Crunches + Cardio. What more?
January 22, 2008 9:58 AM   Subscribe

Are crunches and cardio three times a week going to get rid of undesired excess fat? And how soon can I expect results?

I'm not fat or overweight by any measure, but my belly (and thighs) are definitely screwing with my self esteem big time. I'm eating well - little to no junk food, very little refined sugar and very little grease, but my sedentary hermit student's lifestyle has led to about 20 lbs added in the past two years or so, which I'd really like to lose.

What I've started to do is about 100 crunches a day. Since crunches apparently only tone abs and don't actuall do anything for the excess fat, I've also started cardio (DDR, specifically, 5-7 feet) for about 25 minutes three times a week. (I walk on average 45 minutes a day for classes and club activities)

Should I be doing something else? Should I be doing cardio more often? How soon can I expect results?

I'm 5'4" and 125 lb, but have the typical small Asian body shape, so the extra 20 lbs.. not fun. Or funny.
posted by Phire to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Can you afford to see a trainer for a session or two? A good trainer should be able to give you some moves that will avoid you wasting your time and energy on exercise that doesn't help the areas that are giving you grief.
posted by pinky at 10:01 AM on January 22, 2008

The results are already occurring, it will just be hard to see for a while because you're, well, you. Usually other people are the first to comment on the change in appearance, so be on the lookout for that-- but no fishing!

Don't know what your living situation is like and how much space you have, but a truly effortless and quasi-entertaining cardio workout is the jump-rope. I recommend hitting the rope for about ten minutes BEFORE you do DDR, so you're thoroughly warmed up and already sweating when you start. That way you won't have to worry about whether you're getting enough-- and it will raise your energy, and hopefully your score!
posted by hermitosis at 10:07 AM on January 22, 2008

Cardio three times a week is ok, four or five is better if you're looking to actively lose and not just maintain. I usually burn ~300 during a 30-minute cardio session, ~200 for a vigorous walk, you might burn a little less with your weight. Try to shoot for burning around 2000 calories per week (and any more helps).

There are two things that are most important when hoping to lose weight: cardio, and diet. One will not work without the other, they are both essential. If you can figure to take in a certain amount of calories a day (I'm guessing around 800 for you, maybe a little more), then you'll lose weight. Pay attention to calories--some items have more calories than you might think. Eat lots and lots of fruits and vegetables, not just because they are good for you but also because they have fewer calories, and fill you up.

Don't mean to sound like a weight loss ad, sorry! But I just lost 30 pounds through a program and am loving it.
posted by Melismata at 10:14 AM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd recommend tracking what you eat using something like FitDay.

To lose fat you're going to have to create a slight caloric deficit. Problem is, it doesn't sound like your exercise routines burn very many calories (running only burns 100 calories/mile, so the DDR thing could be, maybe, 200 calories max?) 200 calories is not very much in terms of food consumption--and it's easy to go, well, I've just exercised so I'm justified in eating a little more.

In my experience it's very hard to create the right caloric deficit without tracking it. Eating way too little is just as bad because it shuts down your metabolism and makes it even harder to lose weight.
posted by dixie flatline at 10:16 AM on January 22, 2008

creating a calorie intake/expenditure differential will cut the fat

crunches will build nice fat encrusted abs
posted by Salvatorparadise at 10:17 AM on January 22, 2008

Are crunches and cardio three times a week going to get rid of undesired excess fat?


Lift some weights.
posted by tiburon at 10:24 AM on January 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

For losing the fat, a healthy diet and lots of cardio exercise are the way to go. Maybe add some weight training to build muscle, which aids in fat burning.

The crunches aren't doing anything for your physical appearance or fat levels.
posted by justkevin at 10:28 AM on January 22, 2008

Pick up some light weights and work out your arms and legs to go along with the abs. Keep your whole body going, and it provides a nice rotation between crunches, arms, and legs to keep you from getting too bored.

As far as targeted fat loss, that's impossible, what is possible though is that by going from no-tone to some-muscle, you can carry the fat you have a lot better. You'll look better with the same amount of fat. Then focus on dropping the pounds by tracking food intake, and you'll look amazing.

At least that's the plan I'm following. I'm only three weeks into it, and I think I already look better, even though the scale has stayed the same.
posted by cschneid at 10:33 AM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Melismata, did you mean to say that she should take in 1800 calories, not 800?

You should definitely be making sure that you eat well, but if you're counting calories, shoot more around 1300-1600 than 800.
posted by snoogles at 10:34 AM on January 22, 2008

seconding justkevin - crunches don't do crap.

if you want to get rid of excess body fat, cut down the calorie input, particularly carbohydrates. do lots of cardio and free-weights.

getting a personal trainer is recommended. you'll notice the biggest change when you start lifting weights.

stay away from 'diets', and instead concentrate on eating healthy, smaller meals.

also, most trainers will recommend you eat 5-6 small meals instead of 3 larger ones. keeps the metabolism in check.

good luck!
posted by kneelconqueso at 10:39 AM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think you really need to lift weights to drop some weight. If you were 100lbs overweight you could shed a lot of it by a little cardio, but the pounds closer to your ideal body weight are much harder to lose. As was mentioned, crunches aren't going to do a heck of a lot by themselves (full on sit-ups are better for toning and increasing strength). Lifting weights increases your resting metabolism and thus you burn more calories throughout the day. Even being a sedentary student.

Get a trainer or find a friend that knows what they're doing and have them show you several good routines (if you do the same thing every time you lift weights, you will get incredibly diminishing returns). Lift twice a week, cardio three times. The next week lift three times and cardio once.

Also, there are things you can do in your home that essentially qualify as weightlifting, especially at first. Specifically, you can do unweighted squats, push-ups, pull-ups (and there are easier variations on these), lunges, burpees, box jumps, and many variations on the sit-up. (Crossfit isn't for everyone, but they've got great videos showing you how to do many different exercises. Some of them are pretty fun).
posted by nameless.k at 10:44 AM on January 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Question from yesterday may be useful.
posted by rhizome at 11:10 AM on January 22, 2008

What I've started to do is about 100 crunches a day.

1. Crunches will build muscle under your belly fat. They will not magically replace the belly fat with muscle.

2. You shouldn't be doing them every day. Give your muscles a day to rest in between so they can recover and grow stronger.
posted by heatherann at 11:16 AM on January 22, 2008

Look, the abs are like any other muscle. They get bigger. And doing crunches specifically targets the rectus abdominus, which, with a lot of work (like 100 crunches a day) can actually expand outwards and make your stomach look larger. You are better off going on and finding exercises that either work the transverse abdominus specifically, or use the abdominal muscles as core stabilizers instead of just to strengthen. Six-packs come from a strong core and, more importantly, low body fat.

Long, slow, 30-minute straight cardio is actually not ideal (the "Fat Burning Zone" is bullshit). You're better off doing HIIT, High Intensity Interval Training, which is not only better at boosting your anaerobic capacity but also at burning fat. You can find lots of different HIIT-focused exercise programs online.

I also suggest weight training. Don't worry about building bulky muscles--you are a woman with a small build, and it takes a long, long time, a lot of work and food, and hypertrophy-specific training for someone of your type to build large muscles. You will tone up, be stronger, and enhance your cardio sessions.

However, this is all worthless if you don't have your diet in. Losing fat (not just fat and muscle) is 70-80% diet. Track your calories on FitDay, make sure you're eating plenty of protein and healthy fats and your carbs are low-glycemic.

As for how long it will take, that all depends on you. A good target is about 2lbs a week. Unless you're very obese, it's not healthy to aim for more than that.
posted by schroedinger at 11:21 AM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How old are you? Most people, especially women put on a little weight when they are in their late teens and early twenties as a part of the end of puberty, and it's completely natural. It's part of your body settling into being an adult.

At 5'4" and 125, your BMI is 21.5, which is squarely in the middle of the "normal" range. If you lost 20 pounds, your BMI would be 18, which would put you in the "underweight" range. While BMI is notorious for being an imperfect judge of healthy body weight for individual bodies, the fact that you're on the low end of the body weight spectrum, even though you say you have a "small" shape, means that you may be at your body's natural, healthy adult weight. And if your body is at its natural weight right now, you may not see weight loss from your exercise program unless you take it to unhealthy extremes, like starving yourself or overtraining.

Exercising for your health is excellent, and everyone should do it. But obsessing over a particular number on the scale, particularly when you are already at a fairly low weight, isn't good for your body or your mind. Focus on becoming stronger and improving your overall cardiovascular health, and you'll likely see some changes in your body as your muscles get stronger and leaner. But try not to get so focused on the number on the scale. Women's bodies are not designed to stay at their 16-year-old sizes forever, no matter what fashion magazines tell us. Try not to be so hard on yourself, and try to focus your exercise on improving what your body can do, not improving how it looks based on some arbitrary standard.
posted by decathecting at 11:40 AM on January 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Melismata, did you mean to say that she should take in 1800 calories, not 800?

You should definitely be making sure that you eat well, but if you're counting calories, shoot more around 1300-1600 than 800.

Sorry, I did my math wrong! Yes, I meant about 1300.

Also, nthing schroedinger on the 2 pounds a week target. That's about right for most people, anything more is just not healthy or realistic.
posted by Melismata at 11:40 AM on January 22, 2008

Professional bodybuilders, from what I understand, cut out the carbs to get rid of the last bits of extra fat. If watching calories isn't working, try cutting the carbs.
posted by callmejay at 12:42 PM on January 22, 2008


It took a year of daily gym work and diet to remove 70 excess Rockpounds. What I learned...

Cardio burns fat but not near as much as an accompaning weight training program.

Cardio and weights work but won't work well without a proper diet. I ate schools of salmon and and acres of salad and gave up all junk food and high carbs (potatoes...)

Cardio and weights and diet work, but will stop when you plateau your workout. Always increase weight and duration when you can workout without it killing you. It should always kill you to some extent. Think of the opening of "Conan the Barbarian"

Hey man, you've already done the hard part, sticking to it. You are changing but you can't see/feel it yet. When you can, don't get the big head and stop, keep on chuggin.

4 years later, I've regained 20 pounds,, but the lifestyle changes took. I am much healthier. Same to Ya!
posted by djrock3k at 1:14 PM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: calculate your basal metabolic rate (bmr) to learn how many calories your body expends without moving a muscle. Let's say yours is 1400.

There are 3500 calories in a pound. To lose a pound a week (7 days) you would have to create a 500 calorie deficit a day. If you had a sedentary lifestyle, that would be mean eating 900 calories a day. It's unlikely that you are doing this with your current regimen.

Additionally, let's say you burn 200 calories per 25min session of DDR and 200 calories per week day walking. Thats 1600 calories a week. You still need to burn 1900 calories for the week to lose a pound. This could be achieved by eating 1100 calories a day, which is on the low end which may cause you to lose muscle mass since you aren't weight training. Alternatively you could increase the length, frequency, and diversity of your workouts for optimal results.

The weight wasn't put on overnight, so it's not going to disappear that way. Consistency is key, even if you don't see immediate results. Sounds like you're off to a great start, goodluck!
posted by flaneuse at 1:33 PM on January 22, 2008

Diet, diet, diet. You don't have to go to an extreme, but if you did you would lose get where you wanted to faster.

Cardio is alright. It's far more easier than spending time in the weight room. it's also usally compacted into small sessions.

BUT you should add weight training to your program. Again you don't have to go to extremes, and that is why I suggest you do not do High Intensity Interval Training.

By the way, there are plenty of resources online to get advice on this subject. My favorite is:

T - Mag

The editor (T.C. Luoma) that made Bill Phillips Muscle Media 2000 Magazine a hit is one of the co-founders of that site. They also sell quality products.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:37 PM on January 22, 2008

So this isn't necessarily related exactly to the question you asked, but you could do some pilates in your room. It doesn't take a ton of space and helped my flexibility a bunch. If you have netflix, which is supremely cheap these days, you can watch a plethora of work out tapes on your computer monitor or laptop (or even run it to a TV from a TV tuner card) as part of your monthly subscription. No gym. No gym girls in bikini workout clothes. No sweaty men. And, I found it to be surprisingly entertaining. I used to dance when I was a kid, so I like getting back into flexibility training.
posted by santojulieta at 3:25 PM on January 22, 2008

Best answer: Misconceptions:

#1 -- You do not need to cut out carbs. Calories are important, not carbs. Please don't head down Fad Diet Lane, that's a bad place to go and it leads right back to where you are now.

#2 -- You should weight train, absolutely, but not with light weights. That is absolutely pointless. If you're going to lift weights, lift HEAVY weights. Don't worry about putting on ugly muscle mass, it simply won't happen. It takes two things to bulk up: (1) you have to eat a ton, and (2) you need lots of testosterone. Even if you ate enough to gain weight, which you obviously shouldn't be doing, you just don't have the right hormones to put on muscle. So, lift heavy or don't lift at all, okay? :-)

#3 -- As far as abdominal exercises go, crunches are fine. Situps are not particularly better; once you're past the crunch point you're just working your hips, which is fine, but doesn't do anything for your abs. Supine bicycles are as good or better than crunches, even. I highly recommend a couple sets of those!

#4 -- As you acknowledge somewhat, crunches build muscle, they don't burn fat. There is no such thing as spot fat reduction. You can't target a particular area for fat loss. It'll come off in whatever order your genes determine. So you need to lose fat overall to see your abs. Once you've lost enough fat to have a flat stomach then it'll be time to start worrying about building up your abs with crunches and whatnot.

#5 -- However, most importantly, you are not going to get a six pack unless you are toned all over. Have you ever seen someone with a six pack who doesn't also have toned arms and legs? No, it doesn't happen. What this means is, you really really need to lift weights if you want a six pack. Six-pack abs require both extremely low body fat and decent musculature. The former is gotten with a good diet and exercise, and the latter by resistance training in particular.

Of course, you can absolutely get a flat stomach just from diet + cardio. A six pack is a lot of work, but a flat tummy isn't too bad to get.
posted by Khalad at 3:31 PM on January 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

How old are you? Most people, especially women put on a little weight when they are in their late teens and early twenties as a part of the end of puberty, and it's completely natural. It's part of your body settling into being an adult.

I cannot second this enough. Do not waste a lot of time fretting over an adolescent figure that was never meant to last into adulthood. Counting calories and killing yourself at the gym can, if you aren't careful, backfire and leave you more obsessed with your body and less happy with it. Whatever you do, remember that you really are going to have to keep doing it forever to maintain your shape, so try to make it something you enjoy and that does not feel like constant denial.
posted by ch1x0r at 6:14 PM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I tried this and it didn't work. Shangri-La Diet did. Lost 12 pounds, kept it off for 4 months, insanely easy. Done and done.
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 8:10 PM on January 22, 2008

Best answer: What works for men (i.e., weight training) doesn't always work for women -- and I assume from your 124 lbs. that you are a woman. Weight training is good, don't get me wrong, and should be part of any fitness routine, but lifting heavy or free weights is not going to work the wonders for you that it would for a guy. They put on more muscle faster and (damn them) usually find it much easier to lose weight. Cardio and diet is most effective.

Spot reducing doesn't work, though doing a lot of ab crunches will benefit you in all sorts of ways (for example, your back). Exercise programs usually take 3 to 4 weeks to show results and it will be a gradual change that you might not observe in the mirror. For someone without a lot of body fat, like you, the scale might not show much either for a while.

Anecdotally, having talked to a lot of other women about this sort of thing over the years, the single most effective exercise is running. If you do a half hour a day first thing in the morning it's really not that time consuming, and it will give you the most bang (visible results) for your buck (time put in). It can be hard on your joints, though, and I wouldn't recommend it if you're over 35.
posted by Lauram at 4:49 AM on January 23, 2008

Hey Khalad (or anyone else who knows): how does a supine bicycle help you tone your abs more than crunches? By supine bicycle you do mean a recumbent bicycle like described here, right:
posted by jacquilinala at 9:15 AM on January 23, 2008

This exercise: supine bicycle, supine meaning "lying on your back". (Also commonly used as supinated in reference to an underhanded grip, as opposed to pronated for the overhanded grip. (Other strange exercise terminology: concentric and eccentric used to describe the two phases of lifting a weight, the first being when the muscle shortens and the second when the muscle lengthens.))
posted by Khalad at 6:18 PM on January 23, 2008

Cardio and diet is most effective.

Bullshit. In fact, I think it is more likely for cardio and diet to be effective on men than on women for the exact reason that they have and need less body fat, so they are less likely to shed muscle in the process of starving themselves through excessive diet and cardio. Everyone is different, and I'm sure there are women for whom nothing but running makes the biggest difference, but don't paint this as a gender difference because it is absolutely not. If you work out hard to try and really honest to god lift a lot of weight, you will change your body composition in a way that running is very unlikely to achieve.
posted by ch1x0r at 8:59 PM on January 24, 2008

Khalad: aha that makes more sense. Thanks for letting me know. I'm going to the gym now and will try incorporating it in my workout!
posted by jacquilinala at 8:27 AM on January 26, 2008

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