Sussex Performance Centre

How To Burn Belly Fat

Resistance training triggers hormones that increase abdominal fat burning. 

When people come to us wanting to change their body composition, we direct them straight to resistance training. Contrary to the old “cardio to burn fat” “resistance training to build muscle” dogma that mainstream fitness magazines dished out for decades, resistance training is superior for burning fat–especially belly fat. 

For one, resistance training does build muscle tissue, which is more metabolically active than fat. But the real magic happens on the hormonal level. A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology that was done specifically on a group of young, healthy trained females found that resistance training exercise significantly increased belly fat burning, largely due to the hormones released when we lift weights.

For the study, lead researcher Brittany Allman, Ph.D. and her team inserted special probes into the women’s subcutaneous abdominal fat to measure the level of stored fat breakdown (known as lipolysis) during exercise. 

They then had the women perform three sets of 10 reps of a series of barbell exercises that included (in this order) back squat, bench press, Romanian deadlift, bent-over row, shoulder press, and reverse lunges. 

Both training sessions were performed in the early afternoon and during menstruation (days 1 through 6 of the follicular phase). Yes, they actually took the menstrual cycle into consideration and wanted to avoid the high-estrogen midluteal phase, which can enhance exercise-induced fat burning in women. 

During both sessions, the researchers found a significant increase in fat metabolism in the women’s abdominal area during and immediately after training, as well as increased whole body fat burning and an increase in their resting energy expenditure post exercise, all of which were triggered by increases in growth hormone, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, which support fat metabolism. 

Strength Training Reduces Deep Belly Fat, Too

Strength training can also significantly reduce visceral fat, which is the deep belly fat that surrounds vital organs like the pancreas and liver and can be harmful to your health, increasing the risk of insulin resistance, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and breast cancer. 

In one study, researchers had a group of women and men ranging in age from 61 to 77 strength train twice a week for 25 weeks. At the end of the study, all the participants lost about four pounds of fat. 

The women also lost a significant amount of abdominal fat (both visceral and subcutaneous). Strength training also improves insulin sensitivity and helps manage blood sugar levels, both of which help to prevent visceral fat gain (which in turn sets the stage for more insulin resistance). This study is notable because the women were postmenopausal, which is a time when belly fat storage increases. 

We recommend that EVERYONE strength trains at least twice a week, regardless of age! Young people should incorporate lighter weight/higher repetition through a full range of motion and movement patterns to help with body composition and biomechanical changes that occur with puberty.  

Women and men in their reproductive years should look to power and hypertrophy training to improve body composition, bone density, and overall strength. 

Women in the menopause transition and beyond should prioritize strength-power training in their exercise routine, as hormonal changes make it harder to maintain muscle mass and strength (and the hormone changes increase belly fat storage). 

Strength training is looking to be the cornerstone and foundation across ages for optimizing body composition and health.

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