Belly Fat Myth

Doing crunches will help me lose belly fat….

This myth is really easy to believe. It sounds great whichever way you look at it. Do crunches and you’ll lose fat around your stomach. Obviously, if the muscles of the stomach are burning, that must be the fat melting away…… In most cases, that could not be further from the truth.

I’m a firm believer in science. If something can be scientifically proven, it intrigues me. And the bare bones fact of the matter when it comes to this topic is the science does not support it whatsoever. I hate to break it to you, but if you think that crunches and sit-ups are going to get rid of your belly fat, you have sadly fallen victim to one of the greatest illusions since David Copperfield made the statue of liberty disappear. It simply isn’t supported by science.

What I have provided here, are two research articles that both disprove the myth that belly fat can be reduced simply by doing abdominal exercise.

Study #1, conducted by Vispute et al in 2011 examined the effect of performing abdominal exercise and the effect it had on abdominal fat reduction.

This study examined the effect of performing abdominal exercise to reduce subcutaneous fat around the abdomen. 14 men and 10 women, healthy/sedentary adults between the ages of 18 and 40 years were included in this study. They were randomly assigned to one of two groups, either (1) the control group or (2) the intervention group. The intervention group performed 7 abdominal exercises, 5 times per week for 6 weeks. The control group performed no additional exercise or physical activity other than their usual day to day activity. An isocaloric diet was maintained through the duration of the 6 weeks for both groups. “In conclusion, abdominal exercise training was effective to increase abdominal strength but was not effective to decrease various measures of abdominal fat. Some individuals attempt to reduce their waistline by solely performing abdominal exercises possibly because of claims made by various abdominal equipment advertisements. The information obtained from this study can help people to understand that abdominal exercise alone is not sufficient to reduce waistline or subcutaneous abdominal fat. It is likely necessary to include aerobic exercise along with reducing energy intake to have more favorable changes in body fat percentage.”

Study #2, conducted by Ramirez-Campillo et al in 2013 examined regional fat changes induced by localized muscle endurance resistance training. In other words, performing abdominal exercises.

This study was conducted to examine the effect of localized muscular endurance training on total body and regional tissue composition. 7 men and 4 women, of an average age of 23 years participated in this study which was conducted over 12 weeks. All participants worked out 3 times per week. The workout included 1 set of 960 – 1,200 repetitions of Single leg presses at 10-30% 1RM. The non-dominant leg served as the intervention (performing the exercise) while the dominant leg performed no leg presses and served as the control. “A significant decrease in fat mass was observed in the upper extremities and trunk. The reduction of fat mass in the upper extremities and trunk was significantly greater than the fat mass change observed in the trained leg but not in the control leg. In conclusion, the training program applied effectively reduced fat mass, but this reduction was not achieved in the trained body segment. Our results show that when a muscle group is trained, changes in fat mass may take place in body areas not necessarily adjacent to the trained muscle group. Therefore, trunk body fat may be modified by training arm or leg muscles.”

So what does this mean? It’s one thing to have the research, but knowing how to apply it is a much different animal.

The take-home message

Based on the results of these two studies, a few different observations can be made. Firstly, stop performing abdominal exercises with the hopes of reducing your belly fat. The body does not work like that, as outlined above. Abdominal exercises should be performed to enhance strength endurance and not fat reduction.

The second take home point here is you must monitor your energy intake. In other words, monitor what you’re putting in your mouth. If energy intake exceeds energy output, then you will never lose weight.

The last take-home point here is to monitor your energy output and perform appropriate exercises that will aid in weight loss. When we look at the mechanism of caloric expenditure, more oxygen consumption yields a greater expenditure of calories. Take for example, an abdominal crunch versus a deadlift. Not only are crunches incredibly harmful to the spine, they are also an incredibly inefficient use of time if you want to reduce belly fat. Simply put, larger muscles burn more calories. The muscles used during a deadlift utilize far more energy than the muscles used during an abdominal crunch. What am I saying? Do more deadlifts and full body compound movements…… They burn more calories. Therefore, performing deadlifts are a far more effective use of your time if you wish to lose weight compared to an abdominal crunch.