Crunches are one of the most popular—yet dreaded—workout moves of all time.
As challenging as they are, many people do tons of crunches with hopes of getting a flatter stomach.
But can they really help you reduce your total body fat percentage?
We researched the science behind crunches to see how effective they are in getting rid of stubborn belly fat.
Here’s what we learned.
Do Crunches Burn Belly Fat?
Crunches don’t specifically burn belly fat, but they can make your midsection appear more toned.
That’s because there’s no such thing as spot reduction (aka targeted fat loss), which refers to the common misconception that you can lose fat in a specific area of your body if you exercise it.
To get a flat belly, you must train your chest, thighs, back, glutes, arms, shoulders, and do crunches along with other moves that can make your abs strong, like bicycle crunches and planks.
Exercising your entire body also encourages muscle changes that can promote fat loss .
Remember—the more muscle mass you build, the more fat cells you will burn.
Although you can’t reduce belly fat by doing crunches alone, this exercise can build ab muscles and make them strong.
It’s important to maintain strength in your four main abdominal muscles, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, external oblique, and internal oblique to improve your balance and posture.
Having strong abs can also prevent back pain and increase your flexibility.
Abdominal Fat 101
The two types of fat are subcutaneous fat and visceral fat.
Subcutaneous fat is located between your skin and muscles, while visceral fat is found in the abdominal cavity and surrounds your internal organs.
Neither type of fat is healthy, but visceral fat is more harmful as it releases compounds that can trigger inflammation and put you at higher risk for Type 2 diabetes and some cancers .
Fat Stored Deep in the Belly Is the Most Harmful Kind
According to some research, visceral fat may be equally harmful to a person’s heart as smoking and high blood pressure .
Visceral fat increases the risk of having a heart attack or a stroke, and it affects the body's use of insulin. As mentioned, visceral fat surrounds the internal organs, including the liver and the intestines.
Since visceral fat is very close to the liver, the liver can turn it into cholesterol. Once this happens, it will go through the bloodstream.
When the fat builds up along the walls of the arteries, it can harden and narrow them, which in turn increases the risk of health complications.
How To Reduce Body Fat With Crunches
Crunches are not the be-all-end-all of a toned stomach.
No matter how many of them you do, your abs won’t show if there’s a layer of fat covering your abdominal muscles. Additionally, doing crunches doesn’t burn a lot of calories.
For fat-burning to be effective, you should take a holistic approach and not rely on one exercise alone.
But that’s not to say that you should stop doing crunches altogether.
Here’s how this exercise can help you drop belly fat so you can achieve that coveted six-pack.
Create a Workout Plan
To lose belly fat, use combo exercises that target several muscle groups and get your heart pumping so your metabolism stays fired up, hours after your workout.
Aerobic exercise or cardio workouts are great for burning body fat. This includes activities such as hiking, jogging, cycling — total and lower body strength or weight training.
Cardiovascular exercise helps you burn extra calories and convert stored fat into fuel, while strength training helps you build muscle.
To see results, aim to do moderate-intensity cardio for at least 30 minutes, five days a week, or high-intensity 20-minute cardio, three days a week .
Several studies show that both moderate and high-intensity aerobic exercise like high intensity interval training can help people lose belly fat as long as a caloric deficit is maintained.
Intensity matters, too. Moderate or high-intensity exercise can also reduce belly fat mass more than low-intensity aerobic exercise .
These tips from Pilates instructor, Tela Anderson, are useful if you want to level up your crunch game:
“To increase the intensity of your crunches, you can add weights to the hands, or perform them on an incline or decline, or, you can also perform them with legs in the air.” - Pilates instructor, Tela Anderson
Other exercises include bicycles, planks, Pilates, and yoga. They can help tighten your waistline and strengthen your core muscles — the muscle group around your trunk and the group around your pelvis, too.
Focus on Good Nutrition
When it comes to burning belly fat, diet is more important than exercise. In fact, reducing your calorie intake even by just 500 calories every day can already help you lose one pound a week.
Here’s a tip: if you want to eat fewer calories, limit your fat intake. Your daily calorie intake from fats shouldn’t exceed 30% if you plan to lose weight.
Food intake that includes whole grains, fruits, legumes, and vegetables – low-fat and high in soluble fiber – can make you feel full and curb unhealthy cravings.
They can help tremendously with weight management. They can also stabilize your blood sugar.
Here are some simple meal tips that can help you in losing belly fat:
- Consume at least one to two servings of vegetables at every meal.
- Drink plenty of water. Eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day is sufficient.
- Eat protein-rich foods at each meal. Foods high in protein take more work to digest and use, which means you get to burn more calories as your body processes them.
- Eat lots of omega-3 rich foods such as fish, nuts, and olive oil to increase fat oxidation.
- Sugary foods and alcoholic beverages provide little to no nutritional value, so it’s best to avoid them.
Don’t make the mistake of undereating or over-fasting. While these may result in rapid weight loss, this weight will mostly be water and possibly even muscle. Also, they can slow your metabolism and make losing weight harder.
The Bottom Line On Crunches Burning Fat
Reducing overall body fat requires more than just doing abdominal exercises like crunches or sit-ups.
To reduce fat, you must combine crunches with cardio and moderate to high-intensity strength training to speed up your metabolism and burn more calories.
In addition, eating a healthy diet with lots of fiber and protein and controlling your portions are crucial to getting those washboard abs.
Implement these methods in your fat loss plan, and feel free to share your results in the comments below.