Do Abdominal Exercises Make Stomach Stick Out More at First?

If you're dedicated to getting toned abs, a larger stomach is probably the very last thing you want. If you're only doing ab exercises, your stomach may actually get larger. Instead, you need to focus on a full-body fitness routine that includes fat-burning cardio and cutting calories from your diet.

Staying in shape
A woman exercising with a pilates ball on a mat in a studio. (Image: bernardbodo/iStock/Getty Images)

Burning Fat Versus Building Muscle

To get toned abs, you have to achieve two goals. First, you'll need to burn fat, which is the culprit behind a large, flabby stomach. While ab exercises such as crunches do burn some calories, they won't burn enough fat to help you lose weight on your stomach. Building muscle through ab exercises will only result in a difference if you're also losing fat. Otherwise, building muscle underneath a layer of fat can actually make your stomach look slightly larger.

Post-Workout Swelling

When you exercise, your heart rapidly pumps blood to your muscles and organs, and this can cause your stomach muscles to temporarily puff up and look larger. Exercise also causes microscopic tears in your muscles. The process of healing these tears is what causes bigger muscles, according to the book "Exercise Physiology." But these tears also cause temporary inflammation. If you're not burning fat, the temporary swelling in your ab muscles can make you look heavier.

Too Many Calories

You can do thousands of crunches and run 10 miles every day and still not see a change in your waistline. To achieve your fitness goals, you have to strike a balance between removing calories from your diet and burning them through exercise. You have to get rid of 3,500 calories for every pound you want to lose, and if you're overeating, this goal will be impossible. You may gain weight in your stomach, causing your efforts to go to waste.

Ab Toning the Right Way

If you want to tone your abs, focus on working your whole body, because spot reduction is impossible. Get plenty of cardiovascular exercise such as swimming, running or cycling. At 185 pounds, for example, you'll burn 355 calories running 5 mph for 30 minutes. Abdominal exercises can help strengthen your core and make your muscles more visible as you shed fat. Try routines such as the captain's chair, bicycle crunch and exercise ball crunch, which the American Council on Exercise, in a 2001 study, found to be the most effective ab exercises.

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