Do sit ups make me lose belly fat?

So here is a statement which makes every PT want to curl up in a ball and jump around the floor in tears….. “can we do loads of core work please as I want to lose fat around my stomach”. How many of you can relate to either thinking, asking or researching this? How many of you have spent hours at home doing hundreds of sit ups only to be horrendously disappointed when you get up without a six pack? If this is you, its really not your fault! The media for years have disillusioned people to believe that they can ‘blast their core’ with belly fat reducing workouts, products such as waist trainers and ab tensors and belly fat targeting diets & shakes…. what else are you supposed to believe!

So, I am here to break your heart folks…. It’s just not true!

Let me start first with an analogy that I read somewhere and absolutely loved. Trying to spot reduce where you lose fat from is like trying to take a cup of water from just one quarter of a swimming pool, impossible. When we exercise specific areas of our body, we do not then take the fat from the nearest part of the body to burn to complete this exercise. Our body will use stores all over. The next question I then hear you asking is “when I exercise, I always lose weight off my hips first, or arms first or face first” as an example. Naturally there are many factors which influence our ability to burn fat. Firstly, our genetics. From an evolutionary perspective we have been designed to lose weight from our midriff last because this is the area that protects our vital organs; therefore, this fat is always the one that seems to linger round the longest and people always complain that they just cant get rid of. Our gender will also influence this, men will generally find that they hold weight more around their stomachs whereas woman naturally take more of an hour glass shape holding fat more around their hips and thighs. On top of this there are 3 basic somatotypes (body types) which people generally fall into.  These are: Ectomorphs who are naturally narrow, thin faced with little fat or muscle, Mesomorphs who are more wide shoulders, narrow hips and muscular and finally endomorphs who are naturally pear shaped, wide hips and shoulders and can have a lot of day on the body. Rarely is anyone completely one or the other but we all sit on a spectrum of the three. Now some people out there would argue that your body type is absolutely 100% the be all and end all to fat loss, I disagree with this principle, but it does help to understand that naturally we are also working against our genetics, gender and body types on the battle for fat loss. But it doesn’t just stop there. Hormones also play a role in fat storage and loss, now this is quite a meaty area so I am going to save the gritty details of this for another blog but its important to note that they have an impact, along with our body composition and fitness levels. Muscle cells require more energy to maintain than our fat cells and thus people who have more muscle tend to have a faster metabolism. This is why weight training can hugely contribute to the loss of weight alongside a calorie controlled diet and other activity. Furthermore, unfortunately time is not on our side! As we get older, we tend to lose muscle and gain fat which causes our metabolism to slow down. Finally, our diet of course plays a role in fat loss. I again will be doing a blog post in the future on the question ‘does fat make you fat?’ however for an overview weight gain is caused by an imbalance of energy expenditure where our calories in are exceeding our calories out. Not specifically the fat we are consuming, but the overall total of consumption.

The media has a huge role to play in people’s belief in this theory. Just the other day I had a YouTube advert pop up on my phone with a ‘fat blasting ab workout’ and you will see this all across social media. I am sure you could name a load of workouts which include the title burn your belly fat, best exercises for burning belly fat, love handle and skinny waist workout, how to lose your stomach fast etc. What is worse is that I have also heard of people doing these workouts 2 or 3 times a day every day in the belief that this alone will make them lose their stomach fat and get that summer body fast! What this unfortunately then leads to is muscular imbalances, extreme muscle soreness in the targeted area and also means that most other muscles groups have been left unused or worked. This can also be the case in training in the gym. Take for example the ‘bingo wing’ scenario. You will see woman spending ages doing a load of isolated tricep & bicep exercises, which although will work those specific muscles in targeted training wouldn’t be the most effective exercise for total fat loss. Remember when we exercise a muscle our body doesn’t just pull on the fat stores which are nearest (the water out of the pool analogy). The more a person follows this kind of training of focussing just on the target bits the more likely they are to get disheartened and lose interest in training (although they will have some seriously strong arms in the process!). A more effective training session would include a range of compound movements (exercises which involve multiple muscle groups) to promote a greater calorie burn as well as many other benefits. I haven’t even then got started on the plethora of shameless marketing products that are out there! I am sure you have all seen the abdominal muscle stimulator kits you can buy where you can voluntarily shock the life out of your muscles whilst sitting on the sofa having a few beers and large bag of crisps…. Or the female favourite ‘waist trainer’ which basically crushes the life out of your internal organs for a nice hour glass shaping effect. It is honestly scary what you can find out there and I could rant on this for hours but to surmise you do not need these to achieve results!

The answer to lose weight therefore is… (drum roll please….):

  1. Create a calorie deficit and ensure you are burning more calories than you are consuming
  2. Ensure your training programme is a whole body, rounded programme which you are able to consistently follow
  3. Move more every day. Even taking the stairs instead of escalators, walking more or parking the car a little further away from the shops each time. The more you move the more calories you burn in a day, thus adding towards the calorie deficit you are looking to create
  4. Trust the process and don’t keep looking for quick fixes, you will certainly save some money on those gimmick products which always end up collecting dust in the loft when they inevitably do not give you the results you want
  5. Understand that everyone is unique and everyone’s journey will be different. Weight loss is all about consistency & dedication so focus on yourself and your own goals!

And always remember if it was as easy as a few sit ups here and there everyone would do it!

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