When you first decide to start to get healthy and work out, usually the first thing you go for is the body part you most want gone. If you have a bit of extra fat around your midsection, the first course of action, more often than not, is to do about a million crunches. However, as you’ll notice or may have already noticed, that won’t work. You crunch and crunch and crunch, but there’s not a pack of ab to be found. Why is that? Why is your hard work not showing? Do you just need to trust the process and keep going on this path? Not this time.
Though most variables can actually change from person to person, there are a few concrete rules in fitness. One of those rules is directly related to your ab dilemma, and that is you cannot spot reduce. This means that you cannot decide where your body loses fat from first. So, even though you are doing millions of crunches, that doesn’t mean you will necessarily lose your stomach fat first. Your body doesn’t have cut offs at each limb, making a crunch burn only the fat surrounding your abs. You will increase your caloric expenditure, helping to lose body fat overall, and get smaller gradually. Muscle metabolism helps with this concept more than spot reducing. Adding muscle to your body increases your resting metabolic rate, or the amount of calories you burn at rest, allowing for a larger caloric burn in all activities. Remember how we lose mass, expending more calories than we take in, so increasing the amount of calories you burn in a day will do nothing but help. Hypertrophy training, especially in compound lifts and total body workouts, will help to lower body fat overall more quickly. This style of training will be much more effective and efficient in slimming your stomach, as well as your total body. Compound lifts burn the most calories by stressing the most muscles at once, and total body workouts also allow for the most efficient workouts, as you can work almost nonstop, finding circuits and supersets to work muscles back to back without needing a rest (we’ll touch more on this in another post).
Another statement I’m sure you’ve heard in fitness is that high repetitions with a light weight will “tone” an area of your body. This ties into spot reducing, because it’s another common myth, and it won’t work. Toning isn’t a special type of muscle gain. You “tone” a muscle by gaining muscle mass, while simultaneously reducing amount of body fat. Now, let’s say that you are “toning” your core by doing what everyone says, crunching and crunching with no weight, so you should be getting a nice, toned core now, right? Not so fast. All of those crunches you’re doing are doing something, just not what you want it to do. As long as you’re performing them correctly, the crunches are actually building a bit of abdominal muscle, just not enough to change your metabolism. As well, our bodies can adapt to what we put it through. This means that those 100 crunches per day worked for a bit, building a bit of muscle size and strength in your core, but without some sort of progression, you will stall. Not only will those crunches not be helping to slim your core, but they won’t be good for strengthening your core after performing a few times.
So, is all core training pointless? NO, having a strong core is essential to overall strength and stability, and that’s not even close to the point of this post. However, it is pointless if it’s the only thing you’re doing to try and lose belly fat when you’re overweight. Building muscle in one area, especially when not being in a calorie deficit (eating less calories than you need to maintain your weight), will do just that, build. You will actually be going further away from your slim core goal by building muscle underneath of that layer of fat, pushing it out more so than before you had started crunching. To lose body fat, you need to lose from all over your body, you cannot choose where it comes from first. It’s just science. Here’s where we trust the process. As long as you’re losing body fat from all over, you will lose the fat in the area you want, it just might not be when you want or how much. Yes, you can do more core work if that’s what you enjoy, but don’t neglect the big muscles. Working your total body will do more for your strength, and waistline, than just working a small area.