Cardio vs. Core Workouts: How to Really Get a Flat Stomach, Experts Say
Personal trainers settle a longstanding fitness debate.
Getting a flatter stomach is no easy feat, but experts say there are major health benefits to losing belly fat that go far beyond aesthetic appeal. If you've made it your mission to flatten your midsection, chances are you'll have to increase your physical activity and tweak other health habits. However, you may be stumped about where to begin—after all, there's a longstanding debate about whether cardio or core strengthening exercises are most efficient in helping you tone your middle. Ready to overhaul your health and add muscle definition? Here's how to really get a flat stomach, according to personal trainers with a track record for success.
Losing belly fat is about more than appearances.
If you tend to store extra weight around your middle, there's a good chance your body is holding onto excess visceral fat around your organs. Research shows that this is linked to a higher risk of serious chronic illness, meaning you have a lot to gain by losing belly fat.
"Maintaining a trim midsection does more than make you look great—it can help you live longer," explain experts from Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Larger waistlines are linked to a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. Losing weight, especially belly fat, also improves blood vessel functioning and also improves sleep quality."
Cardio is your first step toward a flat stomach.
If your goal is a flatter stomach, fitness experts say you'll need to take a two-pronged approach. The first step is to focus on cardio exercises that will help lower your overall weight.
"Cardiovascular exercises are crucial for burning calories and shedding fat, essential for revealing a flat stomach," says Andrew White, CPT, a physical trainer and the founder of Garage Gym Pro. "They increase your heart rate and metabolism, helping you burn more calories throughout the day."
In particular, he says that running, cycling, and swimming are excellent overall fat-loss activities.
Once you've lost weight, core strengthening exercises are key.
Next, you'll need to incorporate core strengthening exercises into your routine.
"Core exercises target the muscles beneath the fat layer, including your abdominals and obliques. Strengthening these muscles is vital for a toned appearance once the overlying fat is reduced," says White.
Sean Klein, CPT, a personal trainer and founder of the Programme app, agrees that core exercises are an important second step: "I have observed that core strengthening exercises, whether focused on the abs, obliques, or back muscles, are essential for developing a strong and defined midsection."
Klein suggests a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) format, which involves alternating between periods of low-intensity cardio and bursts of high-intensity core exercises like planks, crunches, or Russian twists.
"Both cardio and core strengthening are important. Cardio reduces the fat covering your abs, while core exercises build and define the underlying muscles. Ideally, incorporating both will yield the best results for a flat stomach," says White.
Your diet is also an essential factor.
Of course, your diet will also play a major role in whether or not you lose belly fat. White says that to slim your midsection, you'll need to make healthy food choices. He suggests focusing on whole, unprocessed foods like vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. He adds that staying hydrated can also reduce bloating and contribute to a flatter-looking stomach.
"Remember, everyone's body is different, and what works for one might not work for another," says White. "It's about finding the right balance and being consistent with your efforts."
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