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The Myth of Spot Reduction

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Whether it's a penchant for the adduction machine in hopes of shrinking your inner thighs, or the belief that hundreds of crunches lead to rock-hard abs, it's amazing how many people still cling to the idea of spot reduction.

The major problem with the belief that doing crunches will give you better abs (besides the obvious time wasted that could actually be spent on an effective fat-loss routine) is actually more significant: Too much trunk flexion is not good for you, especially if you have disc issues in your back.

Examine crunch-type exercises for a moment. In any conventional crunch, the upper body moves toward the feet. We refer to this as shoulder-to-hip flexion. This type of crunch will primarily activate the rectus abdominus (your six pack) with potentially a little transverse and internal oblique activation. In moderation, this is a beneficial exercise.

However, if someone spends a lengthy amount of time moving the ribcage toward the pelvis, the rib cage moves toward the pelvis—permanently. Personal trainers and physical therapists are reporting postural distortions and abdominal tightness in clients who do excessive amounts of crunch-type exercise. This seems to be particularly prevalent in the Pilates and group exercise world. Try these strategies to see your abs:

Stay Out of the Abs Classes

They are probably not a good idea. A good core workout shouldn't take more than 15 minutes. Use the time you would have spent in the abs class to do something that will actually help with fat loss. Try a spin class, or do some interval work.

Stretch your Abs

Press-up type stretches can help counteract the results of excessive flexion. In yoga, this pose is called "cobra."

Work the Whole Cylinder

The core is a cylinder. It has sides as well as a front. Include exercises for the obliques as well as the rectus abdominis (your six-pack muscle). Twisting crunches are not enough. The reality is that planks or bridges may be the best abdominal work you can do. Think of the core muscles as "anti-rotators," not as flexors. That is, they help resist force. Think isometrics versus flexion, and remember, more is not necessarily better.

The average couch potato can use some crunch-type work to tighten up the rectus abdominis. But a person who has been working out extensively has most likely done too much crunch-type work and needs to switch to more plank-type exercises.

Michael Boyle is one of the world’s leading experts in the area of performance enhancement and the owner of StrengthCoach.com. He is also the author of Functional Training for Sports.

Tags: Stretching, Pillar strength, Abs