Abdominal crunches have their place, but they aren’t the end-all for building six-pack abs. Crunches strengthen and hypertrophy the rectus abdominis muscles, the muscles that are visible when you have six-pack abs. The problem is you can hypertrophy your abdominal muscles, but they won’t show if you have too much belly fat covering them.
What’s the solution? Instead of crunching work on reducing belly fat to make your abs pop. Crunches aren’t effective for trimming belly fat since they don’t burn many calories. You can do crunches until you strain your back and still not get six-pack abs if excess belly fat is the issue. Can you spend your time more productively? Yes, you can. Here are five tips for building six-pack abs without all the crunches.
Add Compound Strength Training Exercises to Your Fitness Routine
Strength training, especially exercises that work large muscle groups, burns more calories than crunches. Plus, they fire up hormones, like growth hormone and testosterone, that help melt belly fat. For burning calories, you can’t beat deadlifts, squats, push-ups, and lunges because they work so many muscle groups, including the large ones in your lower body. Shift some of the time you spend doing crunches to squats and deadlifts. Over time, you’ll get more return from these exercises than you will endless abdominal crunches.
- Do more compound exercises, like squats and deadlifts, that work multiple muscle groups.
- Gradually increase the challenge of these exercises so you have to work harder. You need progressive overload to keep gaining benefits.
Increase the Intensity of Your Workouts
How much do you sweat when you do abdominal crunches? Probably not a lot. The key to burning belly fat is to boost the intensity of your exercise sessions. Moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking, jogging, and cycling, have their place, but they don’t create as much of a hormonal response as high-intensity exercise does.
That’s why short periods of vigorous exercise followed by recovery intervals is an effective approach for shedding belly fat. High-intensity interval training creates an afterburn where your body has to expend more energy during exercise recovery and that continues for hours after your workout is over.
- Do high-intensity interval training twice per week for 20 minutes.
- Vary the types of exercises you do during your high-intensity sessions for variety.
Focus on Nutrition Too
Many trainers and fitness experts say that abs are made in the kitchen and these words are backed by science. Exercise, especially abdominal crunches, doesn’t burn enough calories to trim body fat. If you eat an ultra-processed diet, even if you work out, your six-pack ab progress will stall. A diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates will keep your abs undercover because the layer of fat covering them will remain stubbornly in place.
How can you change this? Switch those refined carbohydrates for fiber-rich whole foods, lean sources of protein, and healthy fats from sources like nuts and olive oil if you want to make real progress and see your abs pop. What you eat counts as much, if not more, than how you exercise.
Learn to eat mindfully too. Focus on the taste, texture, and aroma of what you eat, so you’re fully engaged with a meal. You’ll eat at a slower rate and get more satisfaction from what you eat, so you’re less likely to overeat or snack later.
- Eat a whole food diet and limit sugar and refined carbohydrates.
- Replace sugar drinks with unsweetened green tea, coffee, or water.
- Slow down the pace of your meals and eat mindfully.
Get More Sleep and Manage Stress
Lack of sleep is an underappreciated cause of weight gain and increases in belly fat. When you sleep less than six hours per night, it increases the stress hormone cortisol, making it harder for you to shed belly fat. Plus, lack of sleep increases the appetite hormone ghrelin and reduces a hormone called leptin that helps with appetite control and boosts your resting metabolic rate.
Chronic mental or physical stress can also cause a surge in cortisol that makes it hard to lose belly fat. Plus, elevated cortisol increases muscle loss and bone loss. So, it does nothing positive for your body composition.
- Focus on getting more quality sleep, at least 7 hours per night.
- Have a way to manage stress. This might include nature walks, meditation, yoga, or other relaxing activity.
Work Your Entire Core
Abdominal crunches mainly target your rectus abdominis muscles, the main muscles that shape the front of your abs. Shift some of the focus from your abs to all the muscles that make up your core, including the muscles in your back and the ones that support your spine. Your back muscles are some of the larger muscles, so working them burns more calories too.
Planks and their many variations are an effective exercise for working your core, but you can make them even more effective by adding a cardio component. Try doing plank jacks by getting into a plank position and jumping your feet together and apart, as if you’re doing jumping jacks in a plank position.
- Switch some of the ab crunches you currently do for planks.
- Do a variety of planks for more focused core strength and development.
The Bottom Line
Look beyond ab crunches if you want to carve a six-pack. Do some ab crunches, but make sure they’re part of a balanced workout and a sound nutrition strategy. A balanced plan will deliver more rewards than doing hundreds of abdominal crunches.
Men’s Health. “Six-Pack Science”
“Best Compound Exercises for Abs and a Stronger Core ….” 08 Dec. 2019, livestrong.com/article/13723543-compound-exercises-abs-core/.
“4 of the Best Types of Exercises for Burning Off Belly Fat.” .webmd.com/fitness-exercise/top-exercises-belly-fat.
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Exercise Physiology. Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance. Howley and Powers. 2009.