The second best way to get rid of your beer belly: Lower your body fat so your abs can emerge to greet the day. But you know that already. We’re all about finding the best ways to burn fat and stay lean with a smart diet that avoids deprivation. Likewise, there are better ways to shred your midsection than spending hours on the treadmill or doing basic crunches.
We asked 7 top personal trainers — spanning the worlds of cycling, CrossFit, yoga and beyond — for their favorite exercises that’ll give anyone a head start on whittling their middle. Here are 16 of their recommendations.
ERIC SAND, National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer and Lead Instructor at Bespoke Premium Cycling Studio in Downtown Los Angeles
Why they’re great for your belly: The bicycle exercise was proven to stimulate more abdominal activity in the rectus abdominus (aka your six-pack) and the inner and outer obliques than the traditional crunch, in studies using electromyography, a fancy word for technique-that-measures-muscular activity.
How to do them: Lie flat on a mat. Bring your knees up to 90-degree angle, and take your hands behind your head (applying as little pressure to the neck as possible). Lift the upper body and rotate across the body while simultaneously performing a bicycle motion with your legs, drawing the opposite armpit toward the opposite knee. Try to keep the elbows as open as possible, and draw the core in and up as much as possible. Perform 12-15 reps (one to the right, one to the left counts as ONE rep) for 2-3 sets.
Hanging Leg Raises
Why they’re great for your belly: The hanging leg raise targets the transverse abdominus (the front and side of the abdominal walls located below your internal obliques), which is a significant part of achieving core strength.
How to do them: Find a pull-up bar. While holding yourself up (pulling the shoulders down and back as much as possible), keep your feet together and exhale to bend the knees and pull them up to just above a 90-degree angle. Pause for a second at the top, and slowly lower the legs back to the hanging position. For an added challenge, perform the leg raises with straight legs (pointing the toes away from you) and add in a twist to the right and left (alternating on each rep) to hit not only the transverse abs but also the internal obliques. To stimulate the heart rate even more, perform a pull-up between each hanging leg raise. Be sure not to swing the legs and to stay in control of the motion! Perform 3 sets of 10-12 raises.
Stability Ball Mountain Climber
Why it's great for your belly: The pushup-plank position will help stabilize the core, while the mountain climbers will help develop hip flexion.
How to do it: Place your hands a foot-and-a-half apart on a large stability ball (in a pushup position). Be sure the body is in a straight line from head to toe. Slowly bring the right foot off the floor and pull the right knee up towards the chest. Pause at the top, then slowly lower back to the floor and repeat on the opposite side. For an added bonus, perform a pushup on the stability ball between each rep. The mountain climbers should be slow and controlled. Perform 2-3 sets of 10-12 per side.
Incline Reverse Crunch
Why it's great for your belly: The reverse crunch is an easy exercise to continually progress in order to challenge the rectus abdominus. The higher the incline, the higher the resistance (and this is also a great exercise to do if the pullup-position of the hanging leg raise is too difficult for you)
How to do it: Find an adjustable incline bench. Set the incline to approximately 45 degrees (the flatter the incline, the easier the exercise becomes, so beginners can start with the bench completely flat). Place your head at the top of the incline and legs at the bottom, knees bent. Grabbing the bench behind your head, slowly exhale as you pull your knees up towards your head, rolling up one vertebra at a time. Pause at the top, and then slowly control the core (keep pulling it in an up!) as you lower back down to the bottom of the bench, articulating one vertebra at a time into the bench. Perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
DEBORAH WARNER, President, Mile High Run Club
Russian Twist With a Kettlebell
Why it’s great for your belly: The Russian twist with a kettlebell targets upper and lower abdominals and the obliques.
How to do it: Sit on the floor with your legs bent. Hold a kettlebell in front of you. Twist as far as you can to the left, then twist as far as you can to the right. This can be executed at a higher intensity with a heavier kettlebell for more calorie burn. Bicycle the legs for an extra challenge! You should perform 3 to 6 sets for 30 seconds each, with a 30-second break in between.
ANDRE CREWS, Trainer at CrossFit Union Square, New York City
Why it’s great for your belly: Deadlifts are a gym session must because they essentially work everything south of your neck: Traps, lats, pecs, abs, glutes, quads—the list goes on. It’s the most fundamental movement in the history of man. By building a solid foundation of lean muscle mass, your body will burn more fat while at rest.
Run. Faster. Run Again. Faster.
Why it’s great for your belly: Look at the body of an Olympic sprinter compared to a marathon runner. You'll notice some not-so-subtle differences. Both have impressive cardiovascular systems, but the sprinter has a more impressive physique. And it's not because sprinters lift weights and do crunches all day. When you sprint, you activate your fast-twitch muscles, which help you lift heavy and move explosively. So when we sprint, we light those muscles up all throughout your body. Your obliques will fire up as your core works to maintain stability.
ANDY McDERMOTT, Hollywood Fitness Trainer
Why they’re great for your belly: These are one of my favorite core exercises. I love this movement because it incorporates flexibility and mobility into the core strengthening and stabilization. You're activating so many muscles groups in your "machine" that you don't need to do too many before you're feeling it big time.
How to do them: From a standing position, bend at the waist and place your palms on the ground in front of your feet (bend your knees a bit if needed). Slowly "walk" your hands out away from your feet as far as you can. After pausing for a beat, slowly walk your feet forward until they reach your hands, then stand up. Repeat. (Or watch this video on how to do them.)
Why they’re great for your belly: This incorporates your whole body. I believe our body responds better when we train it as a complete unit—not one part at a time. In this exercise there's an element of proprioception (basically, throwing your body off balance), which forces your core muscles to activate — fighting to keep you stabilized.
How to do it: Push up, then rotate one hand off the ground and point to the sky. After stabilizing in a "T," raise the top leg and point it to the sky also, forming an "X" with your body. After pausing for a beat, lower your leg, then lower your hand down, repeat with a push up and the other side of your body. (Or watch this video on how to do them.)
DEAN POHLMAN, Founder, Man Flow Yoga
Why it’s great for your belly: The High Lunge is a full-body exercise that works on endurance, strength and flexibility in your lower body, balance and core strength, in addition to helping to open the chest. This position puts your body in full alert mode, which speeds up your metabolism and helps you burn fat faster.
Why it's great for your belly: Similar to High Lunge, this is a full-body exercise that requires you to be extremely attentive to detail. It is a very challenging pose that can leave you gasping for air in just seconds if it’s attempted correctly and at maximum effort. This pose will tax your core strength, balance and flexibility, and push your maximum range of motion in your chest and shoulders.
BRIAN FLYNN, Owner of Body Unique in Brooklyn, New York; Named One of NYC’s Best Trainers by the New York Post
At Body Unique, we rarely if ever use crunches. Most of our clients come into us with posture issues, hunched over from long days of work and with sunken shoulders. So when we’re programming core movements, we try to open our clients up with stretching and activation activities, bringing them back into alignment (which is a core exercise in itself), and then we torch the core with some basic and super-effective moves.
Why it’s great for your belly: I absolutely love this exercise because it creates a lot of stability around the entire core (front/back), it helps support the spine better because you are activating the entire back side of your body while engaging your core on the front side. This helps you run a lower risk of back pain. It's also a fantastic exercise to help slim down your waistline.
How to do it: Set your forearms on the floor with elbows directly under your shoulders and legs fully extended behind you, with your knees locked out. The trick to this exercise is to be as parallel to the ground as possible, so try not let your hips drop or your head push toward the ground. The more aligned you are, the more effective it is. Draw your navel in, squeeze your butt and try to pull your elbows toward your feet (this will engage your lats). If you are doing this exercise properly you will probably only be able to hold it for 20 seconds. That's OK—put your knees back down on the ground with your forearms in place, rest for a few seconds and have at another rep.
Sitting Medicine Ball Anti-Rotations
Why it’s great for your belly: This creates stability around the midsection, links up the upper and lower body through the core and wakes up your obliques.
How to do it: Sit down and hold a light medicine ball. Sit up, feet hip width apart, with your chest upright. With your navel drawn in, bring the medicine ball to chest height with elbows tight to your sides and shoulders down. Then press the ball straight out in front of you. Keeping your shoulders through your feet still and your arms extended, bring the ball from side to side, ending in front of each shoulder. To make this movement more challenging, move a little faster.
Stability Ball Roll Outs with Pull-In
Why it’s great for your belly: This is a combination movement that involves the entire core as well as your upper and lower body, which increases calorie burning. And it’s fun!
How to do it: Set yourself up with your hands on the floor directly under your shoulders and your shins on a stability ball. Get as stable as you possibly can, with your navel drawn in, before moving to the next step. Drive your body back while keeping your hands in place, so the stability ball ends up around your thighs, your hands overhead and chest dropping towards the floor slightly. Get stable in this position so pause for a moment (you will feel this in your triceps, shoulders and lats). The next step is to go in the opposite direction. Move toward your initial position with your hands directly under your shoulders and hips pushing forward into a pike position toward the ceiling, with your legs bent. Then go back into starting position and repeat.
Kettlebell Overhead Walking
Why it’s great for your belly: This is a fantastic way to integrate the strength you gained with the previous movements. You’ll increase your calorie burn because it’s strength training and uses the entire body.
How to do it: This exercise can be done with a dumbbells, kettlebells, weight plate, sandbag or any other weighted implement. Find a weight that you can hold above your head with your elbows extended without hyperextending your lower back. Bring it overhead and pack your shoulders down in the socket (this will help with stability). Try to keep your rib cage down and navel drawn in. (For safety purposes, start slow!) Walk slowly while remaining stable. The weight will want to drift back so you will need to stay as stiff as possible. Once you feel comfortable, you can take larger steps.
SEAN WELLS, Owner and PT, Naples Personal Training, LLC
Weight Lifting With Cardio
Why it’s great for your belly: Research shows that a program consisting of both resistance training and cardiovascular exercise, along with nutritional modifications, is the ideal weight-loss method.
How to do it: The resistance-training program should focus on moderate resistance with moderate sets and reps (2 to 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps), with a focus on functional movements that engage more than one part of the body (such as squats, rowing and chopping motions). Be sure to work different body regions back to back, with little rest between movements. This will keep your heart rate up and give you a muscle-building and metabolic boost.
Perform your resistance program three times per week. The type of cardiovascular exercise should vary from biking, jogging, and even swimming during a week. Be sure the intensity is high enough to make you moderately breathless for at least 20 minutes, five days per week.
High Intensity Interval Training
Why it’s great for your belly: An excellent program for those that are healthy but have a bit extra in their midsection is high-intensity interval training (HIIT). This program requires you to perform a quick bout of exertion followed by a recovery period). HIIT is one of the top fitness trends of 2015 and offers significant benefits in boosting your metabolism, losing weight and gaining muscle.
How to do it: I would suggest finding a certified personal trainer or physical therapist to help direct you at beginning such a program. If you’re unfit to start, be sure to do a 6 to 8 week break-in period to prevent injuries and overtraining before beginning.