Having a flat stomach may be a common fitness goal. Exercises that burn fat, tone the core, and build muscle can help a person achieve it.

This article explores exercises and other strategies for having a flat stomach. It also looks at how long this may take and factors that can affect a person’s progress.

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A person’s body composition refers to their relative proportions of:

  • fat
  • muscle
  • bone
  • tissues and organs
  • fluids

Health and fitness experts generally consider two components: “fat mass” and “fat-free mass.” Fat mass refers to the total mass of body fat, while fat-free mass refers to the total mass of all the other components.

Find a body fat percentage chart here.

Anyone aiming to lose belly fat should aim to lose overall body fat. As this happens, belly fat also reduces.

The time it takes to lose body fat varies from person to person. These factors may play a role:

  • age
  • sex
  • height
  • weight
  • physical activity
  • eating habits
  • any underlying health conditions

Generally, a person needs to burn 3,500 calories to lose 1 pound (lb) of fat. This means that a person who cuts out 500 calories a day from their diet may lose around 1 lb per week or 4 lb per month.

Learn to measure body fat here.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that people who lose weight at a slow, steady pace of about 1–2 lb per week tend to maintain their weight loss.

A 2017 study found that many people who lose weight quickly may be losing more lean body mass and water weight than body fat.

Below, we explore some exercises that may help a person burn fat, tone their core, and build muscle in order to have a flat stomach.

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The standard plank engages the following muscles:

  • the core, a group of major muscles that connect the spine and pelvis
  • the upper abdominal muscles
  • the lower abdominal muscles

Planking burns more calories than other abdominal exercises, since it engages the arms, legs, and back.

Here are the steps:

  • Step 1: Lie flat on the stomach, with the forearms parallel to the floor.
  • Step 2: Using the forearms and toes for support, push the body up from the floor.
  • Step 3: Ensure that the head, neck, back, and legs remain in a straight line.
  • Step 4: Hold the position for as long as is comfortable before returning to the starting position.

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The side plank engages the following muscles:

  • the obliques, the side core muscles
  • the arms
  • the glutes

Here are the steps:

  • Step 1: Lie on the left side, with the torso raised so that the left forearm is directly under the left shoulder, and the left palm is flat on the floor.
  • Step 2: Stack the right foot on top of the left foot, so that the right leg lies directly on top of the left leg.
  • Step 3: Lift the left hip away from the floor, ensuring a straight line through the torso, hips, and legs.
  • Step 4: Tighten the core and glutes to maintain balance.
  • Step 5: Hold the position before slowly bringing the left hip back to the floor.
  • Step 6: Repeat the exercise on the opposite side.

A modification of this exercise involves rotation. When getting into position, a person raises their top arm, then slowly rotates their torso while moving the top arm underneath the body in a scooping fashion.

A person should aim to do 8–10 repetitions on one side before switching to the other.

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This exercise engages the abdominal muscles.

Beginners might start with this exercise to build up their core strength. A person can follow these steps:

  • Step 1: Lie on the back with the legs and feet raised at at a 90-degree angle.
  • Step 2: Lift the upper body while tensing the core to reach for the toes.
  • Step 3: Hold the position for 1 or 2 counts before slowly lowering the upper body while continuing to engage the core.

A person can begin with 1–3 sets of 18–20 repetitions each.

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This exercise engages the following muscles:

  • lower back muscles
  • upper abdominal muscles
  • lower abdominal muscles
  • quads
  • hamstring muscles

Here are the steps:

  • Step 1: Lie flat on the back, with the legs straight out in front.
  • Step 2: Engaging the core, slowly raise the straightened legs toward the ceiling.
  • Step 3: Continuing to engage the core, slowly lower the legs as far as possible without allowing them to rest on the floor.
  • Step 4: Continuing to engage the core, slowly raise the straightened legs back up toward the ceiling.

Aim to perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions each.

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Roll-ups engage the following muscles:

  • the abdominal muscles
  • the lower back muscles
  • the obliques

Here are the steps:

  • Step 1: Lie on the back, with the legs straight out and slightly apart.
  • Step 2: Place both hands behind the head.
  • Step 3: Slowly lift the upper body while keeping the back straight, and stop in an upright seated position.
  • Step 4: Slowly lower the upper body while continuing to keep the back straight, until the entire body is lying flat.

A person can perform up to 3 sets, with each set lasting 1 minute.

Bicycle crunches help tone the abdominal muscles and obliques.

Here are the steps:

  • Step 1: Lie flat on the back, with the fingers interlaced behind the head. Raise the head and shoulders from the floor, and raise the knees so that they are directly above the hips.
  • Step 2: While exhaling, twist the torso to bring the left elbow toward the right knee, and extend the left leg.
  • Step 3: Hold the position for 1–2 counts.
  • Step 4: While inhaling, return to the starting position.
  • Step 5: Repeat on the opposite side.

Aim to perform 3 sets of 12–20 repetitions. Rest for 30–60 seconds after each set.

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This yoga pose helps to strengthen the core and spinal muscles while improving balance.

Here are the steps:

  • Step 1: Sit with the knees bent and both feet flat on the floor.
  • Step 2: Lift both feet and slowly lean back while engaging the core. Keep the knees bent so that the shins are parallel to the floor.
  • Step 3: Straighten the legs to a 45-degree angle, so that the legs and upper body make a “V” shape.
  • Step 4: Reach the arms out in front, so that they are parallel to the floor.
  • Step 5: Aim to balance on the sitting bones while maintaining the pose for several breaths.
  • Step 6: Exhale while releasing the legs and returning to the starting position.

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Burpees help burn calories and build muscle mass.

Here are the steps:

  • Step 1: Stand with the feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Step 2: Slowly squat down while bringing the hands in front of the body.
  • Step 3: Lower the hands to the floor, and kick the legs back into a plank position.
  • Step 4: Jump the legs forward to resume a squatting position.
  • Step 5: Rise to stand.

A beginner might start with 2 sets of burpees, each consisting of 10–15 repetitions. Rest for 30–60 seconds after each set.

To have a flat stomach, a person needs to reduce their total body fat mass. Below are some tips.

Regularly doing physical activity

Low levels of physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle are associated with weight gain. A 2020 study found that getting more than 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week can counteract weight gain.

Doing resistance training

Weightlifting and other forms of resistance training are excellent ways to burn calories and increase muscle mass.

And intense weightlifting continues to burn fat after the workout has finished. Health and fitness experts refer to this as the “afterburn effect.”

A 2018 study found that resistance training reduces muscle loss associated with calorie reduction, while also reducing body fat mass.

Maintaining a healthy diet

Anyone looking to reduce their total body fat should opt for healthier foods, such as those high in fiber, protein, and healthy fats. It is also important to reduce the intake of sugar, since the body transforms excess glucose into fat.

Staying hydrated

Drinking water can promote a feeling of fullness, which may help reduce overeating at meal times. It also prevents water retention and bloating, which can cause the stomach to appear more prominent.

Dehydration can also mask itself as hunger, which may cause a person to crave sugary foods.

Getting enough sleep

According to a 2018 review, studies show that low-quality sleep can have these negative health effects, among others:

  • changes to hormone levels, particularly those that regulate appetite and hunger
  • changes to metabolism
  • an increased risk of diabetes

A different 2018 study found that poor sleep quality makes a person more hungry and more likely to overeat.

Reducing stress

Stress causes the body to release a hormone called cortisol. This can boost the appetite and slow down metabolism.

Chronic stress can cause persistent high cortisol levels. This can lead to a rise in blood sugar and an increased risk of weight gain and obesity.

Losing belly fat involves reducing the total mass of body fat.

Some exercises that can help include planks, bicycle crunches, and burpees. Other techniques for reducing belly fat include reducing the calorie intake, staying hydrated, and improving sleep hygiene.

Many factors can affect how long desired weight loss takes. Anyone who consistently exercises tends to see and feel changes in several weeks to a few months. But each person is different. It can help to avoid comparing one’s own progress with that of others.