The crunch, which is a modified version of the full sit-up, is often incorporated into fitness routines to strengthen and sculpt the midsection. This exercise does tone the waistline, but performing crunches alone can actually lead to an increased waist circumference because of their focus on a select group of muscles. However, a well-rounded approach to working the abdominals can result in a sleeker look while building strength.
The abdominals are composed of several key muscles necessary for stabilization of the entire body. Those muscles include the transversus abdominis, the internal and external obliques and the rectus abdominis, often referred to as the "six-pack." When embarking on a fitness program to tone and shape your middle, you should choose exercises that work these muscles as a cohesive unit rather than as individual entities. The result is a balanced and appealing appearance that eliminates the potential for bulking up.
How Crunches Can Make Your Waist Bigger
Because the rectus muscles are directly and powerfully targeted in the crunch maneuver, their mass can increase rather quickly. The rectus muscles are large muscles located at the front of the abdominal wall. If you build them up too much, your waist circumference will grow rather than shrink. As these muscles grow they can "pooch" out and cause what appears to be a thickening effect. If you are doing hundreds of crunches a week and your pants are getting tighter, this may be why. In addition, if you have a bit of fat overlying the rectus abdominis, this will increase your waist measurement further.
A Well-Rounded Ab Program
To avoid getting a bigger waist (the opposite of what you desire), choose an exercise program such as Pilates that hones in on the entire abdominal region. When you perform a well-rounded routine, your individual muscles will get the attention they need without becoming overdeveloped in any one area. Working the obliques in tandem with the rectus abdominis, for example, is a way to help achieve the desired waistline. Adding cardiovascular exercises to your fitness program will burn off excess fat and take inches off your middle.
Any abdominal exercise program should be approached with care, especially if you are new to working out or if you have ever experienced acute or chronic upper- or lower-back pain or neck pain. The abs are responsive muscles, but building them can cause strain in other parts of the body if they are worked too vigorously too soon. Consult your doctor or physical therapist before you begin work on your abs to ensure the routine is appropriate for you.
- Anatomy of the Moving Body; Theodore Dimon, Jr.
- The Anatomy of Pilates; Paul Massey
- Pilates; Rael Isacowitz
- Anatomy of Movement; Blandine Calais-Germain
Michelle Kodis has been a writer and editor for more than two decades. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University, is the author of nine books and has contributed articles to various magazines, newspapers and blogs. She is also a certified Pilates instructor and studies canine therapeutic massage/acupressure.