Fitness Myth – Doing crunches will give me six-pack abs

If only this were true….

Fact – Spot reduction isn’t possible, and in order to unveil abs, you have to lose the fat on top. We could end the post with that… or we could learn a little more, and there’s a lot more to abs than you might think!

While I’m not anti-crunch by any means, they’re definitely not going to be the sole reason you get the stomach of your dreams – whether it’s flat or a washboard. There are so many other factors that go into creating and seeing those muscles, crunches barely even make it on the list.


The hard truth about abs is that without a near-perfect, consistent, healthy diet, they’re going to stay hidden by a few layers of body fat. Abs are definitely revealed in the kitchen (this can be said for most muscle definition). We all have a layer of body fat on top of our muscles, and the more fat you have, the less definition you’ll see. The best method of decreasing body fat, especially to the point of uncovering muscle, is keeping your diet on point to shrink those fat cells.

One of the best ways to build serious core strength is through heavy weight training in general. Compound movements such as squats and deadlifts strongly active your core, and even bracing yourself during other weight loaded exercises will recruit these muscles. This is not an over-night occurrence though – don’t do a few weeks of moderate weight training and expect to see Phil Heath’s midsection on your body. Sorry!  Years of consistent training will help build some strong core muscles – and is also a great benefit in terms of preventing injury!

Ok, most of us probably don't want this, but let's admire that hard work for a minute.

Ok, most of us probably don’t want this, but let’s admire that hard work for a minute.

So, don’t crunch?

You can do crunches, but they should just be one component of your ab training routine. Additionally, many people are  doing crunches wrong. In this case, don’t crunch! Common mistakes include involving the hip flexors in the movement and pulling on your neck with your hands. Both of these are essentially “cheats” which take the work load out of the abs and into other areas. Using momentum is another way to cheat this move. Slow and controlled, focusing on the contraction will be key for this move.

Finally, another fact about crunches is that they only work a small portion of your abdominal muscles. Your “abs” are made up of several key muscle groups. Commonly, the abs are only thought of in terms of the visible 6-pack, which is the rectus abdominis. In addition to this muscle group, the transversus abdominis and internal and external obliques make up your abdominal region. Training all these muscle groups should be an important part of your workout plan, both for aesthetic purposes as well as function. Some of my favorite ab exercises are:

  • Vertical chair leg raises (captain’s chair)
  • Reverse crunches
  • Planks (front and sides)
  • Bicycle crunches
  • Woodchoppers
Um, yup.  Abs are pretty and all, but donuts taste really good.

Um, yup. Abs are pretty and all, but donuts taste really good.

Including a more comprehensive ab workout in conjunction with a great diet will move you closer to seeing those abs. Remember – everyone has abs, some people have just built them and reduced their body fat enough to see them.

About Ashleigh

I'm passionate about health and fitness. I work as a Health Promotion Specialist, a group fitness instructor, and also a coach for physique competitors / weight loss clients. I grew up as a competitive athlete, and have continued with this passion as a Women's Physique competitor. Research and writing is another interest of mine, which I use to share my knowledge with the general public.
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