One of the most common requests I have gotten over the years of fitness coaching is, “when can we do ab work?”  What this means to most people is a variety of crunches, side bends, leg lifts, etc. 

Typically people ask to do “ab work” because they look in the mirror and see some belly fat around their midsection and want it GONE! They assume that doing crunches will magically melt away the fat.

Ab Work Doesn’t Work

What I can say with a high level of confidence is that doing this “ab work” is not an efficient use of your workout time. Not only is it a bad way to burn fat, it also consists of exercises that do very little to make your core more stable or functionally fit.  In fact, doing crunches can create unnecessary bending of the neck and spine which leads to other issues. 

Why “ab work” doesn’t work well:

  1. Exercises are too isolated in nature and do not touch much muscle to be effective fat burners. You are better off doing large muscle exercises like squats.
  2. Building muscle in your mid-section does not magically reduce the amount of fat in your mid-section. Your body loses fat when you get into a calorie deficit (burn more than you eat) and it burns fat in areas determined by your gender and genetics. You cannot “tell” your body where to lose fat first. 
  3. Ab exercises do not do a good job in developing functional fitness or core stability as they don’t link your body together as one system. Again, too isolated. 
  4. These exercises typically take your spine out of neutral position and can cause repetitive use injuries over time. 
  5. Your “six pack” muscles are your “show muscles” but do little for functionality and fitness. The only thing required to be an underwear model is to get your body fat low enough where we can see the six pack, or to hire a good air brush artist!
  6. To be honest, your abs get way more work than you realize while you are doing all of our other key movements.  When you squat, lunge, deadlift, and do single arm presses/pulls, your abs are working a ton just to keep your core stable and straight.  It is just not the same isolated feeling that you do when crunching.

Focus on Your Core Instead

On the other hand, treating your mid-section as your “core” is a much better approach.  We define your core as the mass below your chest and down to your hips. Having a strong and stable core allows you to generate more power in your workouts, to be a better athlete, and to reduce your chance of injuries to your low back and elsewhere.  The core is the key link between your upper and lower body, so that your body works as one fluid system. 

The way we train the core is different than they way we train our arms, legs, and upper body muscles.  While we do something like a lunge and want good range of motion in our hips and knees, with our core training it is more about RESISTING movement in the spine.  
So with core training much of our work is centered around RESISTING movement in our spine. Exercises include a lot of Anti-Rotation movements such as Plank w/Bag Drags and various TRX/cable exercises that focus on bracing and posture rather than how much weight can be pushed or pulled.  These are more finesse movements, rather than brute strength. 

Finally, almost every exercise we program at Thrive has a core component to it.  This is why we do a lot of single-arm, single-leg, offloaded weight exercises. The farmer’s carry is a perfect example – holding a heavy weight on one side while making sure your core doesn’t tilt in that direction.

The moral of the story is to never ask to do extra “ab exercises” at Thrive Fitness!  You will just get a dirty look.  Focus your thoughts on core training and the reasons why that is a much better approach. 

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