Crunches are worthless if you’re fat, obese or have a huge belly.
I’ve been a fitness expert for years and was a certified personal trainer for five years at a major health club chain.
And I will tell you that it’s a complete waste of time for fat people to do crunches. If you consider yourself fat or are obese or have a lot of belly fat, STOP the crunches.
Crunches will not shrink your belly fat.
Whether you carry just about all of your fat in your stomach, or carry it evenly throughout your body (e.g., you’re 5’5” but weigh 230), crunches will not make you lose weight or change the appearance of your body.
It’s the law of the land: Crunches target tiny, stabilizer muscles in your midsection.
These muscles use very little energy for sustenance; think of them as the tiny motor that would propel a skateboard, while the big, strong muscles of the body—those in the legs and back—are the motors that would power an 18-wheeler truck.
Which motor requires more fuel? Stored body fat is fuel in dormant form. A thousand crunches a day will only burn a few droplets of fuel: no weight loss.
Stomach muscles are naturally weak because their job is to stabilize the spine rather than produce force. This job, though very important, does not require much energy (stored fat, calories).
Crunches are demoralizing.
When a buff, lean person does crunches, you can bet they’re doing them to strengthen their core, without any thought to trimming an already-trim midsection.
Crunches, to this individual, are just another little exercise for core conditioning, and usually, they do something like three sets of 12 and they’re done for the week.
But when an obese or “fat” person does crunches, the mindset is completely different. There’s a sense of urgency, of “I gotta do 300 of these in a row” or “I gotta do these for 20 minutes straight.”
This mindset is just so de-motivating, even though many obese people will stick to a massive crunches campaign for months on end.
Despite seeing no results, they continue with this campaign, figuring “If I just stick it out for another month, I’ll start seeing results.”
Every time that this desperate man or woman gets down on the floor to do crunches, they are reminded of the large amounts of fat in their belly.
Crunches are uncomfortable.
I’m the first person to preach that in order for exercise to yield results, it must be uncomfortable; you must get clear out of your comfort zone; no pain, no gain, the whole nine yards.
However…there’s a big difference between the discomfort of red-hot quadriceps muscles as you’re straining to get in the last few reps on the leg press machine…and the mechanical, positional discomfort of struggling to fold into crunches with a 250 pound body on a 5’4” frame—over and over for endless repetitions.
Though most obese people do crunches on a mat on a floor, it just has to be SO uncomfortable straining to achieve the crunch position, due to the amount of body fat.
It would actually be easier for this same woman or man to execute reps of deadlifts, kettlebell squats, kettlebell swings or seated rows.
In fact, it would be far easier for them to lie down—on a bench—and repeatedly press up heavy dumbbells.
Crunches are not empowering.
What will crunches ever enable you to do? More crunches. More half-baked crunches, because a very large body just cannot efficiently fold up into this position.
So even after you’ve completed those 300 repetitions…you somehow don’t feel as though you’ve accomplished anything as you get up from the floor and brush yourself off.
Crunches will not make the activities of daily living easier. You will not feel stronger, faster or more capable. You just got off the floor after doing something that an 80-year-old can do.
There is very little progressive component.
For floor crunches, how do you progress when you’re so overweight that you can barely lift your upper body off the floor?
The only way to progress is to tack on more reps. So you’re now doing 100 in a row instead of 75 instead of 50 instead of 25.
Your goal is to eventually hit 200. And then what? 300? 400? When does this madness end?
What can you be doing at the gym instead, during all this time? I’ll tell you what: A few good sets of deadlift, leg press and corner bar row—which, as with any weightlifting exercise—you can easily progress with by adding weights.
Sure, you can add weight plates to the crunch machine—and I’ve seen people with lots of belly fat pile the plates on.
But the more weight they pile onto this equipment, the more their ARMS and SHOULDERS take over the movement, hands fervently pulling at the handles to bend the machine (and their body with it).
Solutions to the Crunch Dilemma of Really Fat or Obese Women and Men
• Stop the crunches. Just stop. Learn the deadlift, back squat (or some form of squat), various rowing movements, lat pull-down, bench press, standing overhead press and seated chest press.
• These exercises target force production muscles which, when hammered, will require tremendous amounts of energy (stored body fat) to recover.
• Just trust me on that; this article is long enough without going into the details. Leg and back muscles especially, when hit hard with weight training, will ransack your body’s stored fat (including stomach!) for recovery and growth.
• This is why intense weight workouts of major compound movements will literally shrink your big belly. Crunches are only good for core conditioning. PERIOD.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.