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Crunch Time! - Articles Surfing


Do you notice how much time people spend in the gym on the floor doing crunches? Bobbing away, 10, 30 sometimes even 100's of crunches.

Funny how those people down there on their backs seem to have the biggest bellies!

My new clients will often say;

"I do 100 crunches a night but I still can't lose my tummy?"

"Can we do crunches because that's the area I need to improve?"

"I really want six-pack abs so I know I've got to do a lot of crunches."

Crunches are by far the most overrated exercise, one of the most risky for your spine, useless for weight loss and worst of all they don't even work your core musculature that well. No matter how much you want to believe it, doing thousands of crunches is not going to take off any inches from your waist or fat from your abdominal muscles.

In a recent study 13 Male subjects did a total of 5000 sit ups over 27 days. At the end of the study, biopsies examining the rate of change in fat cell diameters showed that the subjects lost NO fat around their abs.

This goes back to the infamous fitness myth of spot reduction. You cannot spot reduce fat on your abs by doing sit ups, fat is not utilised by the body in a localised manner. Basically working a specific muscle does not burn the fat around that muscle. Leg exercises wont remove fat directly from you're your legs, arm exercises wont remove fat directly from your arm and ab exercises wont move fat directly from your abs!

Surely it can't be all bad, crunches must do something?

Crunches will provide a training stimulus for your abs to get stronger and probably grow. A crunch is basically a weight training exercise for your abs, the same basic idea as doing a triceps extension for the back of your arm. You are working the muscle, which will eventually make it stronger and make it grow.

Well this is a good thing isn't it?

Maybe not as recent research shows that the crunch may not be the safest exercise for your spine and lower back. The growing body of research shows that a crunch is in fact one of the worst positions you can put your spine in. Doing excessive amounts of crunches could very well lead to imbalanced abs and core development as well as potential lower back and spine pain.

Your abdominal muscles are meant to assist in the stabilization of your trunk/core musculature. In other words they are meant to simply hold your trunk in place as your arms and legs move and do work such as running, jumping, throwing and lifting. All of these motions will work your abs without forcing you into the potentially dangerous position of a crunch. What's more they will work your other core muscles, oblique, TVA, and low back muscles equally well.

Functionally the abdominal muscles are not meant to pull your body into a forceful curling or crunching position. Exercises need to have some functional carry over into sport or everyday life, otherwise what's the point?

A pull-up; for rock climbing, gymnastics or getting out of a swimming pool.

A squat; for a powerful karate kick, Jump power in basketball or picking up a parcel on your doorstep.

Can you think of a practical or sporting situation where you really need to crunch?

Crunch Ball? Crunchnastics?

Or as most people do 20-200 repetition endurance crunches can you think of a situation where you might need to crunch repeatedly over 50 times?

A Crunchathon? Iron- crunch?

Ok so I'm being a bit silly now but the truth is people spend far too much time on ab specific training especially when someone's main goal is fat loss.

So how should you train your core muscles then?

Well first of all ignore all the ads for- 6 min abs, ab rocker, ab curler, ab rack (think I made that one up!), and don't bother with that TOTAL abs aerobic class with the chubby instructor, and definitely stay away from that ab crunch machine in the gym that's been designed by Alton Towers theme park.

Perform exercises that work your core muscles in a pattern they are meant to be used in. Exercises such as planks, side planks, stability ball roll outs, all forms of push ups, medicine ball throwing, squatting, running, swimming. The list could go on, but I think you get the idea. All of these exercises will work the muscles of your core in a balanced manner (unlike crunches which do not work your oblique or your lower back muscles).

So these exercises will get rid of body fat around my stomach and give me a thin waist or a six pack?

Well not really, they will strengthen your core in a functional manner, help with postural alignment and sporting performance, but now we get to the bit you probably didn't want to hear. To get rid of that unwanted stomach fat its simple, eat less food and burn more calories.

Being able to see a well defined 6 pack has nothing to do with doing any sort of ab exercises. It is all about burning fat. You already have a six pack, when you strip off enough fat you will eventually see it. Instead of wasting too much time on direct abdominal training you want to train your whole body to become a 24 hour fat burning machine!

To do this use full-body weight training sessions 2-4 times a week that elicit a great hormonal response and increase fat burning. Combined with short (10-20mins) interval cardiovascular sessions 2-4x a week to give maximum metabolic boost. But of course the most important part of getting that 6-pack is keeping to a diet high in natural proteins like chicken and fish, combined with natural unrefined carbohydrates such as brown rice and good fats like nuts and olive oil.

It seems to be the people who are obsessed with ab training that have the worst ab definition. Thinking of your body as a whole and not isolating certain areas is the key to a toned tummy; you might be surprised at what happens.

Carl, a client of mine, was surprised! Carl came to me to lose weight and get fit enough to join the British Paratroopers. When he started his training the last thing on his mind was to get a six-pack. After 12 weeks of excellent training and eating like I have described above he was fitter than he had ever been in his life, passed the paratrooper entry test and had a bonus prize, a rippling six pack! Carl said he had been working on his stomach for years and got no where so gave up. He certainly never thought he could get a six-pack without doing a single crunch!

So in summary ignore the fitness industry hype and stop crunching. Start training your abs in a functional manner that will benefit your whole core musculature. Stop focusing on you midsection, think of your body as a whole and train your body to become a 24hour fat burning machine. Healthy eating combined with exercise will get you there, so what are you waiting for get up off the matt and burn the fat!


Copyright (c) 2007 Mark Lawrence


Submitted by:

Mark Lawrence

Mark Lawrence is an experienced fitness professional specialising in fat loss. He runs his own Personal Training business in Greenwich, London along with his partner and women's fitness expert Judit Rago. To find out more and to download a free report on The Truth About Weight-loss go to http://www.lawrenceandrago.com



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