Does Using Exercise To Reduce Belly Fat Work?

Get rid of your stubborn belly fat once and for all by using the proper combination of diet, cardio and resistance training. A three step diet plan is included.

Can you burn belly fat using exercise? The answer to this question is an obvious yes - but with a caveat.

Exercise burns calories. All movement does. When you breathe or blink or scratch your ear, you are burning calories. But burning calories does not mean you are losing fat, or belly fat for that matter.

To lose fat you have to expend more energy than you are taking in. In the world of human physiology, energy expenditure is measured in calories. We can find the energy levels, or calories, of the foods we eat by simply looking at the packaging.

The bottom line is this: to lose belly fat you first have to expend more energy than you take in. This can be accomplished two ways:

  1. Exercise. Increasing your activity level (exercise) so that it surpasses your daily food intake.
  2. Diet. Keeping your daily energy expenditure the same (not exercising) while reducing your calorie intake (dieting).

This article will outline the pros and cons of trying to lose body fat using both methods. I will end the article with some diet, lifting and cardio advice.

Before me move on, a note about spot fat reduction.

Spot Belly Fat Reduction - Can It Be Done?


You can't "spot" reduce belly fat by hammering out endless reps of crunches or sit ups. Expended energy, if it leads to fat loss, will trigger fat loss from throughout the body, and not just from your waist line.

Losing Belly Fat - Exercise vs. Diet

Exercise and Belly Fat

For this section we're going to pretend you're a 5'10", 230 pound, 28 year old male who requires 3000 calories per day to maintain his weight. For the sake of example, we will also assume that you lead a rather sedentary life; that you don't get much exercise and your job isn't physically strenuous.

Your BMR, or the amount of calories you would expend if you sat completely still for a 24 hour period, is approximately 2200 calories. Let's assume that you actually burn more like 2500 calories per day. You aren't comatose, and do walk to your car and to the refrigerator occasionally. (Yes, that was a joke)

To help you lose belly fat, let's give you the goal of burning 3500 calories per day. This will put you in a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day, or 3500 calories per week. 3500 calories burned equates to about one pound of fat loss per week, or 4 pounds per month.

Achieving this amount of energy expenditure will require you to burn 1,000 calories via cardio each day. To reach 1,000 calories burned, you will need:

  • Walking. To walk 10 miles.
  • Running. To run 10 miles.
  • Basketball. About 2 hours of non-competitive basketball.
  • Bowling. Over 3 hours of bowling.
  • Hill Climbing. One hour of climbing a hill with 50-60 pounds on your back.
  • Cycling. 75 minutes of moderate cycling.
  • Golf. 2.5 hours of golf that includes walking and carrying your clubs.
  • Stairmaster. About 75 minutes on the Stairmaster.
  • Rowing Machine. About 90 minutes of rowing.
  • Swimming. About 90 minutes of moderate swimming.
  • Sex. Over 3 hours of sex. (dream on!)

So, the bottom line is this: to burn off 50 pounds with exercise alone, so that your belly fat is all but gone, you will need to keep up this pace for nearly a year. Yes, you read that correctly - 50 weeks. This requires hardcore exercise 7 days per week, with no days off.

Now obviously no sane trainer would advocate this type of exercise regimen. Not only is it physically challenging, but it's also infinitely unrealistic. Would you be able to exercise for hours a day, 7 days a week, for an entire year?

Even if you could exercise in this manner, we haven't even addressed the issue of hunger. Remember what your mom and dad used to say: "You're working up an appetite!" Yes, you are. All this exercise will amp up your drive for food, which will most certainly result in an indirect increase in your daily calorie intake. Remember, you're not monitoring calories, so there is no failsafe preventing you from eating just a little but more.


Losing belly fat using exercise alone is a near impossible task. It can be done, but it will take time. A lot of time (a really long time), and some good fortune.

Treadmill - Weight Loss

You can't "spot" reduce belly fat by hammering out endless reps of crunches. Expended energy, if it leads to fat loss, will trigger fat loss from throughout the body, not just from your waist line.

Diet and Belly Fat

Whereas belly fat loss is nearly impossible with exercise alone, it can be achieved using no cardio at all if your diet is spot on. This probably sounds rather controversial, so let me explain.

Let's continue using the example of our 28 year old, 230 pound male. If he drops his daily calorie intake below his daily maintenance level of 2500 calories, he can strip away belly fat without cardio. Sure, it might take a while, but if he dials in his calories properly and resists fad diets and starvation diets, this gentleman will lose belly fat without needing to exercise.

Is this the best way to lose belly fat? Probably not, but it is a more forgiving method. To increase your rate of fat loss you can add 3-4 days of cardio per week and won't have to live in the gym. This method doesn't hinge on keeping a perfect exercise regimen, but it will require a strict adherence to food intake.

If our example drops his daily calories to 2200, and performs cardio 3-4 times per week for 20-30 minutes, he would drop about one pound of fat per week. This is the same rate created by not monitoring diet and trying to exercise off 1,000 calories per day.


At the end of the day, dieting is hard. Make no bones about it. Losing weight using diet and moderate cardio does provide two distinct advantages over trying to lose weight by exercise alone:

  1. You are not required to exercise for hours a day, 365 days a year.
  2. You are assured of results because you are counting calorie intake.

How To Really Lose Belly Fat - A Nutrition, Lifting and Diet Plan

The following is a list of 3 steps to take that will help you drop your belly fat and body fat. If you have any questions regarding this plan, please leave them in the comments section below.

Step 1 - Determine your calorie intake. Spend a week writing down everything you eat. From this list, figure out your average total calorie intake per day.

Step 2 - Subtract 300 calories. Subtract 300 calories from this average. Eat this amount for one month, ignoring any weight you lose during the first 2 weeks of your diet. Initial weight loss generally involves a lot of water loss, due to decreased carb and sodium intake. If you are not losing 1.5 to 2 pounds per week during weeks 3 and 4, drop your calories by 200 per week for another month and start to add in cardio.

Step 3 - Adding Cardio. Start with 2 sessions per week, at about 10 minutes per session. Don't pressure yourself to be superhuman. Do as much as you can. Build over time until are up to 3-4 sessions per week of 20 to 30 minutes each.

To maximize your results, make sure you are getting a good balance of proteins, carbs and fats. Men will want to eat about 180 to 200 grams of protein per day, or slightly more if they have faster metabolisms and are allowed a higher amount of calories per day when cutting. Women should eat about 100-120 grams of protein per day. Supplement with protein powder if need be to reach your daily intake requirements.

Make sure 20-30% of your daily calories come from healthy fat sources. Remember that there are 9 calories for every gram of fat you eat. Once you have determined your daily calorie intake from fats and protein, subtract this from your daily calorie intake to determine how many calories you can eat from carbohydrates. 

Weight Training and Belly Fat

You not only want to dial in your diet and cardio, but also your resistance training sessions. People commonly drop to higher reps and lighter weight when they are trying to lose fat. This is a huge mistake. You must challenge yourself with resistance so that you give your body as much incentive as possible to hold on to muscle while losing fat.

No one wants to end up skinny fat. If you do not use a proper resistance training workout, you will lose fat but also likely lose muscle tissue. This will result in a thinner, but still someone flabby (un-toned) physique.

To help you maximize your gym efforts, I recommend reading the following articles:

Join over 500k subscribers who receive weekly workouts, diet plans, videos and expert guides from Muscle & Strength.

About The Author
Steve Shaw is an experienced raw masters powerlifter with over 31 years of iron game experience. His best competition lifts are a 602.5 pound squat, a 672.5 pound deadlift, and a 382.5 pound deadlift. Steve is also known as a powerbuilder. His goal is to help others build as much muscle and strength as humanly possible.

20 Comments+ Post Comment

No Profile Pic
Posted Wed, 02/19/2014 - 12:43
rockymark anoche

how to reduce fat. jogging and basketball is nice work out

No Profile Pic
Posted Fri, 10/25/2013 - 19:01

What is your opinion on so called path-breaking FlexBelt for losing abdominal Fat ?

No Profile Pic
Posted Sat, 08/31/2013 - 21:10
Sebastian AM

The article is very nice. Thething I learned is the importance to be aware of calories you consume. But I'm writing here to ask for an article directed to people who are not so fat, but to people who are physically active and want to reduce the little (but difficult to remove) belly. Thanks

No Profile Pic
Posted Sun, 05/26/2013 - 15:52

I am 5,10 225 coming off a torn bicep tendon so weight training is still a few months away. I am trying to keep my calories at 1500. I have been waling 2/3 miles a day 5 days a week and cant lose my belly or weight. I am a 56 yrs old any advice? Thanks......

No Profile Pic
Posted Sat, 05/11/2013 - 11:42

Hi I am 30 yrs height is 5.2" & weight is 67kg.I want to reduce my belly fat & weight.I am doing some exercises in home without instruments for the last two weeks.Also i am taking honey with water and lemon.For how many days i need to take honey?How long it will take to reduce belly fat by doing exercise?

No Profile Pic
Posted Sun, 02/24/2013 - 15:42
Cesar Ramirez

Hey Steve,

I am 26 years old, 215lb, and my height is 6ft. My daily calorie budget is 1,665 calories. My weekly daily macro avg are 21.5 g of fat, 166.8g of carbs, and 214g of protein. My goal Is to loose Fat. I would like to drop to 200lb but this is really giving me a hard time, Is there any help you can give me? Am I doing this right?

No Profile Pic
Posted Sat, 02/16/2013 - 11:46

This article is the best I've read on the Internet about dieting with exercise. Not sensational but very realistic and down to earth. Thank you very much and keep it up!

No Profile Pic
Posted Thu, 01/31/2013 - 01:50

This is what we need to hear, its a nice article

No Profile Pic
Posted Tue, 01/22/2013 - 13:25

I just hit my first plateau in my fat loss program, I am down 27 pounds and 4% body fat. My calorie intake is between 1200-1300, with fat intake at about 20%, protein is about 50-55% and carbs being about 30-35% daily. I was consistly losing 2.5 lbs a week, I weigh in every other sunday and last sunday I had a one pound drop in a two week span. So my main question is what are some of my options, other than increasing cardio and strength training and dropping calories, to help get over this plateau and back on track?

mnsjason's picture
Posted Thu, 01/24/2013 - 17:42

This is pretty normal, as fat loss tends to slow down as progress is made. I would be careful about dropping calories, and you may want to consult with a doctor before doing so. Dropping too low can actually slow your metabolism, which isn't something that you want. As long as you're making progress, you can stick with what you're currently doing.

mnsjason's picture
Posted Fri, 01/25/2013 - 17:53

You're certainly putting the work in! Outside of what you're already doing, you may consider a fat-loss supplement. If you're hesitant to try one, there are plenty of stimulant-free products out there. Green tea extract, CLA, and l-carnitine are just a few of some great supplements.

No Profile Pic
Posted Sat, 01/26/2013 - 10:58

Thank you! I will definitely look into some of those!

No Profile Pic
Posted Fri, 01/25/2013 - 15:54

Thank you for your response. I do not plan on going any lower with my calorie intake, as I feel would be way too low. Is there something I can add in? I am currently doing 3 days of HIIT cardio and 4 days of MISS cardio. I tend to do a refeed meal, once every two weeks, where I will lower my protein about 30%, increase my carbs and fats. I have about another 8 pounds to lose before I start adding a refeed every week. What other things can i incorportate to help increase the metabolism, to kick start the fat loss again?

No Profile Pic
Posted Tue, 01/15/2013 - 09:32

Hi I'm 5'8 and 84kg I was hopeing u could help me by telling me how many
Cal I should be takeing a day, I go to the gym 2-3 times a week and do mostly
Weights and a bit of cardio, what would u reacomend? Thanks :)

mnsjason's picture
Posted Tue, 01/22/2013 - 17:06

Use this tool to help determine how many calories you'll need:

You'll need to subtract about 400 calories from this number if your goal is to lose weight, and add if you're trying to gain.

No Profile Pic
Posted Thu, 01/10/2013 - 12:31

Love these articles!

No Profile Pic
Posted Thu, 01/10/2013 - 07:56
Andrew Smith

Right on Steve, what do you recommend with how much sugar I should take in after my work out? or does it not matter? I probably take in at least 50g from my greek yogurt and grape juice. I definitely stay away from the bleached nonsense... Thanks for the prompt reply!

Steven's picture
Posted Thu, 01/10/2013 - 10:39

I would stick with what you're currently doing post-workout and assess it's efficiency. If you like it, and feel it's helping, then a little sugar won't be a bad thing.

No Profile Pic
Posted Wed, 01/09/2013 - 18:48
andrew smith

Should the amount of water you intake play a role in belly fat loss? I drink a gallon+ a day as per request from my multi vitamin. Should I decrease or keep the same? Also as for the diet, should one cut out sugar from their diet? I eat natural sugars from fruits and juices. I ask this because I read an article on here about how to get your abdominals to really pop out and sugar seemed to be the one thing to get rid of. Since reading that article I've been trying to only intake sugar after my workout. Thanks

Steven's picture
Posted Thu, 01/10/2013 - 01:05

That level of water intake is rarely a bad thing. As far as sugar, I would avoid white sugar and white flour, and eat carbs that feature some nutritional value such as quinoa, etc.