If your goal is to have visible ab muscles, a logical next move would be to work those muscles ... a lot. OK, so what exercise works abs? Crunches! Ah, of course. As you work those abs with endless crunches week after week, you soon notice that you’re not getting the results you hoped for. Wait, what gives?!
“This is the question I get most often,” says Holly Rilinger, Nike master trainer. “I can’t tell you exactly why you don’t have abs, but I can tell you doing 100 crunches a day is probably not the right formula.”
Why Crunches Aren’t the Answer for Abs
Crunches are without-a-doubt an abdominal workout, but the problem is that this exercise is only one piece of a larger puzzle. “Crunches only target one part of your abs, and your abs are made up of four different areas,” says Rilinger. The four areas of muscle that make up your core are:
External obliques, which are located on the front and the side of your abs
Internal obliques, which are just under the external obliques
Transverse abdominis, which is a deep layer of muscle under the obliques
And rectus abdominis, which are the “six-pack” muscles that run down the middle.
The classic crunch works the rectus abdominis, which is why most people focus on that move—for that “six-pack” look. The problem is, a crunch-only routine isn’t doing much for strengthening your core—or the rest of your body for that matter. “You need to have variety,” says Rilinger.
To vary your workout and let those other ab muscles come out to play, Rilinger recommends including exercises such as planks, squats, and lunges. “[These] also require you to engage your abs and your core … and actually give you more bang for your buck,” says Rilinger.
More Than a Workout: Abs Are Also Made in the Kitchen
Getting visible abs is not just about working the abdominal muscles. If you have excess fat over the abdominal area, you’ll need to work on losing that belly fat too.
Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as “spot reducing”—so you can’t just lose weight on your belly. “If I could make that happen, I’d be a rich woman,” says Rilinger. Instead, you need to focus on burning overall body fat with fat-burning cardio, high intensity interval training, and of course, watching what you put in your mouth.
“The old adage of ‘abs are made in the kitchen’ is 100 percent true,” says Rilinger. “A great workout will never overcome a bad diet.” Learn more about what Holly eats before and after a workout.
“If you’re doing 100 crunches a day, it’s likely that you have a strong core—you just have a layer of belly fat over top,” says Rilinger. “So if you change up your programming and change up your diet a little bit, you’re going to be more likely to see those abs.”