Do Sit-Ups and Crunches Give You a Six-Pack?

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Nicole Kell

Many people’s dream body involves having visibly defined abdominal muscles, commonly referred to as a “six pack”. There are many misconceptions about how to achieve this goal. Doing hundreds of sit-ups daily is not enough. It is said that, “abs are made in the kitchen.” With a healthy layer of body fat it may not be possible to see abs even when they are toned. You need very low body fat to be able to see definition of the abdominal muscles.  

Science says that you should eat less calories than you burn to lose fat. In order to do so, some recommend specific changes such as cutting back on sugar, simple carbs (breads, pastries, soft drinks), fried food, and alcohol while increasing consumption of vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats (nuts, avocado, eggs, salamon), and lean proteins.  No particular diet is demonstrated to be more effect than simply eating fewer calories than you burn. 

It is estimated that men must get body fat down to 6-9% for men and 16-19% for women of total body weight to be able to see abdominal muscle definition.  That’s a difficult level to reach, and dropping much lower than that can be unhealthy.  

In addition to very low body fat, theories state that it helps to strengthen the core muscles such as the transverse abdominal, the internal obliques, and the erector spinae. These muscles lie deep within your core and–so the theory goes–must be strong in order to see that six-pack. The best exercises for your core are compound exercises that engage every muscle in your core such as planks, deadlifts, overhead presses, and squats. Sit-ups and crunches only target a few muscle groups. Whether or not you can see definition in your abs, core muscles limit back pain and improve  balance and flexibility. 

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