Late night infomercials often advertise the latest and greatest way to lose belly fat as buying their piece of equipment because nothing targets the core like such and such. To further entice the consumer there is always some "scientific" study showing how abdominal muscle activity is increased using their product. The theory being that if I want to reduce my abdominal fat I must target that specific area.
Whether male or female, most workout programs tend to have one thing in common, an abundance of core exercises involving lots of lumbar spinal flexion (low back rounding of the spine), i.e crunches, sit-ups and most abdominal machines. People that are trying to lose weight generally attack the core but a lot of the time they don't see the results they expect.
In a recent research study, The Effect of Abdominal Exercise on Abdominal Fat, 24 participants were selected and split into two groups an activity group and a control group.
The activity group used seven core exercises including bent knee sit ups, lateral trunk flexion, leg lifts, oblique crunches, stability ball crunches, stability ball twists and abdominal crunches on a mat. The activity group was asked to perform two sets of 10 repetitions of all the exercises, five days a week for a total of six weeks.
The control group was told to go about their daily life as usual and neither group was asked to make any dietary changes.
At the end of six weeks the researchers found that, "there was no significant difference between the activity group and control group for fat as measured by waist circumference and abdominal skinfold measurements." Basically everyone's waist looked the same after six weeks despite all the core exercises.
However not all was lost, there was an increase in abdominal strength by the activity group, an increase of abdominal curl up repetitions by an average of 14 over the control group. Abdominal strength is paramount for general health, sports performance and reducing the risk of low back pain.
Although increasing core muscular strength is important, is that the goal of your workout program? Most people I talk to just want to look better and feel better and move better. The idea that more direct core training will lead to more belly fat burning is flawed. The body will unfortunately lose fat where it wants and we can't change that.
If direct abdominal exercise isn't the answer, then what is? The authors of the study suggest that, " it is likely necessary to include aerobic exercise along with reducing energy intake to have more favorable changes in body fat percentages." Adding more cardio and reducing the total amount of calories one consumes will help, also lifting weights and trying to get quality sleep would be a great idea.
So if you have been crunching away and not getting the results you want, try adding more cardiovascular training, or adding strength training and watching the diet. The infomercials gadgets and crunches have their place, but for the best results save your money, time and energy and give something else a try.
- Kyler Crouse, BS, CSCS, FMS is a personal trainer and strength coach who trains at Sierra Athletic Club and in the homes of clients in the greater Lake Tahoe area. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Physiology, a minor in Nutrition and earned two of the most prestigious certifications in the fitness industry, the NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and the Certified Functional Movement Screen. For more information visit www.KCstrength.com.