No amount of “ab work” is going to flatten your stomach. Ever. Read that again if you need to. If someone tells you it will, they are either lying or misinformed. The reason for your muffin top is not a lack of crunches, I promise you. It is the combination of poor diet and not enough meaningful activity. Simply put, the pudge around your mid-section is stored energy. Calories you consumed, but never used. If you eat more energy (aka: calories) than you burn, your body stores this energy as fat. Often around your mid-section. Unless you make changes to your diet and exercise program, that fat will remain exactly where it is. Crunches or not.
Try as you may, there is no such thing as spot reduction. You can no more pick a spot on your body to lose fat than you can pick a place to add it. No amount of biceps curls will give your arms definition if there is a layer of fat covering your muscle. The reason you don’t have a six-pack is probably not because your stomach isn’t strong enough. It’s that your abs are hidden by fat. The only way to lose that layer of fat is to burn it off. Crunches are not an efficient way to do this. Rather, hit the weights and add intervals to your workout. Clean up your diet while you’re at it.
Abdominal work (let’s call it core from now on) strengthens your mid-section. Period. If you have a strong core and low body fat (aka: less fat covering those hard-earned muscles), you probably have a well defined mid-section. More importantly though, your strong core enables efficient movement, which decreases your risk of injury and increases performance. That’s it. Core work, while important, is not metabolic in nature and does not burn a lot of calories.
When calories consumed out number calories burned, the excess is stored as FAT. To get rid of that fat you must tip the scales. You’ve got to burn more calories than you consume. You would have to crunch for hours to burn anywhere close to the amount of calories you’d burn from strength training and intervals. Plus, you shouldn’t be doing crunches in the first place because of the stress they put on your back.
In addition to diet and exercise, there are other lifestyle changes you can make to whittle your middle. For example, limiting the amount of stress in your life will help keep belly fat at bay. Cortisol, a hormone released by the body as part of the fight or flight response, is the body’s natural response to stress. Stress management then becomes important because cortisol encourages the body to store fat in your mid-section. By lowering the stress in your life, you are also lowering your cortisol levels, allowing you to better manage your waistline.
Keep in mind your body does not differentiate between types of stress – be it environmental, physical or imaginary. While many of life’s stressors are obvious, some are less so, such as lack of sleep. Fatigue puts stress on your body, sending cortisol levels soaring. All the more reason to get your 8 hours! It is also important to practice activating your body’s relaxation response to control the amount of cortisol in your system.
Trimming your middle is not just about vanity – it can help save your life. People who carry extra weight in their mid-section are at a greater risk of diabetes, heart disease, even cancer. This is because abdominal fat is made up of both subcutaneous (lying just below the skin’s surface), and visceral (found in and around your internal organs) fat. While too much of any kind of body fat poses a health risk, visceral fat is especially dangerous due to its proximity to vital organs.
While difficult, losing body fat is not impossible. The key is to workout at an intensity that is conducive to change. Be disruptive. As you age, you naturally start losing muscle tissue. In addition to the gradual decline of daily activity, this change in body composition sends your metabolism into a tailspin. You must adjust your caloric intake accordingly. Adding strength training to your routine will help maintain muscle mass which will help increase your metabolism.
Bottom line: skip the crunches. If it were that easy, there would be a lot more midriffs on display. A beach-worthy belly takes work. Clean up your diet, control portion size, up your exercise, limit stress, take time to relax and get plenty of sleep. Remember, the choices you make today affect your mood tomorrow but show up on your body a month from now. Be patient.