If you’re currently trying to lose weight, or simply moving towards a healthier lifestyle, you are most likely trying to implement a daily system of dieting and exercising. If you aren’t, let this be a sign that you probably should! Dieting and exercising are two keys to weight loss, and when done together, can be extremely effective in helping you achieve your personal goals.
However, just like you need to orient your meals towards weight loss, you also need to direct your workout routine to do the same.
Some people, like body builders or football line-men, aim to gain weight, and they eat very high amounts of calories while mainly lifting for strength, which does not burn many calories. Inversely there are others, like marathon runners, that aim to lose or sustain weight, and they can burn thousands of calories daily while eating only a fraction of that back.
You are most likely not a marathon runner, nor am I, so I am certainly not advocating to train at an elite level right away. Despite this, if you want to lose fat, you want to take after their general habits, as their system of exercise burns high amounts of calories daily, and will help ordinary people like you and I burn belly fat.
But, what’s the best exercise to lose belly fat? How are they able to burn so many calories? As a matter of fact, it is not one specific exercise, but one specific TYPE of exercise that is highly effective in burning calories. This is any workout that will raise your heart rate.
To a certain extent, the higher you are able to get your heart rate while working out, the more calories you will burn at that time.
Get Your Heart PUMPIN
When you workout, blood is required to flow through your body at a faster rate than when it is a rest. This is because you are expending oxygen from your blood stream at a faster rate, so your oxygen rich blood (located in the heart) needs to circulate faster to replenish the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream.
This higher rate of blood circulation is the definition of a higher heart rate. Your heart pumps faster to be able to accomplish a higher rate of circulation.
What does that mean for you? Well, like any muscle or system in your body, it takes more energy for your heart to be able to pump blood faster, and also keep in mind that a calorie is a unit to measure energy. So by getting your heart to pump faster you are expending more energy, which is synonymous for burning calories.
However, you do not want to aimlessly raise your heart rate, because this can be both ineffective and potentially dangerous. There are different heart rate zones that will produce different effects, some of which you desire others that you don’t.
The Different Zones
There are 5 basic heart rate zones that can be achieved through exercise, each with their own pros and cons. There are many different names that these zones can be called, but to keep things simple today I will label the 5 zones as very light, light, moderate, hard, and maximum effort. (kind of unintuitive naming, I know, but it is just for simplicity’s sake).
Each zone is determined based off of a percentage of your maximum heart rate. If you do not know your maximum heart rate, which is not a common fact to know, just subtract your age from 220. It is not essential to be perfectly accurate, a general idea of your maximum heart rate will suffice.
Specific times and places call for each heart rate zone, and there are many benefits to be reaped from each (I plan to write more extensively on this and will post the link here). However, for today’s purpose of burning fat, there is only 1 zone that you need to be concerned with.
The Fat Burning Zone
The fat burning zone is absolutely instrumental for weight loss. This is the zone that will target fat as an energy source, as opposed to targeting other sources like stored carbohydrates or proteins.
To be in the fat burning zone, one’s heart rate must be around 70% of their maximum heart rate. This is the line between the light and moderate zones, and of course it’s hard to get exactly 70% percent, so generally anywhere between 65-75% of your maximum heart rate can be considered in the fat burning zone.
In the fat burning zone, it will not be that hard to maintain any exercise if you have a decent level of fitness. I like to say that you should be “comfortably uncomfortable”, meaning that it is going to be a bit challenging, but you should not be gasping for air, and at the end you should feel like you could keep continuing if you needed to.
Another question you might have is, why should I aim to be in the moderate zone when I could be aiming for the hard or maximum effort zones; wouldn’t that burn more calories? Yes, but actually no. Yes because you are technically burning calories at a higher rate, but no because you will not be able to sustain that activity that puts you in the harder zones for a long enough period. Exercises in the fat burning zone burn calories at a slightly slower rate, but you can also sustain them for much longer, which is why overall these exercises are the best to burn fat.
Everyone has different experiences and feels different effects while working out, but if you can keep “comfortably uncomfortable” in your head while working out, it can be an easier indication of what zone you are in as opposed to constantly monitoring your heart rate.
Now, you know what your heart rate should be and how you should be feeling, but what are the exercises that you need to do to get there?
A little Mo Cardio
Cardiovascular exercises, or cardio for short, gets a bad rep. If you’re just skimming weight loss articles or Facebook pages they will tell you to steer clear from cardio and focus on weight lifting. It’s true that weight lifting should be implemented to your exercise schedule to build muscle and help body composition, but cardio will be your foundation that will burn the majority of your calories.
To demonstrate this, consider a 150 pound woman. If she spends 10 minutes weight lifting she will, on average, burn 45 calories. However, the same woman can spend 10 minutes jogging, and she will burn 100 calories.
By engaging in cardiovascular exercises, you can burn almost double the amount of calories in the same amount of time.
This is the reason why in high school, when I was on the cross-country team, it was HARD for me to put weight on. Can you imagine?! My team and I would eat thousands and thousands of calories, but at the end of the day we would still look like, “noodle boys” as some people liked to call us.
Now, obviously if you are just beginning to lose weight you probably don’t have the endurance to do cardio for enough time to burn thousands of calories, but as you workout more and progress, you will be able to strengthen your cardiovascular system so that you can burn more calories at a time.
Do not misinterpret the message I am sending out though; cardiovascular exercise is merely a foundation to burn calories, but there are other supplemental exercises that you should be doing. Weight lifting is also essential because it replaces the fat you are burning with muscle. Also, it will help you prevent overuse injuries while performing cardiovascular exercises (which I have experienced many times when I was a runner).
Overall, cardio will help keep you in calorie deficit and help you to build a good base for your fitness. It will make your heart stronger and burn large amounts calories, making it the best exercise to lose belly fat.
Best Cardio Workouts
Hopefully I have sold you on the idea of cardiovascular training, now it’s time to identify some of the highest calorie-burning exercises in this arena. Here is a bulleted list of some of the best and easiest cardio workouts that you can do today.
- Jumping Rope
- Eliptical Machine
- Rowing (there are machines)
- Stair Climber
- Cross Country Skiing (kind of uncommon but highly effective)
These are just some ideas to point you in the right direction. It is not necessarily important what exercise you are doing, just remember to try to stay in that fat burning heart rate zone. It is also a good idea to do exercises that you enjoy, and that you can sustain for longer periods of time.
My personal favorite is running, because I have a history doing so, and I can pretty comfortably go for a nice 40-60 minute run (after months of getting myself back into shape), but I can only swim for 1-3 minutes without needing a break.
My point is that neither exercise is better than the other in terms of amount of calories burned, so I obviously stick to running because I enjoy it more and I can sustain it for a longer period. Make sure to give anything you do a solid chance to see if it is worth continuing, but if you are really struggling with a certain exercise, stop doing it and try another exercise that you can sustain more easily and for longer.
How to measure heart rate
The last question I am yet to address is, how can you measure your heart rate? People are not set with a gauge or internal clock that tells them what their heart rate is at all times (although that would be cool).
The easiest way to measure your heart rate, in my experience is with a smart watch or fit bit. I personally have an Apple Watch, and it’s the best thing ever when it comes to tracking my fitness. There is a health app that shows me my heart rate at all different times throughout the day, and it syncs to my phone so I can download that data and analyze it as needed.
I know that there are many other reliable watches that can track heart rate, like fit bit or garmin watches that have similar features.
I will admit, some can be quite pricey, but if you are serious about your fitness and want to start working out and losing weight, a fitness tracking watch can be well worth your money. Plus it will give you incentive to work out so the money you spent on the watch won’t go to waste.
If, for whatever reason, you do not want or cannot afford a fitness tracking watch, there is still a way to manually track your heart rate. Start by finding your pulse, either by your wrist or directly under your jaw bone. Start a 15-30 second timer and count the number of beats you feel throughout that time. Then take that number and multiply it by 4 or 2 to find out your beats per minute.
If you are trying to find your heart rate in the middle of a workout, I recommend stopping when you feel like your heart rate is not rising anymore and do this technique.
Coming into a workout, you should already know your target heart rate to be in the fat burning zone, so use your mid workout readings, either by watch or though counting, to adjust accordingly.
There is nothing wrong with manually tracking your heart rate, but it can be quicker, easier, and more accurate to use a fitness tracker. The more accurate your data is, the better you will be able to adjust your workouts to benefit yourself, and the better your health will become in return.
At the end of the day, it does not matter if you know what your perfect workout is, or if you have the perfect plan to help you lose weight, it matters if you execute it.
It is better to follow through on a terrible plan that you need to tweak and fix a million times before it is suited for you than it is to have a perfect plan that you do nothing with.
Dieting and exercising requires lots of trial and error, so you cannot expect to just go out and be and expert. Only a small portion of your learning can be done online, but the majority of it needs to be learning and experiencing what works and what doesn’t in person.
The question, “what is the best exercise to lose belly fat?” is a terrible question. There is a different answer for every single person, but fortunately you can now narrow down what type of exercise is best.
Today, take action on the information you’ve gained. Lace up your shoes and go for a run. Find a local pool and go for a swim. Uncover your old elliptical or treadmill and put in some time. Anything that you can do is a start and it will help you begin your journey towards a healthy lifestyle.
As always, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please leave them on this post I will be more than happy to hear from you. And if you have any good cardiovascular exercises, share them in the comments! Community feedback is always valuable, not just for me, but for everyone reading!
Keep moving forward,