They are probably the most abused and overused exercise. So many people are striving for a slim midsection or a rock hard six pack. Yet sit-ups are one of the last workouts you should really be doing if these are your goals.
First, it is important to realize that everyone has a six pack, it’s just that most of the time the muscles are hidden under a bit (or a lot) of fat. This should hopefully make you realize that a lack of visible abs is generally a problem with excessive fat, not a lack of muscle.
So now we know the issue. It’s a bit of fat, a beer gut or grain gut– not a muscular problem. I’m not sure how we all got into the habit of doing crunches. I think they are sort of like stretching, it’s an old school idea that our grade school gym teachers told us was essential and had us doing and we keep doing them.
Any exercise meant for slimming your midsection should be cardiovascular in nature, as you cannot spot reduce fat at any location of your body by any amount of crunches or weight lifting. Toning an area is a concept made up by the fitness industry. When you tone, all you are doing is increasing muscle mass and/or decreasing fat in an area. This cannot be done by doing 100 variations of a sit-up. The most efficient way to slim your waist down, get those abs to show up, or tone any body area is to be in a caloric deficit. That will cause your body to use energy stored as fat or glycogen (carbohydrates) for energy as you are eating slightly less than you use. To do so, consume fewer calories than your body requires to function each day and/or use exercise to get under your metabolic rate for the day.
There are many good exercises for strengthening your core. I cannot explain how to do the exercises here, but a quick Google search will produce the results. Different moves I do for core work are the bridge, leg lifts, superman, back and side blanks, the metronome and McGill curl-ups. These will strengthen muscle groups all throughout your core. A couple sets of 10 to 15 repetitions should be sufficient. If you are looking to add some muscle mass to your core or tone, try using some weights. You would not do 100 reps with no added weight to enlarge your quadriceps or biceps, so why would you do so with your abdomen? Just like every other resistance exercises without endurance fitness goals, if you can do more than 10 reps you may want to think about adding more weight. Also for reasons too numerous to list in a short column, sit-ups may be hurting your back and pelvis over time due to the unnatural and awkward motion.
A strong core is important and beneficial for daily health and fitness as well as important for sports performance. I have seen marathoners late in a race leaning to one side due to a weak core and muscle imbalances when they are running 26.2 miles or longer, Remember that your core is more than just your abdominal muscles and they go all the way around your trunk and your back. A healthy core will also benefit being able to sustain good posture throughout the day.
If you want to lose some inches around your waist, spend 15 or more minutes on the bike or treadmill instead of doing crunches. Be a bit more thoughtful of what you eat, get some more cardio into your routine, and skip the crunches please.
Kyle is a senior majoring in nutrition. View his blog at www.RunningOnTheWhiteLine.com