Run Your Belly Off!
Belly fat is bad news. While researchers debate the real health risks of a higher body mass index (BMI) or carrying a few extra kilos, everyone agrees that wearing too much weight around your waist is largely detrimental to your health.
Research shows that a waistline over 100 centimetres for men and 88 centimetres for women puts you at risk for heart disease even if you’re not technically overweight and otherwise in good health. Belly fat has also been linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar and diabetes. Again, bad news.
The good news is that you already own the best tool for shedding that bad-news belly fat: a pair of legs. Whether running or cycling, aerobic exercise can help you shed excess weight. The key is performing a variety of workouts that build your fat-burning engine, rev your metabolism and the production of fat-burning hormones, suppress your appetite, and help you burn more fat and kilojoules all day long. Yep, you can do all that. Here’s how.
Go hard. Do interval training once or twice a week (no need for more; stick to one day, especially if you race or go hard on weekends). Numerous studies have found that high-intensity training significantly reduces total abdominal fat, including dangerous visceral (belly) fat more effectively than lower-intensity exercise. There are endless ways to do interval training. One example:
•Warm up: 10 to 15 minutes
•Pick up your effort so you’re working hard (a nine on a 1-to-10 scale; you’re breathing hard, but not gasping) for 30 seconds to one minute.
•Go easy for one minute.
•Repeat a total of five times.
•Cool down for two to three minutes.
Research also shows that after just 10 to 30 seconds of high-intensity exercise, your body unleashes a human growth hormone which helps you burn fat and maintain muscle. High-intensity exercise also appears to help curb your appetite and trigger hormones that regulate feelings of hunger and fullness better than lower-intensity exercise, so you’re less likely to overeat.
Keep it controlled and comfortable. Yes. We just told you to go hard to burn off unwanted belly fat – but don’t overdo it. Going hard all the time stresses your body and leaves you chronically inflamed, which can backfire by contributing to belly-fat storage. Cap the intensity to a couple times a week and take the rest of your weekly runs at a comfortable pace.
Many recreational runners “are doing too much high intensity training and they’re not getting leaner or faster,” says Iñigo San Millán, PhD, an Exercise Physiology director. “Many of your runs should be in zone 2,” he says. That’s an intensity where you can talk the whole time – about a five to six on that 1-to-10 scale. “This is usually the intensity that elicits the highest fat oxidation for energy purposes,” says San Millán. These runs are not only good for burning fat, but also for building your slow-twitch, endurance muscle fibres; increasing capillary development; improving your ability to use lactate for energy; and making you a better fat-burner all the way around.
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Aim for about 80/20. A number of coaches prescribe what is known as the “80/20 rule,” also called polarised training, for balancing training intensity. It’s definitely worth a try for burning off belly fat as well as for getting fitter and faster. The goal is to spend 80 percent of your time running at low intensity and 20 percent at moderate to hard intensity. That way, when it’s time to go hard, you have the freshness and energy reserves to go hard enough to maximise those interval efforts.
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Hitting both intensities actually improves your abilities all around: Your slow-twitch muscle fibres do the work of recycling the lactate your high-intensity, fast-twitch fibres produce. so when you spend time building them, the payoff is being able to work harder at high intensity – which in turn stimulates more fat burning. Research shows this intensity combo also makes you a better runner. In a recent study, researchers found that polarised training has a greater impact on endurance than volume or intensity alone.
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