Fitness newbie or not, if you’re trying to lose belly fat, you’re probably wondering exactly how you should be training. With all the workout options — HIIT, strength training, cardio, and CrossFit — it can be difficult to find the best workout that will get rid of belly fat. To find out if cardio or strength training is better for losing belly fat, POPSUGAR spoke with Alex Harrison, PhD, CSCS, a sports performance coach for Renaissance Periodization.
“Belly fat doesn’t decrease at any different rate depending on your training methodology,” Dr. Harrison told POPSUGAR. “If the goal is to lose belly fat, you’ve got to lose all fat,” he continued. According to Dr. Harrison, “Where you hold the most fat will be the place where you’re last to lean out.” Spot reduction won’t work, but Dr. Harrison did explain what you can do to lose fat in general.
For short-term weight loss, we’re talking a few weeks or a month, Dr. Harrison said it doesn’t matter whether you do cardio or lift weights, but there’s a catch. If you’re trying to lose fat, “Weight training is almost certainly better because of your increased muscle mass and its ability to continue to burn more calories at rest,” he explained. Another reason Dr. Harrison advises doing more strength training than cardio is because cardio has the potential to burn both fat and muscle.
To lose body fat and maintain or build lean muscle, you’re going to have to be diligent with strength training. “For the super-dedicated folks, I’ll have them do six days per week of lifting with only light cardio on their one ‘rest’ day,” Dr. Harrison said when asked how often you should work out to lose belly fat. If your schedule is more demanding, Dr. Harrison recommends lifting four days a week and doing full-body workouts.
If you’re a beginner or haven’t worked out in a while and six days of lifting sounds like too much too soon, don’t worry. In a previous interview with POPSUGAR, Stephen Cheuk, certificate IV Australian Institute of Personal Trainers and founder of S10 Training in NYC said to start with two strength sessions a week, gradually working your way up to three sessions a week.
To lose body fat, you’ve got to hit the weights, and you’re going to want to strength train a minimum of two times a week. If you’re wondering which exact exercises to do, Dr. Harrison recommends compound exercises. Why? Because they’re multijoint movements that work large groups of muscle and elicit a greater energy expenditure. This means that you have to work harder to perform them, and as a result, your body will burn more calories and fat. Exercises like barbell back squats, deadlifts, walking lunges, bench press, and pull-ups are all examples of compound exercises.
At the end of the day, you’ll have to pay attention to how your body responds to both strength training and cardio. You may need to tweak Dr. Harrison’s recommendations, and that’s OK. If you’re looking for more guidance at the gym, try our four-week muscle-building workout plan.