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The Reality On The Ability Of Crunches To Burn Belly Fat

One of the most frequent questions I get is “what are the best ab exercises to lose belly fat?” The reality is there are a lot of great ab exercises for strengthening your core and toning your abdominal muscles but NONE of them are very effective at burning belly fat.

It’s simply a matter of using the wrong tool for the job. Losing belly fat is best accomplished with dietary changes and a combination of cardiovascular exercise and resistance training. Specifically on the exercise front you want to be doing resistance with burst training on the larger muscle groups (think squats, presses, rows, etc) and working up to doing some high intensity interval training with your cardio workouts.

Of course all exercise is beneficial for body composition changes but weight training and interval training are optimal choices for belly fat reduction. This has more to do with the hormonal responses to various forms of exercise and less to do with actual caloric expenditure.

A lot of people are fixated on caloric expenditure with exercise when in reality it’s very difficult to burn enough calories from exercise alone to make a significant impact on fat loss.

All exercise simply compliments the changes made in your diet to have your body call upon energy reserves during restriction phases. Just like the old saying goes…”you can’t out-exercise a bad diet.” Most experts, myself included, will tell you body composition changes are about 80% diet and 20% exercise, not the other way around.

So back to this whole idea on the ability of crunches to burn belly fat. If you think you can actually crunch your way to a flat stomach, stop, it won’t work. A recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that performing sit-ups and crunches had ZERO impact on the reduction of belly fat.

One group of study subjects performed ab exercises 5 days a week while the other control group did nothing. At the end of 6 weeks, there was no significant change in belly fat in either group. Both groups were told not to change their diet.

According to a recent Men’s Health article it would take approximately 22,000 crunches to burn a pound of body fat. That’s a LOT of crunches.

Consider this…an individual weighing 150 pounds would burn approximately 5 calories per minute when doing crunches at a moderate pace. If you were able to maintain this pace for 30 minutes, which would be unrealistic, you’d only burn about 160 calories. That won’t cut it.

Plus like I eluded to earlier it’s not all about the caloric expenditure anyways. Remember the hormonal responses to various forms of exercise are far more important. The problem with trying to isolate your abdominal muscles for caloric expenditure and fat burning is they’re a relatively small muscle group. In other words, you don’t exert much energy while working them.

An exercise like squats which works the much larger leg muscles will expend several times the amount of energy compared to crunches or sit-ups. A lot of times I’ll tell people the BEST exercise to lose belly fat would be barbell squats and they look at me with a blank stare.

How can that be? This doesn’t make much sense on the surface but it’s true. There’s no such thing as spot reduction in the way we think about it with exercise. The body will pull fat reserves from where ever it’s stored when needed with demand.

Granted there are different types of fat cell receptors and some areas of the body will release stored fat quicker than others. I won’t get into that with this discussion, but just know that crunches and sit-ups to lose your belly is a fools choice.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. He specializes in helping people achieve a body transformation with burst training exercise and whole food nutrition. You can receive a FREE no-obligations trial of his Charleston personal fitness programs and start experiencing the Shaping Concepts difference today.

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Category: Fitness Training.