You strain and sweat in cardio class, but that belly flab won't budge. Maybe you stepped on the scale today and were shocked to find that you're heavier than you were two days ago despite a week of eating every conceivable variation of soy and celery. What gives? My guess is you've been going about weight loss the wrong way. Instead of counting calories and doing crunches like there's no tomorrow, try these tips to covert stubborn belly fat into lean muscle.
Target your fast-twitch muscle fibers and you'll build stronger abs in less time. Spanish researchers found that doing abdominal exercises at a fast tempo activates more muscle than doing them slowly. Crank out as many reps as you can do in 20 seconds for a more effective core workout in less time.
Exercise, then eat
Research suggests that the best way to eat less at a meal is to work out right before it. This works in several ways: First, you're less hungry when your metabolism is revving, such as right after a workout. Second, you're thirstier, so you drink more water, which uses up space in your belly and relieves hunger. Third, the calories you do eat get burned for energy pronto—not stored as fat.
When you're walking, stand tall and picture a cape flowing off your shoulders, Superman-style, to ensure your best posture. A taller posture will give you the appearance of being slimmer, while also training your abs to stay firm. (More: 4 Moves for a stronger walk)
Focus on the flip side
Your abs are an intricate system of muscles, connecting to your rib cage, your hips, and even your backbone. To have strong abs, you need not only belly exercises but also lower-back strength and exercises for your obliques (the abdominal muscles that run down the sides of your torso). (Video: Tone your obliques)
Practice looking leaner
Maybe you've heard of "muscle memory": the way your body learns to do a physical activity (like riding a bike) and never forgets. Well, your abs have a memory, too. If you consciously keep your abs firm throughout the day, they'll tend to stay firm even when you're relaxed. (Search: How to tighten your tummy)
Don't sacrifice your best ally
When you lose weight on a "diet," muscle is the first thing to go. It's more expensive for your body to retain than fat is, so when you run low on calories, your body dumps muscle mass and turns it into energy. (That's why diets of denial are counterproductive.) When you go off the diet, you begin to gain back the pounds—but because you now have less calorie-burning muscle, the weight you gain is fat. By dieting, you've effectively turned muscle into fat. (More: Say goodbye to belly fat)