Begone, Belly
September 14, 2010 9:03 AM   Subscribe

What exercise should I add to my daily workout which will show visible results to my stomach?

I've found an exercise routine that works for me - 50 mins of cardio (cycling and brisk walking) 5 days a week. I'm overweight - clinically obese in fact :(, so this, for me, is an accomplishment. One day I'd love to run, but while I am at my current weight I am not sure how safe that would be. It's working well for me and I'm feeling better/happier/more energetic etc. And my butt looks smaller. Yay!

But my real problem area is my stomach. What can I do to shrink that sucker - or is spot-reduction a total myth?

I would rather up my activity levels than lower my food intake, which is healthy and balanced although I do not count calories or anything more complicated than "eating sensibly". I have in the past developed weird food-related neuroses as a result of strenuous dieting, so I try to keep away from regimented diet plans now.

Anon because friends/family know I use this board and this is quite a private and loaded matter for me. I'm a girl in my 20s if it helps for the purposes of this question, carry most of my weight around my tummy and hips, and weigh in the mid 200s. I don't own a scale so can't get more specific than that.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Other than the obvious situps, good posture reduces the appearance of a paunch, so you might want to look at yoga and exercises to strengthen your back.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 9:06 AM on September 14, 2010

: "spot-reduction a total myth?"

Spot reduction is a total myth.
posted by Grither at 9:07 AM on September 14, 2010 [17 favorites]

What can I do to shrink that sucker - or is spot-reduction a total myth?

It is. You just need to burn fat. Different people store fat in different ways, but eventually, if you get rid of your body fat, you will get rid of the fat on your stomach.
posted by ssg at 9:10 AM on September 14, 2010

Q: I want to lose fat from / tone body part X. How do I do this?

A: Spot reduction isn't really possible, but here are some helpful suggestions about exercise and weight loss in general.
posted by googly at 9:14 AM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

From all that I've read, spot-reduction is a total myth. You need to reduce total overall body fat percentage.
posted by eurasian at 9:15 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would rather up my activity levels than lower my food intake

Unfortunately, exercise will make you hungrier. You have to do both.
posted by desjardins at 9:15 AM on September 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Spot reduction is a myth, but when I lost a little over 30 pounds this year, the gut was one of the first place I noticed it disappearing. Depending on how your body likes to store fat (and it sounds like yours is similar to mine), you may see an impact there if you start to burn fat, which it sounds like your regimen will do if you keep at it! Now, I couldn't have done it without calorie counting (because I'm terrible at estimating calories consumed versus calories burned), but if that's a trigger for you, just continue to eat sensibly and do the cardio and you'll get there.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:18 AM on September 14, 2010

What you can do is improve your posture. That's often what happened to people who claim that "spot-reduction" worked for them. They do a lot of ab exercises, it gets easier to straighten their spine and suck in their gut — and hey, presto, that makes their stomach look smaller.

Back and shoulder exercises are also good for posture. (If you're working on your abs, it's a good to do back exercises anyway, because the two muscle groups counterbalance each other. Working your abs and ignoring your back will raise your chances of back injury — so don't do that!) Stretching is also good, since most people who don't have lifelong perfect posture have some tight muscles that make it difficult to straighten up all the way.

Anyway, long story short, go ahead and do some core exercises. Just approach them with the attitude that you're building strength and learning to use your body more gracefully, rather than expecting them to miraculously rearrange your body fat.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:18 AM on September 14, 2010

It might not be possible to reduce fat in one particular area, but it certainly is possible to tone up the muscles there, which in my experience definitely gives it a leaner look.

My favourite move for this, as well as the obvious sit-ups, is to lie flat on my back on the floor, then stick both legs straight up, so you're at a right angle. Then, lower them down to the floor, veeeery slowly. As slowly as you can bear, without giving in and letting them fall.

Good luck :)
posted by greenish at 9:20 AM on September 14, 2010

First, congratulations on getting into a steady exercise routine. That's a great start.

I don't think there's an easy exercise-related answer to this. The problem is that once you pass a certain threshold, it's basically impossible to "exercise away" the excess calories that your body is storing as belly fat.

I also think you shouldn't set this up as an exercise vs. "strenuous" "regimented" dieting debate. Try keeping a journal of everything you eat over the course of a given week. Write down everything that goes in your mouth. Ask yourself if what you're eating is truly essential for your healthful nourishment. That's a start, and it doesn't mean you're denying yourself or obsessing over calories -- but you need to make your food decisions a "front brain" decision, not a "back of the brain" decision.
posted by BobbyVan at 9:20 AM on September 14, 2010

Like everyone will say, spot reduction is a total myth, but yoga will change the way you carry yourself and help strengthen those core muscle groups. I have noticed that when I am in a regular yoga regime, I hold myself differently, which changes (for the better, I guess) the way my middle-age tummy looks.

There are good "yoga for inflexible people" classes, books, dvds &c, which focus on the variations of the poses to ease people into learning yoga or starting an exercise regime. Yoga is great for accommodating all levels of fitness. It is also surprisingly soothing. I'm a pretty tense human being (I often sleep with my fists curled up so tight that I wake up with small punctures from my fingernails in my palms) and I am continually amazed by the difference even a short yoga routine makes in my day.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:21 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, spot reduction is a myth. But there's no reason that you can't work on strengthening your core--which makes you stronger overall. Exercises like the plank and its variations are great for your stomach, your butt, and your back. Also get an inflatable stability ball/balance ball and google for ab and back exercises you can do with them. These exercises tend to work more muscles at once than do situps or crunches done on a mat.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 9:22 AM on September 14, 2010

Well, spot reduction is a myth but I do enjoy abmat situps (plenty of videos on youtube if you are interested) but what has helped me lots was strength training & weight bearing exercise. I agree with the above comments that building your core is great. I was a size 24 when I started; I'm a 14 now and still getting smaller.
The owner of my gym is working with me on building my running skills - a lot of sprints & alternating running with walking).
Lowering food intake is a tricky one - I drastically cut back my "white foods" - potatoes, breads, pastries, etc & concentrated on veggies & protein. But I'm not obsessive about it. I allow myself some indulgences a few times/week & making some general changes has helped a lot. Do I eat less? I have no idea but I eat better (more nutrient rich foods, less junk).
Good luck!
Memail me if you want to chat or more info on what I have/have not done.
posted by pointystick at 9:25 AM on September 14, 2010

Strengthen your sides and your back; basically do your entire trunk. This will help redistribute fat and build muscle. Work your legs as much as you can; they have the potential to be the biggest muscles in your body and have the biggest impact on increasing your metabolism, which will help burn the fast.

Eat oatmeal in the morning with no sugar. Eat as much as you want but NO SUGAR. Drink lots of water with a slice of lemon. Snack on almonds and apples until lunch. Eat chicken and salad with NO DRESSING for lunch. Snack on almonds and apples until dinner. Drink tonnes of water. Eat fish for dinner with brown rice and vegetables. No added sugar in anything, if you need something sweet, eat an apple or a pear. You will eat hundreds of apples and pounds upon pounds of almonds but you will be noticeably slimmer within one week of doing this. It gets easier around day 4.
posted by dobie at 9:28 AM on September 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

Correct me if I'm wrong, for I am no expert in the matter, but as the OP states she is clinically obese, I wouldn't be recommending core exercises just yet. Best thing I can think of is more time on the crosstrainer.
posted by Biru at 9:31 AM on September 14, 2010

What exercise should I add to my daily workout which will show visible results to my stomach?

Others have addressed spot reduction, so I'm going to approach this from a different perspective.

In some sense the best exercise is the kind that you actually do. It sounds like you've got a pretty healthy exercise routine going already. Apart from progressing in intensity and duration at a pace that you're comfortable with, you should probably stick with what you're doing.

There are some things you could do that aren't a workout per se, though. For example, can you replace any driving you do with walking? Trips to the grocery store, the dry cleaners, the post office, work, a friend's place, etc? Can you take up gardening, even on a very small scale? Having even a small amount of physical activity as part of your normal routine can be a big help over trying to fit all of your physical activity into a defined workout.

There are many advantages to this. It distributes your effort throughout the day, so your workout doesn't have to be as intense to get the same results. It keeps you from putting all your eggs into one basket; if circumstances keep you from your workout, you haven't blown your whole day's activities. It can tide you over on non-workout days so that you don't feel like you just sat around all day. I know I was healthiest when I had to talk 1.5 miles each way to class for grad school. Trying to replicate that activity level solely through defined exercise is hard (doable, but hard).

Also, rather than lower your food intake, have you considered increasing your water intake? Check out this Economist article on the positive effects of drinking half a liter of water shortly before each meal. It's cheap, healthy, and easy to follow. I've been doing it for a few weeks, and it's been very helpful for me.
posted by jedicus at 9:36 AM on September 14, 2010

Even though spot reduction is a myth, there is a salient fact:

Each person has a list of places on their body where the fat goes, in a particular order. So, first to the X area, then to the Y area, then to the Z area. When you lose weight, it comes off in the same order, not from everywhere at once.

That's why you can lose 15 pounds but find your stomach is still the same size. This stuff is hormonally regulated in women, because certain fat reserves like the legs and butt are earmarked for fuel during pregnancy. It takes a higher degree of intensity to overcome the conservative power of female hormones.

Also, depending on where your calories are coming from, you might even have something like a "beer gut" - not from beer, but from other high-glycemic sources. Cutting down on carbs can help that.

Research strongly supports high-intensity interval training and resistance training for fat burning. These are much, much more effective than steady-state cardio (like jogging). Building up the explosive potential of your muscles through weightlifting and sprint-type exercise raises your metabolic rate in both the short and long terms.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 9:53 AM on September 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

It sucks, but it's true: you can't spot reduce. I carry my weight in my stomach too - it's the first place it goes, and the last place it leaves. It's gotten smaller as I've lost weight, but it's still there.

Nthing yoga, though - it won't flatten your stomach, but you will get stronger. Since practicing yoga, I've been able to feel muscles under my stomach pudge for the first time.

Congrats on your success so far, and best of luck! MeMail me if you'd like.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:54 AM on September 14, 2010

I would rather up my activity levels than lower my food intake

Not only is spot-reduction a myth, but so is "exercise alone leading to substantial weight loss."

It takes you, what, 10 minutes to burn 100 calories? It takes you two seconds to eat that many.
posted by gramcracker at 10:00 AM on September 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

biru, why not core exercise for her? Obese covers a lot of ground so I have no idea what OP's physique is like but even when I was bigger, I mixed up my cardio with strength & core work. It was/is awesome and fun. I suppose it matters how you define core exercises and intensity duration are an issue, but I would think scalable, no? (I am not an exercise professional just someone trying to be healthier).
posted by pointystick at 10:02 AM on September 14, 2010

Mod note: few comments removed - folks this sort of needs to stay in the "help me exercise" arena and not turn into a big free for all about dieting and food choices. Thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:11 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wow, good for you! In addition to what others have mentioned, esp. yoga and weight training, you may want to try Pilates for core toning. It won't spot reduce . . . but it will help with all other activities and as the weight comes off to reveal musculature, you'll see tone in your abdomen as well as elsewhere.

On the food side, I applaud your general approach. I did find that I took in less calories overall when I started eating small "snack" meals mid AM and mid afternoon, always containing a little protein. E.g. ounce of cheese and half an orange, or a few almonds and a nectarine, or some cottage cheese and baby carrots.
posted by bearwife at 10:33 AM on September 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

If you want to make your stomach muscles stronger, the plank is an awesome exercise for general core, back and shoulder strength. You can scale it, too - if you can't hold an elbow-plank without your lower back dropping you can do a top-of-pushup plank position - just arms straight out under your shoulders and holding your torso as straight as possible. Make sure to draw your belly-button back to your spine as much as possible: you don't want your hurt your back while doing this. Hold it for as long as you can and work towards holding it longer and longer with good form - keep breathing too: sounds silly, but I found I had a tendency to do the gasping fish thing when this got hard. It's not a spot-reducing exercise (and there's no such thing - if someone tells you something's a 'spot-reducer', they're trying to sell you something), but it's a good all-round core one.

If your knees/legs are up to this and if you don't have any pre-existing leg problems you could also try mixing up core exercises with cardio - say, do a few sets of core, jump into three minutes of hard cycling and jump back into core exercises, just to mix it up a little.

Good luck! It sounds like you're doing awesome so far - keep it up!
posted by zennish at 10:46 AM on September 14, 2010

If you're losing fat then just keep doing what you're doing. When you stop losing you'll have to look at changing your diet as well upping the intensity of what you're doing for exercise -- preferably with lifting.

You have a long road to go and if you tackle it correctly with diet and exercise you'll complete it.
If you only try to exercise without eventually looking at what you're eating you'll stall like every friend you've known that's been trying to "just lose 15lbs" for the past 5 years.

The only form of spot reduction is liposuction. Also, be extremely critical of the word "toning."
posted by zephyr_words at 10:53 AM on September 14, 2010

1) As others have said, spot reduction from exercise or diet is a myth. You can, of course, achieve spot reduction with liposuction.

2) You can certainly lose weight by upping activity levels rather than eating less. But it's a hell of a lot harder. I'm not sure how you'd manage the activity levels necessary to achieve significant weight loss if you can't run. Walking is great for your health but you'd have to add at least an hour or two per day to burn hundreds of calories. And if that 2 hours of walking makes you a mite peckish and you eat two cookies, well, you've just canceled it out.

Generally one's best bet is to change to a sustainable, healthy diet which is slightly less calorific than one's current diet, and then add a bit of exercise as well. The new diet should be sustainable because you don't want to gain all the weight back if you "finish".
posted by Justinian at 11:04 AM on September 14, 2010

Nope, you cannot focus your weightloss according to your taste.

In my case I lose fat in this order:

Inner thighs

You may be like me. ( I have a huge stomach, and I swear, it's the last thing that goes away)

I recommend doing both cardio and weights. You've got to mix it up.

and pretty please:

Get a scale
Keep track of your calories

I know it's hard not to get obsessed, but without some numerical back up you may not lose weight (it's really easy to underestimate your intake) and get de-motivated.
posted by Tarumba at 11:13 AM on September 14, 2010

Mod note: comment removed - again, if your comment is not referring to exercise in some way, please reconsider.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:57 AM on September 14, 2010

Everyone seems to know that spot reduction is a myth, but it still seems very common for people to recommend exercises to target specific body parts, especially the ones that are meant to "tone your core."

I know that lots of people like doing yoga and pilates and exercising on inflatable balls. If that's what you want to do, more power to you. But don't fall into the trap of thinking that you need to do those things in order to get a strong core. Especially when you're a beginner, nothing is going to be more effective for burning calories or building strength than exercises which require full-body effort. If you understand how the musculoskeletal system works, you'll realize that the muscles in your core are worked in a large variety of free-weight movements and not just the ones that you'll tend to find in a yoga class or some ab-blaster exercise video.

Your abdominal and lower back musculature engages when you press something overhead, when you pick something up off the ground, and when you squat down and stand back up, three of the most fundamental movements in strength training. And the more weight you can use, the harder those muscles have to work. Moreover, these full-body movements will make you stronger everywhere and will carryover to real-world and athletic activities, unlike movements performed with very light weights on top of an exercise ball.

So, no, working your abs won't reduce fat there specifically; yes, you should strengthen your abs and lower back anyway; but you will benefit from strengthening the rest of your body, too, and at your level of advancement you can accomplish both of those things at the same time by performing a few movements with heavy weights rather than a ton of different movements with light or no weights. You can make your core very strong without ever doing anything like a situp. Here's an article which addresses this subject in more depth.
posted by JohnMarston at 12:26 PM on September 14, 2010

Yeah, although increased activity levels will help, you're definitely going to have to work on your diet if you want to lose weight. It seems like it would be difficult but it's really not that bad. I'm a male in my early 20's and I started a diet in mid July of this year to try and lose 15-20 pounds and get to a healthier weight. Really all I did was cut down on my portions and try to not eat dessert. It was hard to eat less for maybe a week, and then I got used to it and now if I try to eat like I did before, I feel over-full. The dessert thing hasn't been bad either, again I really missed it at first and now it's not that big of a deal. I cheat sometimes but as long as its an occasional treat it's fine. Everything is fine in moderation.

As for exercise, the only thing I've done so far is start walking around more (this was more of a side effect of school starting again, I probably walk about 2 miles a day going to/from class). Walking is easy and although it's not the most efficient form of exercise, it's much better than nothing. I plan to start doing situps/pushups/chinups soon too, and I'm sure that will help some.

And the result? Well, I'm not where I want to be yet, but I've lost about 10 pounds since I started. It hasn't been fast, and some days I've weighed myself and it's gone up slightly instead of down, but I feel like making lifestyle changes is a MUCH better way to do it rather than some fad diet/exercise plan. The problem with those is that when you reach your goal with them, you feel like you're "finished" and are much more likely to rebound and go back to your old habits. You have to make a permanent change to experience permanent results.

And yes, absolutely get a scale. I actually have Wii Fit and use it just for the "body test" feature that weighs you and plots your weight over time on a graph. I weigh in every other day. It's great to see feedback on whether or not your changes are making a difference. If you don't have a Wii then at least get a scale and plot your results in Excel or something. Trust me, it's really awesome to see that line going down over time as you succeed.

Hope that helps, and good luck! It's not an easy road, but the habits you form now will be the ones you keep with you for the rest of your life.
posted by DMan at 1:29 PM on September 14, 2010

Just keep on going as you are and you will lose weight. Count the calories and move as much as possible. That is all you need at this point and for the foreseeable future.
posted by tarvuz at 1:22 AM on September 15, 2010

Deadlift more.
posted by tiburon at 1:57 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

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