Belly fat is your nemesis.
It hides your abs, changes your muscular V shape to the dreaded pear and makes those damn love handles all too obvious.
Yea you could do without your belly fat.
Which is why you’re always asking about the best exercises to lose belly fat.
You want to burn that belly fat. You want it to disappear and never come back. You’ll train hard in the gym to burn off your gut.
But it’s just not that easy. Getting your college waistline back can prove to be a monumental effort.
Why is it so damn hard?
My goal with this article is to change your focus.
Not your focus on burning off your belly fat. That’s a good plan.
And it turns out that the best exercises to lose belly fat are more mental than physical.
Effective fat burning is more about lifestyle than killing yourself in the gym.
Why can’t you train your way to 6 pack abs?
First, you are overestimating your burn rate. You think you are burning way more calories from exercise than you actually are.
It is a common misconception.
For example, maybe you just had a good morning run for 40 minutes. Felt good. You’ve earned your breakfast.
How many calories did you really burn?
Well it depends primarily on how big you are and how fast you ran. Of course hills will up the difficulty and your body composition (fat to muscle ratio) may have a small effect as well.
A 180 pound male recreational runner (running at a 9 minute per mile pace, for example) will burn about 600 calories. If you’re bigger, you’ll burn a bit more. If you run faster, you’ll burn even more.
So is your 600 calorie burn good or not? Did you think your 40 minute run burned more or fewer calories than this?
If you’re looking for the best exercises to lose belly fat, are you on the right track? Should you be running more or doing something else?
All good questions. So let’s think about it.
While it is true, to lose weight in the long run, you must solve the fundamental math problem of burning more calories than being consumed.
It’s the law of thermodynamics. But does that law apply to fat loss? Sort of but not totally. This is a topic for another discussion.
The question to ask and understand is “What is your best approach to balance the weight loss-exercise conundrum?”
Because you know that exercising also makes you hungry. Sometimes really hungry.
Let’s create an example for illustration.
On your non-run day, you normally eat a bowl of cereal with non-fat milk, a glass of OJ and a banana.
And on your run day, you add a bagel with cream cheese before you head off to work. Cause your belly is grumbling.
You estimate a bagel at around 225 calories and maybe another 100 for the cream cheese.
So you added 325 calories to your breakfast and you burned off 600 from your run.
You are ahead 275 calories. It appears you are losing weight.
Or are you?
- A pound of fat equals 3500 calories.
- To lose a pound a week, you need to create a 500 calorie per day deficit (500 x 7 days =3500).
So with your 600 calorie run yielding a 275 calorie daily deficit, you you should be losing about a half pound per week. Right?
What’s wrong with all this?
A glaring problem is the straight line assumption for fat loss.
It’s assuming your body is a Bunsen burner that just runs with a constant consumption of fuel.
All you have to do is reduce calories by 500 a day and you’ll lose a pound a week forever.
So does it mean that if you’re 180 pounds today, in a year, if you maintain a 500 calorie per day deficit, you’ll weigh 128 pounds?
It’s absurd, right? So the main assumption is wrong.
Your body won’t let you waste away to 128 pounds very easily. The prime directive, developed over millions of years of evolution, is all about keeping you alive and well.
What about this 3500 calories per pound of fat? Where did that come from?
Apparently no one really knows. Read about it here.
But it is somewhat approximated by these facts.
- We start with 454 grams per pound of anything. No issues here.
- Then we add the almost universally accepted 9 calories per gram of fat. The scientific literature shows a range from 8.7 calories to about 9.5 calories per gram of fat. So we’ll go with the 9 grams.
- So this kinda means that a gram of fat provides 9 calories of energy to your body and also that 9 calories of energy expenditure are required to burn a gram a fat.
Except that we have to factor in that fat is not 100% fat. There is water in it. Anywhere from about 13% to 28% is water. Again, a pretty big range.
454 grams per pound of fat x 9 calories per gram x 87% (assumes 13% water in fat)=3555 calories per pound of fat. So not exactly 3500 but at least you know the math.
Of course, you can see how these assumptions can produce a range from 2843 calories per pound of fat to 3742 calories. Now that is a lot of error.
The point of all this is:
Most weight loss gurus have no idea what they are talking about.
Next time someone tells you to reduce your calories by 500 a day to lose a pound a week, run the other way.
Or for a giggle, ask them to explain the origin of this formula.
You’ll get that deer in the headlights look.
It’s confusing, right?
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Here’s my recommendation.
Forget about the numbers. Don’t worry about the precise calculation of calories per gram of fat. Or the percentage of water in fat.
I don’t even recommend you counting calories at all.
It’s the wrong approach.
I call it the Big Rocks, Little Rocks theory of worrying about shit.
Getting your health & fitness in order is like building a house. You have to get a solid foundation in place for it to work right.
You need to know the basics of good nutrition.
And how to put together an effective exercise plan.
And there are other things like lifestyle stuff. You know, sleep, stress, fresh air, sunshine, alcohol consumption, etc. These things matter too.
All this stuff builds your solid foundation. These are your big rocks.
Get your big rocks in place first. Everything starts here.
But you’re always worrying about little rocks. You are kvetching about shit that doesn’t matter so much.
Little rocks are trying to count your calories and keep them at some precise daily amount.
Weighing stuff or dividing up your plate into sections with different foods here and there or drinking a meal replacement shake that tastes like dirt are little rock activities.
Wondering if it is OK to have a scoop of ice cream in the evening after eating shit all day long is little rock thinking. You have no foundation.
- Eat protein with every meal.
- Consciously add some good fat to every meal (I’m not kidding).
- Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full.
- Eat real food that is recognizable from nature.
Don’t worry about what kind of protein you’re eating or if you’re getting 0.8 grams per pound of lean body mass or 1.0 grams or something else. Small rocks.
Just eat protein. Chicken, beef, pork, fish or protein powder. It doesn’t matter. If you’re a vegetarian, say a prayer and and eat your third world proteins. Better than nothing.
Don’t be worrying about whether eating some dessert will kill you after you’ve eaten out of boxes and bags all day long.
Exercise big rocks are doing the five human movements, push, pull, hinge, squat and carry.
Occasional heavy lifting, explosive training like sprinting or kettle bells and full range of motion movement are big rock activities.
You are wasting time with curls if you haven’t done pull ups or some heavy rowing work. Unless, of course, you’re 25 and heading out to crawl the bars. Then, I get it.
Don’t do that inny-outy leg machine contraption if you’re not doing squats. Actually, even if you are squatting, that inny-outy thing is a waste of time.
Are you getting it?
Everything in life has foundation elements that must be mastered before moving on to more advanced or specialized stuff.
If you bypass the big rocks, you not only get confused but you don’t get good results.
Master the big rocks first
This is the strategy adjustment you must make to be successful
Know what is important and focus on it. Learn it. Use it. Master it.
All the rest is noise. It gets you off track. It wastes your valuable time.
Need personal help getting your big rocks in order and losing your belly fat once and for all?
Schedule a free strategy session to see if personal coaching makes sense for you.