Visceral Fat: What Is It & How to Banish It from Your Body
The life of a personal trainer is, at once, simple and complex. The vast majority of clients have simple needs. They want a flatter stomach, a firmer bum, a smaller dress size in time for summer. Yet, there’s nothing simple about the human body, so even these goals can be a considerable undertaking.
It’s the job of a PT to bridge the gap. While your clients focus on pounds and inches, it’s up to you to turn their fitness journey into science. Many are unaware that body fat varies in type and composition. Visceral fat, for instance, is the most dangerous of all, but it tends to get overlooked in favour of the superficial fat just beneath the skin.
The Ugly Truth about Visceral Fat
This subcutaneous fat is what many clients are desperate to lose. It accounts for 90% of the fat in our bodies. So, it’s this we’re targeting when we ‘pinch an inch’ or struggle to fit into a pair of jeans. It’s responsible for belly rolls, wobbly thighs, and ample bottoms. Though, it isn’t the monster we think.
According to bariatric specialists, subcutaneous and visceral fat are distinct, with the latter carrying more risk. Visceral fat is a sneaky thing, as it curls around the organs. It accumulates inside the body and rests across the abdomen. In fact, it’s common for those with large amounts of visceral fat to be skinny everywhere but the belly.
The truth is targeting lumps and bumps should come second to eradicating this deep belly fat. Unlike subcutaneous fat, which is metabolically inactive, visceral fat puts pressure on the organs. It eats up energy, produces triglycerides (blood fats), and raises the risk of everything from diabetes to heart disease, cancer, sleep apnoea, dementia, and more.
Knowing How to Spot the Risks
First things first; we all have subcutaneous AND visceral fat. Genetics has a say in exactly how much, with Hispanics and Asians being at most risk. While there’s no clear gender divide, menopause can make it easier for women to put on weight. For men and women, visceral fat is more likely to accrue after the age of 45.
Unsurprisingly, health factors like smoking, poor diet, and lack of exercise also increase the percentage of deep belly fat. Though subcutaneous fat is less harmful, allowing the body to become overweight is a big risk. Healthy doesn’t mean shrinking to a size zero, but it is worth sustaining a safe BMI and waist size.
Doctors say a waist circumference of 39 inches for men and 35 inches for women is right on the threshold of healthy. Any larger than this and there is too much visceral fat. You can find out by circling the widest part of the stomach with a tape measure. If you’re a personal trainer, waist size might be a helpful starting point for weight loss and toning plans.
Feeling Healthy from the Inside Out
The good news is visceral fat can be burned away fast. In fact, the thing that makes it risky – its metabolic activity - is the same reason it responds well to exercise. Though, staying active is only half the story. Scientists say the stress hormone cortisol accelerates production of visceral fat. It means a balanced mood is essential for good health.
It’s why some doctors recommend gentle activities like yoga and walking. They burn calories slower than squatting or lifting, but they’re great for alleviating stress. Aside from getting zen, the best way to shed visceral fat is with anaerobic exercise. This is defined by short bursts of high intensity movement, such as sprinting, HIIT, lunges, and bench presses.
Compared with cardio – jogging, spinning, yoga, etc. – anaerobic exercise burns up to nine times more fat. It combines slower rest periods with explosions of intensity, so it can be very tiring. Though, don’t forget that being nine times more efficient, anaerobic workouts are just as successful when kept short and sweet (20-30 minutes).
The Best Exercises for Burning Visceral Fat
Start Running Up Hills
There’s debate on the effectiveness of treadmill sessions. Running at one speed, for extended periods, is not a speedy way to burn belly fat. It’s the kind of faux pas a personal trainer can correct with simple changes. Inclines boost fat burning by as much as 50%. You can also supercharge a workout by having the client switch between walking, jogging, and running.
Get on the Rowing Machine
Rowing is a great exercise because it targets multiple muscle groups. With proper form, it blasts the legs, core, arms, shoulders, and back. Although, as with running, you’ve got to get intense to reach that belly fat. Tell a client to row all out for 20 seconds. Follow it with 10 seconds of rest. Repeat eight times and finish with 500 metres at top speed.
Introduce Interval Training
HIIT is the holy grail for clients who want to shed deep belly fat. The more varied the workout, the greater its impact. This is where personal trainers get a chance to shine. Every PT has favourite tricks, so mesh yours together to create a beast of a routine. Keep it fun, dynamic, and fast paced. Think kettlebell swings, single arm rows, squats, lunges, push ups, and more.
Brave the Weight Room
Many clients are afraid of the weight room. Women, in particular, tend to avoid lifting because they worry about looking bulky. It’s up to personal trainers to prove weight training is beneficial (and surprisingly addictive). Lifting kickstarts the ‘after burner’ effect. This prolongs fat burning for hours after a workout. To banish belly fat, think high reps and minimum rest time.