Why crunches won’t give you flat abs—and may actually hurt your body

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Crunches (and variations of crunches) were long the most popular tool in the ab-strengthening kit, but that has changed.

At gyms and fitness studios around the city, trainers have replaced them with other creative core-training moves. “Planks are the new crunches,” one trainer told us.

That’s a great thing, says Brynn Jinnett, founder of the Refine Method. While the moves were supposed to be a safer replacement for the now shunned sit-up, crunches may actually be damaging your body, she says.

And that’s not all she has to say about why crunches aren’t the best way to tone your abs. Keep reading for more of her intel.

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Why crunches may actually be bad for you

“You sit all day at your desk, hunched over with rounded shoulders—and then crunches put you into the exact same position and reinforce it,” says Jinnett. That rounded posture can cause all kinds of problems, putting other areas out of alignment.

To add insult to injury, crunches also won’t deliver a six-pack or flat abs, because they only train the forward flexing of your torso, one movement among many that they’re responsible for.

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Why feeling the burn is bogus

Wait! What about that awesome burn you feel as you curl up for the 50th time? “The burning you feel with high-repetition, low-weight exercises like crunches is just one of those things that happens. But it’s not fat loss happening, it’s not calories burned, it’s not strengthening—it’s just something that happens,” explains Jinnett. “People are confusing short-term sensation and long-term results.”

So how should you strengthen your midsection? Jinnett says that you should train your core to “reflexively stabilize in a functional way,” while keeping your spine neutral (not rounded). (See her suggested exercises you can do at home—from plank variations to resistance band movements—here.)

And about those flat abs: Definition is all about reducing body fat, and since spot burning is impossible, you’ll have to slim down overall in order to get those abdominal “parentheses” to peek out.

“Abs are made in the kitchen,” says Jinnett, “not at the gym.”

While you’re tweaking your healthy habits, here’s how to speed up your metabolism, which should be coupled with adding more of this one food to your diet.

Originally posted May 14, 2012. Updated March 3, 2017.

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