Coveting a slim, trim waist? Having a toned midsection helps your clothes fit better, improves your posture, boosts your self-esteem and makes you feel more confident while lounging poolside.
But even more than that, a slim waistline is associated with better health, according to a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine in 2015, which found that abdominal obesity is linked to a greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
In order to whittle your waistline, choose the most effective exercises, including high-intensity interval training (HIIT), total-body strength training and targeted ab moves.
HIIT Vs. Traditional Cardio
HIIT involves alternating periods of vigorous activity with periods of recovery. This differs from traditional steady-state cardio because you're able to get your heart rate higher during the periods of intense activity than you would while, say, jogging for 30 minutes.
Not only does this help you burn more calories while you're exercising, it also increases your calorie burn for a period of up to 24 hours following exercise. A review of research published in the Journal of Obesity in 2011 reported that HIIT is more effective at reducing abdominal obesity than other types of exercise.
Sample HIIT Workout
- Warm up on a treadmill, elliptical machine or stationary bike at an easy pace for 5 minutes.
- Increase your speed so that you are sprinting or cycling very vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Reduce your speed and recover at an easy pace for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Repeat the intervals for 5 to 10 sets.
- Cool down by walking for 5 minutes.
Want to know if you're working hard enough? High-intensity exercise efforts should make your breathing deep and rapid, you should begin to perspire within a couple minutes and you shouldn't be able to speak more than a few words at a time without pausing for breath.
Boost Metabolic Rate by Building Muscle
Your metabolic rate is the speed at which your body burns calories. You have a resting metabolic rate, which is the rate at which your body burns calories when you are doing absolutely nothing. Muscle mass burns more calories at rest than fat mass because your body has to work harder to maintain muscle than it does fat.
To see your waistline diminish, engage in regular total-body strength training. Two to three full-body sessions each week is a good goal. Do squats, lunges, deadlifts, push-ups, pull-ups, lat pulldowns, rows, shoulder presses and bench presses. Start out light and gradually increase the load as you get stronger to keep challenging your body.
Compound exercises that use more than one muscle group are better for burning calories and belly fat than isolation exercises. A pull-up is an example of a compound exercise. Your lats, upper back and biceps are all working during a pull-up. Compare that to a biceps curl, an isolation exercise, which only uses — you guessed it — your biceps.
Choose the Right Abdominal Exercises
All ab exercises are not created equal. A 2001 study by San Diego State researchers ranked 13 common abdominal exercises from least effective to most effective by measuring participants' abdominal muscle activity using electromyography equipment.
The top three abdominal exercises, according to their findings, were the bicycle crunch, the captain's chair exercise and crunches on an exercise ball. The traditional crunch was far down on the list at number 11.
The idea that you can lose fat from a specific place on your body — called spot reduction — is a myth. Doing cardio and eating a healthy diet can help you lose overall body fat, some of which will come from your belly. Doing targeted ab exercises will help you sculpt your midsection.
Now that you know which exercises to do, you may be wondering how often to do them. According to exercise scientist Len Kravitz, PhD, you should train your abs three to five days per week. Because it's harder to fatigue them than the other muscles in your body, Kravitz says it's even permissible to train your abs daily.