Working the abs will not burn stomach fat.
It's been witnessed over and over again -- someone doing an endless number of crunches to lose stomach fat. While their efforts should be admired, their tactics are all wrong. Working a certain muscle will not burn fat on that specific area. This is known as spot reduction and falls into the realm of myths and urban legends. Your body works and uses fat as one large unit, so in order to lose fat you've got to engage in a full-body workout program.
Fat is stored throughout the body in cells known as adipocytes, commonly called adipose or fat cells. Adipose cells are packed closely together, giving a chicken-wire appearance to the tissue. This is what causes the dimpled look of cellulite. Fat cells can develop almost anywhere but tend to accumulate in the subcutaneous tissue beneath the skin. It also has a penchant to collect in the abdomen, around organs and in the hips. Fat serves as a major energy source, a shock absorber and as insulation.
Science of Fat Loss
Once you have a fat cell, it never goes away. Instead, it becomes more plump when it takes up fat or shrivels up when it releases fat. During exercise, a caloric deficit, starvation or other times of energy demand, your body sends out chemical and hormonal signals to the fat cells. When the fat cell is stimulated, it releases its contents into the blood stream in the form of free fatty acids, or FFAs. The FFAs are then transported through your bloodstream to the tissues where the energy is needed. Once the FFAs reach the working muscle, enzymes help the particles enter the muscle cell, which is where the energy production takes place. As your fat cells release their contents they shrink, giving you a leaner appearance.
Why Spot Reduction is Ineffective
Spot reduction often involves working small muscles such as the abs, triceps or adductors of the inner thighs. The American Council on Exercise notes that the exercises used to target these muscles are "relatively insignificant in terms of enhancing overall fitness, strength and energy expenditure" -- all of which are necessary to achieve and maintain a healthy body fat percentage. When you work a specific muscle, the abdomen for example, you will strengthen and build that muscle if enough stress is applied to the tissues. However, that's where the benefits end. Unless you're engaged in a program that promotes fat loss, you will never see the results of all your hard work.
Effective Fat Loss Tactics
Rather than focusing on one specific body part, work your body as one complete unit. The American Council on Exercise recommends combining a healthy low-fat diet with regular cardio and strength-training activities. The key to fat loss is an ever-present caloric deficit, which can be achieved by a moderate reduction in your daily intake and 30 to 60 minutes of cardiovascular activity most days of the week. While strength training is not a major calorie burner, it does build metabolically active lean muscle tissue, which requires calories for maintenance. The more muscle tissue you have, the more calories you burn during your workout and at rest.