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THE QUESTION

One trainer told me that you should exercise your abdominals daily, and another told me that you should only do abdominal exercises every other day. Which one is correct?

THE ANSWER

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Daily abdominal workouts are an inefficient use of your time. Moreover, doing flexion exercises such as crunches on a daily basis can put your spine at risk of injury.

Don't fall into the trap of believing that doing crunches daily will decrease your belly fat. Doing exercises for any specific body part will not decrease that specific fat deposit. To lose fat, pay attention to your diet, decrease stress, do interval-style cardiovascular exercise and increase your metabolism.

Increase your metabolism through building lean muscle. Exercises like crunches primarily train the rectus abdominals. Since that muscle is relatively small, training it in isolation will not significantly increase your metabolism. Instead, do exercises that work lots of large muscle groups all at once, like squats and lunges.

You don't have to stop working your abdominals; just replace your daily moderate workout with an intense one three times a week. Don't just do crunches; choose core exercises like planks and wood chops. These work the trunk as a unit and are important for functional spine and pelvis stability, muscle strength and athletic power.

On the other days, do exercises that work the large muscles in the lower and upper body. Think squats, lunges, rows and push-ups.

There is one key exception. If you suffer from back pain and/or poor neurological awareness in your lower back and pelvis, there are exercises a health practitioner may give you to retrain the core muscles. Since those exercises are neurologically demanding but not physically stressful, you can do them daily.

TRAINER'S TIP

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Need added incentive to do squats instead of crunches? Compound exercises like squats don't just increase your metabolism, they work your core. Think of the squat as an intense version of an abdominal plank. The core requirements of squat and plank are similar – your core has to work to brace your trunk and maintain a neutral spine.

Send certified personal trainer Kathleen Trotter your fitness questions at trainer@globeandmail.com.

The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment

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