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Too often, people think the answer to getting a slimmer, more defined midsection is to do umpteen abdominal crunches, but crunches only enlarge the two large rectus abdominal muscles that run vertically down your pelvis.
If you don’t have a lot of belly fat overlying those muscles, you’ll see muscle definition if you’ve done crunches and other exercises to hypertrophy the muscles.
But most people have too much body fat covering those muscles, and crunches do little to eliminate that fat.
Crunches ineffective for belly fat?
Abdominal crunches burn few calories. The real calorie burners are exercises that work the large muscle groups, like the muscles in the back and lower body.
Plus, with crunches, you work an isolated muscle group, unlike exercises like squats, where you work multiple muscle groups in your lower body at the same time.
Working more muscle groups simultaneously burns more calories. So, stop being obsessed with crunches and make these changes to get a slimmer, more toned waistline, and abs.
Do More Compound Strength-Training Exercises
As mentioned, crunches are an isolation exercise; you’re only working one muscle group at a time, and a small muscle group at that. Compound exercises work multiple muscle groups and involve movement around more than one joint at a time.
Examples are squats, deadlifts, push-ups, lunges, pull-ups, and bent-over rows.
Although these exercises don’t directly target your abs, you activate the abdominal and back muscles because they function as stabilizers to keep your body stable when you do a squat or deadlift.
Plus, these exercises burn enough calories to help you trim the extra fat that covers your abdominal muscles.
Some fitness trainers believe compound exercises, not ab crunches, are the key to getting a leaner more defined midline.
Hours of crunches won’t give you the same results, and there’s some evidence that repeatedly flexing your spine when you do them isn’t good for your back either.
Trim the Sugar and Add More Fiber
Sugar and refined carbohydrates are the enemies of a lean, defined waistline. When you eat these foods, your blood sugar spikes, as does insulin, making it easier to store fat, including belly fat.
In contrast, fiber helps prevent blood glucose spikes that cause your blood glucose level to jump. Combine fiber-rich foods, like fruits and vegetables, with lean protein sources, and you have a recipe for fat loss.
Switch sugary drinks out for water and green tea. The high-fructose corn syrup in soft drinks and other sugary beverages is a contributor to belly fat.
Do High-Intensity Interval Training
You might think sustained moderate-intensity exercise, like jogging or cycling, is best for taming belly fat. However, research suggests that vigorous exercise produces a hormonal response that is more effective for trimming belly fat.
Introduce a day or two each week of high-intensity interval training, exercise where you exercise intensely for a short period of 20 seconds to a minute followed by a rest interval where you partially recover to repeat the process.
By switching back and forth between intense exercise intervals followed by recovery intervals, you can get an effective, belly fat-burning workout in 15 to 20 minutes.
It’s a more efficient way to burn fat, as opposed to moderate-intensity exercise that ties up an hour or more of your time.
Cortisol is a stress hormone your adrenal glands release more of when your body is under significant stress.
Although cortisol helps your body gain the glucose it needs during stressful periods, it leads to muscle breakdown and an increase in belly fat if it remains high.
Taming cortisol will help you trim belly fat.
What’s the key to subduing cortisol? First, don’t overexercise. That’s one disadvantage of long periods of moderate-intensity exercise: it can lead to a rise in cortisol.
Also, other forms of mental and physical stress can cause a bump up in this stress hormone.
To tame belly fat, you need effective ways to manage stress, like meditation, deep breathing, yoga, or quiet walks in nature. Sleep is also vital for cortisol control.
Vary the Abdominal Exercises
Trimming belly fat through good nutrition and high-intensity exercise will reveal the ab muscles hiding under a layer of body fat.
However, it would help if you hypertrophied, enlarge these muscles, get definition, or call six-pack abs.
Abdominal crunches will do that, but you’ll get better results if you vary the ab-focused exercises you do.
For example, planks strengthen your abdominal muscles, but they also work all of your core muscles.
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Plus, there are many variations on planks that are more challenging and work your core muscles differently.
Also, planks work the transversus abdominis muscle, a deeper abdominal muscle that pulls in your mid-section like a girdle, while crunches have little effect on this muscle.
Other exercises that work the abdominal muscles include hanging leg raises, ab rockers, bicycle crunches, exercise tubing pulls, captain’s chair, etc.
Branch out a bit, and don’t be so obsessed with traditional crunches.
The Bottom Line
Abdominal crunches won’t burn away belly fat: you need to burn more calories than you take in to do that.
So, focus less on the crunch and more on compound strength-training exercises, high-intensity interval training in moderation, cortisol management, and good nutrition.
They’ll help you get there with less stress on your back!