While it’s tempting to roll out the exercise mat and crunch away, working out specific abdominal muscles might not carve that six-pack quite like we hoped. Studies suggest the path to a flatter stomach has just as much to do with cardio and diet as it does with workin’ that midsection.

Tighten Up — The Need-to-Know


It may be time to reconsider that all-crunches-all-the-time workout plan. Research shows standard crunches along with those trendy stomach-carvers (specifically the Ab Flex and Ab Roller) fail to deliver on their promises Comparison of two abdominal training devices with an abdominal crunch using strength and EMG measurement. Demont, R.G., Lephart, S.M., Giraldo, J.L. Neuromuscular Research Laboratory, University of Pittsburgh, PA. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 1999 Sep;39(3):253-8.. Another big-time bummer: Spot reduction” (aka targeting a specific area on the body for fat blasting) is likely just a gym-floor myth. Research shows that whether the bull’s-eye is on the abs or those less-than-firm underarms, resistance training targeting specific areas isn’t the one-stop-shop for a sleeker physique Subcutaneous fat alterations resulting from an upper-body resistance training program. Kostek, M.A., Pescatello, L.S., Seip, R.L. et al. Department of Kinesiology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2007 Jul;39(7):1177-85..

But why not? Fat is broken down and transported into the bloodstream, and when it’s used as fuel, it can come from anywhere in the body. So although a dozen crunches can make the stomach feel the fire, fat may be burning elsewhere. (Sneaky, huh?!)

To strengthen abdominal muscles, crunches may help. Yet, a combination of varied core and cardiovascular exercise along with a healthful diet is a surefire step in the right and tight direction.

Cap’ No Crunch — Your Action Plan

Need a foolproof plan? Start with fuel. A six-pack of beers won’t do anything for that other six-pack, so cut the excess carbs and focus on eating lean protein like turkey or chicken (but don’t follow this guy’s lead). A Mediterranean diet might help burn stomach fat, too, which can help reveal hidden core muscles Monounsaturated fat-rich diet prevents central body fat distribution and decreases postprandial adiponectin expression induced by a carbohydrate-rich diet in insulin-resistant subjects. Paniagua, J.A., Gallego de la Sacristana, A, Romero, I, et al. Lipids and Atherosclerosis Research Unit, Reina Sofía University Hospital, Córdoba, Spain. Diabetes Care, 2007 Jul;30(7):1717-23.. And for speedy results, try hitting the gym hard and fast: High-intensity interval training can lead to fat-burning and lean muscle-building in just 20-minute sessions. Scientists have also found shorter, high-intensity workouts can trim abdominal fat by 20 percent compared to (gasp!) no change in those who stuck to longer, less intense workouts.

At the end of the training day, while crunches can help improve muscle endurance, more studies show that abdominal exercise doesn’t necessarily lead to losing extra flab The effect of abdominal exercise on abdominal fat. Vispute, S.S., Smith, J.D., LeCheminant, J.D., et al. Department of Kinesiology & Health Education, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Edwardsville, Illinois. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2011 Sep;25(9):2559-64.. A blend of aerobic exercise, resistance training, and a smart diet is the best route for abs of steel— so quit crunching and get moving in more ways than one.

The Takeaway

An abs-only workout plan won't guarantee that rock-hard stomach alone— eating right and clocking in cardio are also key to success.

Confession time: Who has hit the mat for a crunch-marathon in hopes of a stronger stomach? Has it worked?

Photo by Jordan Shakeshaft

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