Bodywork

Q:

Why Crunches Won’t Give you Great Abs

I have a few "target areas" I’ve been working on for about a month, including my abs, but I’ve seen no improvement. What’s going on?

    Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A:In the words of Extreme Weight Loss trainer-lebrity Chris Powell, the body simply doesn't work that way.

“We can spot-stimulate a muscle to grow with resistance training, but it is impossible to reduce the layer of fat over a specific part of the body by contracting the muscle underneath,” Powell wrote in an email.  

In other words, no matter how many crunches you do, your abs won’t look like Terry Crews’ if you’ve got some extra pounds to lose. “Fat is lost globally, meaning that the body will 'burn' fat cells from all over the body when they are needed.  Typically, results are noticed beginning where the body fat layer is the thinnest.  That's why in the weight loss world we say that weight loss is seen from the 'top-down', meaning that most will notice it in the face first, then shoulders and arms, then chest, belly, hips, butt, then thighs.”

That doesn’t mean your “target areas” are doomed if you can’t refuse a few Doritos. Resistance training is “like blowing up a balloon underneath a wrinkly blanket,” Powell says. “As the balloon (the muscle) gets bigger, the blanket (body fat) will begin to pull tight over the balloon, giving it shape.”

Powell says people start noticing that their “target areas” are more toned after about two weeks of resistance training—“whether it is bodyweight, bands, barbells, dumbbells, whatever”—two to three times per week. But if you’ve been going at it for a month with no improvement, it’s time to tackle your diet. Below are a few resources for dropping the fat that’s hiding your glorious abdominals:

A diet plan to lose weight and build muscle

Why it’s impossible to just eat less – managing decision fatigue

Our man’s story about shedding the pounds

The bottom line: While resistance training can help define “target areas” like your abs, no amount of crunches will reveal a six pack if you have pounds to lose.

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