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A toned, flat tummy is a top priority for health-conscious folks—and for good reason: Not only does shedding excess belly fat help you feel lighter on your feet, but research suggests it can lower the risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other serious conditions. While you probably already know that scoring a flat belly requires regular exercise and a healthy diet, Holly Perkins, personal trainer, says many people still think they can speed the process by spot-training their abs.
"I see so many clients who believe they have to do abdominal exercises to change their abs," Perkins says. "Yet strengthening the muscles that make up your six-pack won't actually lead to a flatter tummy. Yes, you need a strong core for balance, good posture, a healthy back—the list goes on. But for aesthetics, ab exercises aren't your best bet." Instead, Perkins suggests lowering overall body fat—something that will ultimately help to whittle your middle—with the help of cardio full-body strength training, and a clean, whole foods-based diet.
To make more time in your training program for the exercises that will actually deliver, ditch these five ab exercises that, according to Perkins, are the biggest waste of time.
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For years, fitness experts considered this strengthening exercise one of the best, because it works the entire core—the front, side, and back muscles that wrap around the middle of the torso. Perkins says the problem with planks isn't that it's inherently a bad exercise; it's that far too many people are doing it all wrong. "When I see most people holding a plank at the gym, their abs are contracting so that the belly is actually pushed outward," she says.
The only way holding a plank can help you get a flat tummy is if you draw your abdominal muscles inward and upward, Perkins explains. Try this right now: Pull your belly button in towards the back of your body, and then move it up towards your diaphragm—all while breathing steadily. "You can do this when you're driving, working at your desk, or even sitting on the couch at night," Perkins says. "Practicing this will help it feel like second nature when you hold a plank—and it has the added bonus of improving your posture, too."
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While this quintessential abdominal exercise can help build core strength, it's not useful at all if your goal is to get a flat belly, says Perkins. "Crunches help strengthen the rectus abdominus—the muscle that runs from your sternum to your pubic bone and creates the six-pack," she says. "By contracting this muscle during crunches, all you're doing is creating more definition in that six-pack. You're not creating flatness." In other words, if you already have a flat belly, crunches can give you more definition, but the exercise won't help you work off the fat that's covering your middle.
Photograph by Beth Bischoff
Who wouldn't want to target that stubborn section below the belly button? But the reverse crunch—the exercise where you lie on your back with your feet in the air and press your feet up toward the sky—isn't effective, Perkins notes. "There's actually no such thing as 'lower abs,' " she says. "Just like the crunch, this move works your rectus abdominus, which is already there but just hiding under a layer of fat."
What's worse, the very nature of pushing your legs up toward the sky often does more to create a distention in the abs, rather than a contraction inward, Perkins adds. "When you train your lower ab muscles to push outward in an exercise like this, it's more likely they'll push outward in general—not what you're going for if you want a flat tummy."
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Perkins says this move is kind of like doing a toe exercise to get stronger biceps: totally useless. "This flexes your internal and external obliques, which are the muscles on the sides of your torso. So while this move will strengthen your obliques and some of the smaller muscles of your back, it's not going to help you get a flat stomach," she explains.
Photograph by Beth Bischoff
Whether you're using a machine where you kneel on a plate and turn side to side against weighted resistance, or you're standing and rotating your torso left to right (think: Jane Fonda circa 1980), side twists are a complete waste of time, Perkins says. "In fact, they serve zero purpose. All they do is twist your spine, which doesn't give you a flatter tummy
25 Apr 2017