Image: Kari Perrin

Summer is officially here, which means it's swimsuit season. If you are looking for ways to trim down your abdomen, Andrew Shackelford, a local trainer from D1 Training in Lakewood Ranch, has some tips on how to tone up.

When it comes to reducing stomach fat, Andrew says the key is to combine cardiovascular and weight training. "You are going to miss the benefits of increasing metabolism through weight training if you only focus on cardio," says Shackelford. "With weight training, you can burn more calories throughout the day, at a steady pace, even when resting."

One of the ways to receive the benefits of both types of exercise is through high-intensity interval training, known as HIIT. HIIT incorporates a series of movements you do in rotation, broken up by short rests. Andrew says the program helps get your heart rate up in the beginning, maybe during a warm-up, and then slowing it down during strength training.

What are the most common exercises for reducing stomach fat? "We use bands a lot for core training, as well as kettle bell variations, medicine ball training, like slam tosses," says Shackelford. "We also do classic plank holds and plank variations." He works with clients to target the core through these overall exercises, but never does heavy weight core exercises.

What about the classic crunches or floor ab workouts? While it is not a bad thing to isolate those ab muscles, there are more effective full body movements that use your entire core and other major muscle groups, as opposed to isolating, according to Shackelford. "Dynamic movements will be a much better use of your workout time," he says.

Is it possible to target and reduce stomach fat specifically? "You can't pick where fat is burned from," says Shackelford. "But what you can do is lose overall fat weight and build muscle, which will affect the shape of your abdomen." Shackelford says body fat distribution is largely based on your genetics; you can't choose where fat is going to shed first. But when you strengthen your core, it creates an illusion. "You could have the same amount of body fat in that area, but if you are building muscle, you are going to look leaner," says Shackelford.

So, what would an ideal workout routine look like? Shackelford suggests doing so-called "fasted cardio" in the morning. That just means you exercise prior to eating. Shackelford says that puts you in a calorie deficit to lose weight. He also recommends incorporating compound movements (like squats, deadlift variations and planks) into each workout, and establishing a weekly routine that incorporates weight training and cardio, with methods like HIIT. If you find yourself unsure, consider booking a session with a personal trainer.

And the biggest part to busting belly fat? Nutrition. Shackelford recommends eating a lean source of protein after your workout and timing your carbohydrates around your workout—like in combination with a protein after you exercise or eating complex carbs before your workout. "This will optimize your energy levels," says Shackelford. "I also recommend eating your biggest meal of the day after your workout. So if you work out in the morning, breakfast should be your biggest meal of the day."

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