No, we’re not talking about Tide-to-Go or your local leopard eradication project.  We’re talking about that elusive beast of a concept: doing abdominal exercises in an effort to reduce abdominal fat and trim the waistline.  It’s an attractive idea.  Just hammer out some crunches on a regular basis and watch the inches melt away.  Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that.   
A recent study (J Strength Cond Res 25 (9): 2559-2564, 2011) assessed the effect of abdominal exercises on changes in abdominal fat, waist circumference, and abdominal strength. The work group did 7 ab exercises, 2x10, 5 days/week, for 6 weeks.  The control group didn’t.  The exercises included were: Bent Knee Situp, Lateral Trunk Flexion, Leg Lifts, Oblique Crunch, Stability Ball Crunch, Stability Ball Twist, and
Abdominal Crunch.  

What the authors (Vispute, Smith, LeCheminant, & Hurley) found is that 6 weeks of training resulted in greater abdominal endurance, but no change in abdominal fat or waist circumference compared to the control group.  Not really a surprise.  In order to change body fat and abdominal fat, there needs to be an overall energy deficit. 
As in, a reduction of calories going in and an increase in calories expended.  In this study there was no significant change in dietary intake and the activity level wasn’t long
enough or intense enough to burn a significant amount of calories.  
If you’re on a quest for washboard abs (vs. washtub), the basics remain – be smart with your nutrition (lean protein, smart carbs, healthy fats), manage how much you put into the system, and make sure you’re getting enough exercise of adequate intensity. If
you’re trying to fit into those skinny jeans and can’t, chances are that one (two, or three) of the variables needs a closer look.  Good luck!

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