expertise include:

-Abdominal Exercise and Pilates; 
-Energetics and metabolic responses to Spinning, Pilates, Kettlebells and Tabata exercise; 
-Body image and Eating Disorders in active women, dancers and athletes; 
-Injury mechanisms with popular fitness activities (Running and Step Aerobics, etc.)

Dr. Olson is a Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine for outstanding service to research and is also an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. She heads the NSCA-ERP Exercise Science Program at AUM and well as being the director of the Scharff-Olson Kinesiology Laboratory.
Battle of the Bulge: Does Any Exercise Really Target Belly Fat?
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Every day it seems, a new diet, medication, exercise or super food comes out that allegedly melts away belly fat. If these products worked, wouldn’t everyone be using them by now?

The Surefire Belly Fat Blaster

Dr. Michele Olson, known internationally as THE exercise doctor, says, “it would be nice to have a pill, specific exercise or food that’s aimed at fat cells in the belly or abdominal region, but we don’t. It’s mythology.” There are no magic cures out there that really target belly fat and burn it off effectively, but the good news is there is something you can do to reduce body fat, not just on your belly, but all over. At the end of the day, there is only one real solution to belly fat: exercise.

When it comes to exercise, there are many variables to take into consideration. Crunches and machines for the abdominals don’t work as well as you think when it comes to incinerating stomach fat. According to Dr. Olson, doing crunches for 10 minutes burns between 20 and 25 calories, which is less than that contained in half an apple. The only way to lose fat and destroy fat cells is by lowering or burning calories. But, remember, one pound of fat is around 3,500 calories. The numbers don’t add up in favor of crunches as a way to trim belly fat; it would take you almost 24 hours of nonstop crunches or sit-ups to lose a single pound of fat.

Research has found that a more effective way of burning fat is through intense cardio workouts, such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or tabata training. Not only will these methods target your overall fat, but HIIT also takes less time than regular cardio with a higher rate of calorie burning. For example, 40 minutes of steady state cardio such as walking on the treadmill can burn around 500 calories. Doing just 20 minutes of high intensity workouts can burn the same amount of calories, and keep your metabolism sky high for many hours afterwards.

It can be tough to push your body hard enough to finish an HIIT workout, but the benefits are there and you will certainly see results faster. If you are just starting out, you don’t have to do the standard “30 seconds on high, one minute on low” setting that many HIIT workouts recommend. Even doing intervals as little as eight seconds can have a positive impact if you are able to finish the training.

Why HIIT Works

The science behind intensive interval training is simple. During more strenuous activity, your blood pumps faster and releases adrenaline. The adrenaline activates fat cells and tells them to give up their fat and energy, to aid your muscles. With moderate exercise, your adrenaline levels don’t go nearly as high, and the fat cells aren’t put to work in the same way.

There are a variety of ways to do HIIT exercises, including sprinting, spinning, biking, and swimming. Dr. Olson also recommends doing planking and other core exercises to better develop your ab muscles and get them stronger. Having a solid core will support you better for the intense workouts, and reduce the risk of injury.

For starters, stick to just two days a week on non-consecutive days until you are comfortable enough to add a third day. As always, you want to slowly integrate it into your routine. Coupled with a healthy diet and a solid weight training routine, your belly fat (and other fatty areas) will shrink and tighten up without the need for ineffective pills and supplements.

In the accompanying audio segment, Michele Olson, PhD, joins host Melanie Cole, MS, to discuss belly fat and which exercises can help you get rid of the fat that blocks your abdominal muscles.

Alonso is a long-time health and wellness advocate who loves to write about it. His writing spans the scope of blogs, educational magazines, and books, both on and offline.