DARREN CHENG/THE VARSITY

Have you ever wanted washboard abs like Zac Efron, Gigi Hadid, or David Beckham? While summer may still seem far away, this spring season could be the time to get a head start on your beach body. Fitness trainers and health bloggers often preach about the key to achieving rock-hard abs and their special secret is usually crunches.

However, have you ever wondered if crunches are actually the best workout for getting a flatter stomach?

Hate to burst your bubble, but they actually aren’t.

The belief that crunches are the ‘be all and end all’ of ab exercises stems from the belief that you can essentially target fat loss through exercise. The notion of ‘spot reduction’ seems to intuitively make sense; if you do specific exercises that engage specific muscles and areas, you’d essentially be burning fat around those areas. Just like how crunches specifically engage the muscles in our core, we should effectively be burning all the fat in the area as we build muscle.

Unfortunately, these claims are patently false.

A 2013 study performed by Rodrigo Ramírez-Campillo found that even after individuals had been subjected to 12 weeks of intensive leg training on their non-dominant leg, results did not show any change in fat mass or fat percentage in either leg. In fact, they actually showed reduced fat mass in the trunk and arms instead.

Another 2014 study by Sachin S. Vispute looked at the effects of abdominal workouts in two different groups. One group performed extensive sets of core exercises over the span of six weeks, while the control group did nothing. At the end of those six weeks, interestingly enough, there were no significant differences in abdominal appearance or even the fat percentage between both groups.

This is due in part because most of those specific ab exercises, like crunches, don’t actually burn many calories. You cannot lose fat if you are not burning calories. The University of California, Irvine conducted a study in 1971 focused on the quantity of fat and muscle in the right and left arms of tennis players, to determine if ‘spot reduction’ is indeed valid. Each subject performed the same exercise plan for many years, and the researchers found that there was no significant difference in fat quantities between both arms, completely discrediting the idea of ‘spot reduction.’

In the end, doing 1,000 crunches could increase the strength of some of your stomach muscles and core. More effective exercises include planks, bridges, or leg raises, but you wouldn’t necessarily start seeing a six-pack until you’ve combined this with fat burning exercises, like high-intensity cardio, as well as a healthy diet.

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