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Is the plank exercise really good for burning "belly" fat?


Graham Kavanagh, specialist exercise instructor in York.
A plank exercise

The major issue when wanting to lose fat is many look for an actual exercise to achieve this. Many exercises are commonly marketed and promoted as great for fat burning or this exercise is great for burning belly fat.


One of those exercises is the plank exercise. A lot of the mis-information comes down to mis-communication or only part of the actual picture is revealed.


Burning calories comes from creating a negative energy balance..... meaning eating fewer calories and/or moving more. It is also impossible to choose where you want to lose fat from, so the idea of performing plank exercises to reduce fat around the mid section is misleading.


The body uses fat collectively and doesn't decide today..... it is only going to take fat from the mid section. Fat reduces as fat reserves are used and exercise is part of that equation.


TO UNDERSTAND A LITTLE BETTER.....


The first point to note is that no fat loss program will work unless an individual is in a calorie deficit. Many jump on a diet and most diets literally do not work because they are unsustainable..... often dropping below the basal metabolic rate (calories needed to keep you alive).


As well as eating in a calorie deficit, the other part of this is moving the body more. This is where exercise comes in. Diet and exercise typically work hand in hand.


THIS MAY SURPRISE MANY.....


Fat is being burned at rest even whilst asleep. It is an ongoing process. If this is the case then why bother exercising at all? If we rely on doing nothing, the level of calorie expenditure is so low..... and if no adjustment is made then nothing will change, especially if over consuming is a factor.


Physical activity provides a strong argument for promoting fat loss, simply because increased exercise expends higher levels of energy..... meaning burning calories. There can be a juggling act between eating less and exercising more which is variable individual to individual.


IS THE PLANK REALLY A GOOD EXERCISE FOR LOSING "BELLY" FAT?


There is a huge amount of inaccurate information and sometimes completely wrong advice being promoted regarding the "plank" exercise for losing fat around the midsection.


The plank rose in popularity some decades ago and was promoted as a "far effective exercise" for abdominals than all the other abdominal exercises. People were told to ditch the crunches and do planks instead. People were told to exercise the abdominals to get a flat stomach.


In actual fact this is a myth. There was and still is confusion between working the actual muscles and actual fat loss. Fat and muscle are two different things.


If planks were great for burning belly fat..... we wouldn't have a growing obesity problem across the population. Individuals could just do planks and not be carrying excess fat. 👈


The plank is not an efficient exercise for burning fat. Nor are many other exercises when used in isolation. Hard as it may be to perform, the calorie expenditure is not nearly enough.


A plank can help body positional awareness, body alignment, build "stamina" and work those "abs" to some degree. A perfectly fine exercise if used in the right context.


Another point to note..... the abdominals have a huge "range of motion" and there are far better exercises out there to exploit that..... if working the abdominals is the aim.


Hanging knee raises, hanging leg raises and lying on the floor leg raises. Even crunches can provide a good bang for the buck when it comes to efficiently targeting the ab muscles..... though not for fat burning. 👈


For example..... abdominal crunches. A lot of those can be done without really breaking a sweat due to low level energy expenditure.


Many still think ab exercises give a flat belly. Abdominal exercises may strengthen the abs underneath the fat but are highly unlikely to cause any fat burning and therefore failing to provide that flat belly..... even though the abs underneath may be very well conditioned.


Now put on a jacket. Start running across a football field. In no time, that jacket will be removing that jacket because the body has raised temperature..... and is expending a higher level of energy. This demonstrates the difference between a less efficient exercise and a more efficient exercise..... for energy expenditure.


BUT CAN I NOT JUST LOSE FAT BY EATING HEALTHY?


Yes, you could if that nutrition is on point. You wouldn't reap the rewards that exercise and moving brings..... stronger bones, stronger muscles and improved cardiovascular health for starters.


By the same token you could lose weight by eating a poor diet everyday..... if those total calories fall into a negative energy equation. There would be a poor nutritional value to this with serious deficiencies.


IN SUMMARY.....


Aiming to lose fat requires a negative energy balance (eating fewer calories and moving more). The take home message is frequent exercise periods throughout the week, and eating a balanced diet as a sensible approach to fat loss.






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