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Paige Waehner

Fit Fact: You Can Finally Ditch the Crunches

By July 25, 2012

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I've spent a lot of time on the topic of flat abs, both in my blog and in some of the articles I've written and, at the bottom of those discussions lies the sticky thorn embedded in the quest for six-pack abs: Crunches. Crunches aren't the only exercise we use to try to get flat abs, of course, but they represent the ingrained belief that ab exercises are what we need to reach the holy grail of ab perfection.

If you need proof or, perhaps, permission to stop spending so much time on crunches and to do more effective core exercises that work your muscles in multiple planes of movement, you're in luck. In a study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, researchers decided to answer the question most of us have been struggling with for years: Do ab exercises reduce abdominal fat? To that end, they placed 24 sedentary men and women into two different groups: A non-exercise group and an ab exercise group. The ab group did 7 different exercises for 6 weeks, repeating 2 sets of 10 reps of each move. The conclusion? At the end of 6 weeks, there was no change in body weight, body composition or abdominal fat.

The take home message here is that crunches aren't inherently bad, but if you're doing them to lose belly fat, you can safely turn your energy to more effective ways of doing that: Cardio, strength training and more functional core exercises.

What do you think? Does this kind of study change your mind about crunches or flat abs? How much time and energy do you expend on the goal of six-pack abs? Leave a comment and tell us what you think?

July 26, 2012 at 10:36 am
(1) Pam says:

I don’t waste much time performing countless crunches. Yes, I have definition in my mid-section, and I also have a little belly fat, but my core is strong and solid. I’m never gonna have flat abs. A flat belly isn’t necessarily a strong core anyway. I’m 40 and i’m not trying to look 20.

July 26, 2012 at 2:05 pm
(2) Fitness fan says:

I lost 30 lbs years ago, which reduced my waist size by 2, but my tummy was not flat. The stomach crunches I was doing hardened my abdominal muscles, but did little to flatten my tummy.

I was able to flatten my tummy significantly by replacing the crunches with sit-ups.

I have since then created various leg lift exercises on an inclined bench, that are incorporated into my current workout at my fitness facility. These exercises took time to develop, as I had to build up my core strength to support each exercise; each new exercise was more difficult that the last. These extended leg lift exercises are considerably harder than ordinary sit-ups, and have strengthened my core over the last 9 months.

Both crunches and sit-ups alone got to be a bit boring for me. I still do sit-ups, but combine them with my leg lifts on the bench. Together with my inclined push-ups on one leg and with leg extensions, and bar weight exercises, my core workout is now half of my weight and resistance training, the rest being free weights and weight machines.

I donít have flat abs, but Iíve increased my strength and fitness over the last 9 months Iíve been doing my new exercises, even after the last 7 years of cardio and weight training. Bottom line is, if youíre satisfied doing crunches and are satisfied with the results, OK. Otherwise, there are many exercises that may be better suited to achieving your goals.

July 28, 2012 at 12:15 am
(3) Steve says:

The only “ab” exercise you should ever do is plank. Replacing crunches with sit-ups sounds dumb and is dumb. Maybe consider leg lifts, but anything else will put excess stress on your lower back. When you do any other lifts (squats, deadlifts, pushups, “standing anything”), engage your core. When you do cardio, avoid sitting as much as you can (spinning) and avoid ellipticals. They don’t engage your core like running, swimming, or jumping rope do. Of course there will be days where you need to do low impact cardio, but do them only as needed. Basically, crunches are a waste of time and effort. For the people who do 30 minutes of abs, do abs every day, etc., you’re only holding yourself back.

July 30, 2012 at 5:26 pm
(4) thumper says:

I disagree with leaving the crunch. I have been doing crunches for years. I do 1 set of 10 for about 10-12 different exercises, planks, and the ab wheel. If I stop doing crunches, I lose sight of my abs(i have the outline, i just have to lose fat) I believe crunches are essential. It may not flatten your abs, but it will add definition, you just have to figure out the reps, sets, and possible weight that you need to maximize your results.

July 30, 2012 at 7:36 pm
(5) Bryce says:

There are countless ways of incorporating core stabilaztion and strengthening into a workout…or for that matter, any daily lifting, reaching or carrying task. I think multi-dimensional integrated core training is the most efficient if you like freeweights and body weight training like me. I think the folks at Halo have it figured out. The addition of Halo Trainer and TRX training have been not only efficient, but effective!

July 31, 2012 at 1:39 am
(6) Maidenhair says:

No crunches for me and will never have a flat stomach. However my obliques are tight due to a lot of hiking and I love it!! I’ve also started kayaking and know that is going to help with core strength also.

July 31, 2012 at 10:03 am
(7) dee says:

How about those of us that still have belly fat from child birth.

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