Ask any coach who coaches fat loss what questions they hear the most and something along the lines of this will be at or near the top:
How do I get rid of this belly fat?
And I’ve been asked it so many times in my career that I have to catch myself from having a reaction that dismisses the question altogether.
I thought: Of all the things I’ve written about, I’ve never specifically written about this and I wanted to approach it with as much tact as I can.
So, let’s start with breaking down the actual question.
The concept behind it is on point: the “removal” of unwanted body fat from the abdomen.
I’d like you, as the reader, to think in terms of fat reduction and then consider what it takes for that to occur.
Most of my readers will know that it means achieving an energy deficit through food intake, energy expenditure or a combination of both.
The unfortunate thing about fat reduction is that we can’t control where it comes from.
Fat reduction does have something of a trend, though.
Let’s assume you are a “stereotypical” male who has excess fat to lose.
You likely started to gain fat in the abdomen and then the upper chest and then your face.
As you embark on a fat loss plan, fat loss will typically work in reverse: the face will slim down, the upper chest will get leaner, and then the abdomen from top to bottom will get leaner.
Not every man gains fat this way, some indeed do carry more fat in their hips and thighs but that isn’t the norm.
By comparison, most (not all) women, will gain excess fat in the hips and thighs, then the abdomen, breasts and then face. The same trend then occurs during fat loss: the face will get slimmer, the breasts may reduce in size, then the abdomen, and lastly the hips and thighs.
Genetics DO play a role.
Not only is there a genetic expression with your hormones that’s handed down from your parents (and their parents), you may find that you physically resemble one or both of your parents when it comes to your physique and where and how you gain muscle or fat.
When you see an individual with a defined mid-section, it’s important to consider a handful of things:
-They may have genes in their favor which allow them to see visibility in the mid-section without strict attention to their diet.
-They may spend a significant amount of time expending calories through exercise (cardiovascular and/or strength training).
-They might watch their dietary intake aggressively to stay lean for photoshoots, vacations, or personal preference.
-They may be using hormone replacement therapy and/or steroids to aid in reducing body fat.
-And, of course, there may be alterations, enhancements and filters used to make them appear leaner in pictures than they are in real life.
For the vast majority of people who would be inclined to ask their personal trainer or nutrition coach how to see more definition in their midsection, the key is reducing overall body fat.
This also means that no amount of crunches, planks, sit-ups, burpees, seated twists, or kettlebell swings can carve up your midsection. While any of these exercises involve your core to be performed correctly, they cannot spot reduce an area for you.
However, credit must be given to the fact that if you perform exercises like those listed above and they help you adhere to an energy deficit and an exercise regimen, then they at least played a part in getting you lean enough to see a two-pack, four-pack, six-pack, etc.
I also need to mention that for some people, the effort to see more abdominal definition can have a detrimental effect on their hormones. This is one of the reasons many physique athletes and bodybuilders see a significant drop in testosterone as they dieted down to stage leanness. Staying stage lean year round simply isn’t practical, safe or possible for many athletes.
I should also note that excess adipose tissue in the midsection does have a strong correlation to certain cancers, Type II diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
So, if you want to see visible abs or simply reduce the amount of excess fat that’s in your midsection, remember that the way to the goal is via an energy deficit. You may not be able to control the pace at which you’ll lose fat, where leanness can occur or the degree of definition you can see without having unwanted health effects, but you can make progress.
-If you want to lose fat from the midsection, find a deficit you can adhere to and work towards reducing body weight and excess body fat.
-You may want to emphasize a moderate to high protein diet while you are dieting.
-Just as every body is not built the same, degrees of abdominal leanness can vary between people.
-Ab exercises cannot reduce abdominal fat.
-Reducing excess abdominal fat may reduce the risk of certain metabolic health concerns.
(Photo courtesy of Karolina Grabowska)