You can lose belly fat in as little as two months; it takes a diligent effort of eating clean and eating in a calorie deficit, getting enough sleep, and being strategic with strength training. But what about cardio? Although strength training (like weightlifting) can help you build lean muscle, which burns more calories at rest, cardio is an essential piece to the weight-loss puzzle, including burning belly fat.
We must preface this by saying there's no such thing as being able to spot-reduce fat on a specific part of your body. Sure, there is some evidence that HIIT workouts may reduce belly fat, and there are certain foods you should avoid to prevent gaining belly fat, but for the most part, you have to lose overall body fat, and your genes decide where that fat comes from. With that in mind, POPSUGAR spoke to certified personal trainers, who explained why cardio is important for fat loss and how much you should do a week to see results.
Why Cardio Is Important For Fat Loss
"When it comes to losing body fat, it's important to remember that energy balance is key," Eric Bowling, an NASM-certified trainer at Ultimate Performance, told POPSUGAR. To tilt the balance toward fat loss, you need to expend more energy than you take in: this is done either by eating in a calorie deficit (eating less), exercise (moving more), or a combination of both. "Cardio is simply a way of increasing your energy output and is a good fat-loss tool," he said.
There are three types of cardio, Eric explained. Low-intensity steady state cardio (LISS) has a low perceived rate of exertion (RPE) and a pace that feels easy and can be maintained for extended periods of time (think: walking on a treadmill for 30 minutes). Moderate-intensity steady state cardio (MISS) can be maintained for an extended period of time, and the pace and exertion feel uncomfortable (like a 5K run). High-intensity interval training (HIIT) alternates between short periods of high-intensity activity, like sprinting, with periods of low-intensity recovery periods, like walking.
For best results, Eric said you should do a mix of all three — whichever you can stick to consistently. However, he also said it's important to also incorporate strength training into your fitness routine, especially with progressive overload (increasing the amount of weights and/or reps so you get stronger). Not only does strength training burn calories, but it also keeps the body from adapting; he said if you do the same cardio workout over and over, your body will adapt and you won't see results unless you push yourself to go faster or longer. With strength training, you can constantly challenge your body with different moves, increasing weight, or doing more reps, which will yield results.
How Much Cardio You Should Do to Lose Belly Fat
Although nutrition plays more of a role in losing weight (not eating more calories than you burn), doing cardio will help you lose overall body fat, including in your belly. "According to the ACSM, in order to lose weight, it is recommended to shoot for 200 to 300 minutes a week of cardio," recommended Jim White, an ACSM-certified personal trainer and registered dietitian who owns Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios. "Shoot for five days a week of 45 to 60 minutes of cardio to really burn body fat and lose weight." He added that strength training is important for weight loss and you should still aim to strength train a couple of days a week; you can start your workout with a short strength-training session and end with a short HIIT cardio session.
As far as what type of cardio, Jim said to do whatever you will stick to: you may burn more calories in a shorter period of time with HIIT, but that might be too challenging for people, while others find LISS too boring. Find a method that works for you and stick to it. Eric recommends breaking up your schedule by doing more HIIT than LISS; if you train five days a week, three of those days can be HIIT and two LISS (or one day can be a combination of both).
Overall, to lose belly fat, lifestyle habits are still key: dial in your nutrition (and eat in a healthy calorie deficit), get enough sleep, and do cardio a few days a week with some strength training thrown in. If you're consistent, you're bound to see results.