HEALTHY LIVING
10/11/2012 08:11 am ET

Are Crunches The Best Ab Workout?

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By Laura Schwecherl

While it's tempting to roll out the exercise mat and crunch away, working out specific abdominal muscles might not carve our a six-pack quite like we hoped. Turns out the path to a flatter stomach has just as much to do with cardio and diet as it does with workin' that midsection.

Tighten Up -- The Need-To-Know
It may be time to reconsider that all-crunches-all-the-time workout plan. Research suggests standard crunches along with those trendy stomach-carvers (specifically the Ab Flex and Ab Roller) fail to deliver on their promises of a fast flat stomach. Another big-time bummer: “Spot reduction” (aka targeting a specific area on the body for fat blasting) is likely just a gym-floor myth, and among core-specific exercises, crunches come up short at recruiting muscle. And whether the bull's-eye is on the abs or those less-than-firm underarms, resistance training targeting specific areas isn't the one-stop-shop for a sleeker physique.

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But why not? Fat is broken down through exercise and transported into the bloodstream, and when it's used as fuel, it can come from anywhere in the body. So although a dozen crunches can make the stomach feel the fire, fat may be burning elsewhere. (Sneaky, huh?!)

Crunches may help strengthen abdominal muscles, but a combination of varied core and cardiovascular exercise along with a healthful diet is the only surefire route to all-around fat loss and greater muscle definition.

Cap' No Crunch -- Your Action Plan
Need a foolproof plan for a flatter stomach? Start with fuel. A six-pack of beers won't do anything for that other six-pack, so cut the excess carbs and focus on eating lean proteins. And for speedy results, try hitting the gym hard and fast: High-intensity interval training can lead to greater calorie burn in less time. Scientists have also found shorter, high-intensity workouts can trim abdominal fat by 20 percent compared to those who stuck to longer, less intense workouts.

At the end of the training day, while crunches can help improve muscle endurance and strength when incorporated into a resistance training plan, focusing on abdominal exercise doesn't necessarily lead to losing extra flab. A blend of aerobic exercise, resistance training, and a smart diet is the best route for abs of steel -- so quit crunching and get moving in more ways than one.

The Takeaway
An abs-only workout plan won't guarantee that rock-hard stomach alone -- eating right and clocking in resistance training and cardio are also key to success.

What are your thoughts on ab-specific exercises? Let us know in the comments below!

Check out top trainers' favorite ab moves in the slideshow below from Shape.com:

PHOTO GALLERY
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BEFORE YOU GO
The Best Ab Exercises
PHOTO GALLERY
The Best Ab Exercises

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