Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Adapted with permission of VeloPress from Core Envy: A 3-Step Guide to a Strong, Sexy Core by exercise physiologist and personal trainer Allison Westfahl. Learn more at coreenvybook.com.
YOU HAVE TO LOSE IT ALL: YOU CAN’T BURN FAT IN JUST ONE PLACE ON YOUR BODY
We all store fat in different areas of our bodies; women with pear-shaped bodies tend to store more in the hips and thighs, while women with apple-shaped bodies store more in the abdomen and upper arms. When you want to reduce fat in a specific area of your body, it would seem reasonable to do exercises that work the muscles in that region. So if you want less fat on your thighs, you do lunges; if you want less fat on your arms, you do biceps curls; and if you want to burn off that spare tire, you do core exercises. Seems perfectly logical, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, this approach to fat reduction is simply false. The reason we can’t microtarget fat areas is that fat is stored primarily in the form of triglycerides. These triglycerides might tend to collect more in certain areas (such as the abdomen or thighs), but that doesn’t mean the muscles of that area are using those specific triglycerides for fuel.
When we need energy to move, our body will call upon the stored energy in our fat cells and convert that energy into fuel that our muscles can use. Just because we have fat cells in our stomach doesn’t mean our body will choose those particular fat cells to convert to energy when we’re doing core exercises. In short, the fat cells in our stomach don’t “belong” to the muscles of the stomach. The body will pull energy from fat cells in many different areas of the body and will use that fuel to help power whatever activity we are doing. For this reason, the key to burning fat as quickly as possible is to choose activities that burn the highest number of calories, in turn eliminating the highest amount of fat.
STOP DOING CRUNCHES AND WORK YOUR WHOLE CORE!
Most core exercises, especially any exercise that includes “crunch”, are not, in fact, going to create the sleek, toned belly you want. So why should we do core exercises at all?
Since doing high-intensity cardio burns fat more effectively than crunches, why shouldn’t we just do cardio all day long and ditch the brutal core routines?
Working the core in a functional, progressive manner will give you nice, lean muscles that will be on display once that layer of fat is burned off by doing cardio and cleaning up your diet.
You don’t want to spend months burning off that spare tire to reveal, well, nothing underneath.
While core exercises are not the most effective way to burn subcutaneous and visceral fat off your belly, they are the answer to toning the muscles underneath. Spot-reducing fat from your body is not realistic, but spot-toning your muscles most certainly is. For example, you can absolutely make the muscles in your legs stronger and more toned by doing lunges and squats; this maxim holds true for any muscle in the body. Putting repetitive stress on a muscle causes positive adaptations in those muscle fibers that range from improved cardiovascular efficiency to increased bone density and neuromuscular control. The bottom line is that if you put repetitive stress on your core muscles by doing sculpting exercises. you will improve the strength, power, endurance, and coordination of those muscles.
All of these benefits are just lovely side effects of sculpting a gorgeous, enviable core!