You've long since ditched sit-ups for safer, more effective crunches, but it turns out that these repetitive belly burners won't give you the six-pack you're working toward. Instead, they may actually be hurting your body.
Crunches are performed with a curved spine rather than a neutral back to allow you to bend at the waist, but this will just lead to a herniated disc, not killer abs. This unnatural position is also one you get an unhealthy amount of already; you don't need more of it! "You sit all day at your desk, hunched over with rounded shoulders—and then crunches put you into the exact same position and reinforce it," says Jinnett. So if you feel regular back pain, your 'crunch, crunch, repeat' habits may be to blame.
But what about that sweet burning sensation you get while knocking out your crunches? Unfortunately, it isn't connected at all to your progress. Jinnett says it's just what happens when you perform high-reps, low-weight moves. "It's not fat loss happening, it's not calories burned, it's not strengthening—it's just something that happens," she says.
Since this constant forward flex won't lead to washboard abs, stop wasting your time crunching away. And because spot reduction isn't possible, you're better off working out with compound moves or intervals that'll burn major calories and strengthen multiple muscle groups.
So what's a woman with flat belly dreams to do?
If there's one move that's kicking crunches to the curb, it's plank variations, says Harvard Health. These are ab stabilization moves that'll pump up your endurance without killing your spine! They also remove the use of a curved spine and improve your abdominal endurance, which is actually known to alleviate lower back pain.
Try these safer, more effective moves to help tone those abs.
Lie face down on floor resting on your forearms. Push up off the floor, raising up onto toes and resting on the elbows. Keep your back flat, contracting your abdominal muscles while you hold your body in a straight line from head to heels. Don't let your butt sag or stick up in the air.
Begin by sitting on the floor on one hip and pushing yourself up into the side plank. The shoulder should be stacked over the wrist. The chest and hips are square to the same side. Stack or stagger (shown here) the feet for balance. Squeeze the lower oblique to stay lifted.
Repeat on the other side.
Begin in high plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders. Your body should be in a straight, diagonal line from your head to your heels.
With your core engaged, bring your right knee forward under your chest, with the toes just off the ground. Return to your basic plank. Switch legs, bringing the left knee forward. Keep alternating legs and pick up the pace until it feels a little like running in place in a plank position.