Crunches Don't Burn Belly Fat

Crunches don’t burn belly fat. Cue the Mythbusters music.

In isolation, this fitness misconception seems relatively harmless. Working your core will still push the needle towards further wellness, just not in the way that some ‘health experts’ are affirming. What’s disconcerting, however, is that this false claim is part of a much larger, systemic problem. Sources such as health magazines are among the leaders in wellness ‘education’, despite their credibility being gravely in question.

Let me be clear, this article’s purpose is not to bash on everything you’ve ever read. Much of the content out there is well researched and valid, it’s just not always on the money.

The reality is, when it comes to our health and wellness, the margins for error must be limited at all costs. When I came across an article titled, “13 Tricks to Help Lose Belly Fat” during my research, I was disappointed... but not shocked. It’s not a terrible piece, but there’s enough misinformation to make me feel uncomfortable.

“Stretch, then crunch.” — Cosmopolitan

This was the second tip in the article. The author goes on to recommend that an individual utilizes a foam roller to increase thoracic mobility, and then performs a bout of crunches to help with fat loss. Although this sounds harmless, there are several red flags upon closer inspection.

  1. There is no rationale for why crunches are an effective modality for losing ‘belly fat’.

  2. There are no sources included to back up any claims.

  3. The author states no personal credentials or experience in the field.

In order to push health education forward, we cannot let articles like this slide through the cracks. The key is to inspect with grace and love, knowing that many pieces that fall short are still genuinely trying to help people.

It’s clear that some sources are great, and some are questionable.

The question is, how do we know which ones to trust?

5 Steps to Finding Trustworthy Health Advice

Locating well-informed information isn’t rocket science. All it takes is a little preliminary research to remove the posers from the professionals. Here is a brief excerpt from my recent post about exposing online fitness myths.

1) Where are the credentials?

This step is quick and easy. What is attached to his or her name? If you can track the certification or degree to a reputable institution or program, it’s far more likely that what’s being said has some validity and weight to it. Although this isn’t a fail-safe method, it’s a strong first step to determining the efficacy of the content.

2) Is there a motive?

Is the owner of this product or service directly benefiting from your patronage? This one is trickier than the first as it’s a bit of a grey area; a clinically sound product may very well belong to a company with a strong business model. The most important thing to consider is that if there’s a direct correlation to your time/money and their profits, chances are there’s an increased risk for biases.

3) How dated is it?

When it comes to emerging health trends, science is moving at a lightning-quick pace. As a general guideline, try to absorb content that is no more than five years old. Anything beyond these parameters may still be solid, but you must be able to answer question four to know for sure.

4) Can other current sources back it up?

The robust nature of a scientific journal comes from the fact that it’s typically peer-reviewed by other professionals in the field to observe for biases. If you find a convincing video on Youtube or Instagram, take some time to investigate if a secondary, quality source can back it up.

If you can’t locate any concrete information on the topic, there’s a good chance that insufficient research has been done in the area, or that the content is just complete baloney. This step may take a touch longer than the others, but it’s a reliable form of quality control.

5) Where is it located?

You have to be cautious with platforms such as Instagram, Youtube, and magazines. It’s so tragic to see how many ‘wellness gurus’ are out for your wallets. The easiest way to sift through this content is to apply the tips above. Do they have credentials? Is there a suspicious motive here? Can this be confirmed by a reliable journal or a professional in the field?

More than ever, we need to be asking these questions.

Why Don’t Crunches Burn Belly Fat Anyway?

Spot reduction refers to the misconception that you can achieve regional fat loss by exercising a coinciding part of the body. As previous support for spot reduction in body fat is mixed and generally not considered valid without creating a consistent energy deficit, it is highly questionable whether or not abdominal exercises alone are sufficient to produce abdominal fat loss.

In one study, an abdominal exercise and control group were assessed after a six-week core exercise intervention. The result?

“Six weeks of abdominal exercises in the abdominal exercise group resulted in a greater abdominal endurance compared to the control group; however, abdominal exercise did not result in a change in measures of abdominal fat” -Vispute et al.

For any study that stated otherwise, either the subject group was very small, the measuring methods were unreliable, or the statistical evidence was extremely minimal.

You may be increasing muscle tone, but targeted exercise (such as crunches) will not be an effective strategy for localized fat loss. It can lead to small benefits in rare cases, but it’s not nearly enough to warrant crunches being an efficacious method for visceral fat reduction.

A perspective shift to energy exchange should be taken instead. Simply put, creating a calorie deficit where activity overrides energy intake will allow weight loss to take place.

Just know that you have very little say over where that weight loss occurs through exercise.

Crunches will burn calories, and they may also increase muscle mass. Both of these impacts will support weight loss. The catch is, however, crunches don’t lead to abdominal weight loss just because they’re activating the abdominal cavity. Furthermore, crunches can lead to neck and back pain for vulnerable individuals because spinal flexion compresses the vertebrae.

Many other approaches would be better suited, such as HIIT training and consistent aerobic exercise (not to mention nutrition, sleep, stress relief, etc…).

The truth is, crunches aren’t magic, and they may even do more harm than good. Unfortunately, a conflicting message is still being promoted through misleading articles. It’s high time that we challenge the ‘experts’ of the internet, and do our part to push health forward by keeping each other accountable to truthful, well-sourced content.

In Closing,

If you thought that crunches burn belly fat, don’t be discouraged. Within the world of health and wellness, there’s a vast sea of information available to us. With countless voices claiming to be ‘experts’, it’s hard to differentiate right from wrong. Due to the lack of accountability among magazines and websites alike, misinformation can seep into the headlines for the name of financial profit and notoriety.

As you continue to seek education in this field, please do so with diligence. Once you approach research with a finer comb, you’ll quickly discover the well-informed sources that can provide effective weight loss strategies. Five minutes of verification is all it takes.

At the end of the day, these decisions are influencing our very own health and wellness. Taking a little extra time to find trustworthy advice may be the best investment you could ever make.