Man doing sit-ups on a bench at the gym.

Achieving is not as easy as loading up on protein and doing exercises to lose belly fat. The harsh truth is no amount of intense core workouts will magically sculpt your midsection.

Studies have shown that it’s not possible to . While targeted exercises contribute to muscle development and core strength, they won’t dictate where your body burns fat. Another kicker? Some mainstream ab moves like crunches and side bends are a waste of time and could even injure you.

Below, we’ve ranked the least effective exercises to lose belly fat, plus options you should be doing to optimize your gains.

The Traditional Crunches

Your dislike of crunches is not unreasonable. The says these old-school ab exercises yield very little results as they engage a limited set of muscles. The movements solely focus on the rectus abdominis a.k.a. the visible six-pack muscles, neglecting other muscle groups like obliques and transverse abdominis (TVA) that maintain core strength and stability. And if you have a weak TVA, it’d be tougher to ditch lower belly fat.

Doing crunches also puts you at risk of straining your neck. The repetitive motion of curling your upper body strains the neck muscles. Besides, it lowers the impact of the workout since you’re using your neck to pull your body up, not your core.

Try the bicycle crunch to activate more core muscles. Instead of flipping your elbows side to side, rotate your torso to activate the obliques. Lastly, maintain proper form by keeping your chin up and away from the chest. 

The Sit-Ups

P.E. classes may have taught you that sit-ups are the way to tout abs, but they’re not the best exercises to lose belly fat. All that bending can place undue stress on your spine if performed with poor form. Research suggests these movements can also press on the , causing a tingling sensation and even a herniated disc.

The good news is there are better positions to work up your core sans the back pain. Planks are excellent options for a full-body workout since they , abdomen, and back. For beginners, extend your arms to do roll-ups, which are also helpful in improving spine flexibility.

The Leg Raises

While leg raises are generally effective at building ab muscles, they do have major limitations. If you’re lacking some core strength, your will do most of the work to support half of . Overworking these muscles tugs on the lower back and overstretches the glutes and hamstrings. A , bad posture, and sore muscles along the upper legs follow.

To increase the effectiveness of your leg raises, place both hands under your lower back, palms facing down. This simple adjustment allows your core muscles to focus more on the lifting and stabilize your spine.

The Dumbbell Side Bends

Truth be told, bending your torso to the side while holding weights looks awkward and doesn’t do much for your abs. It can cause lots of injuries with one wrong move. The biggest challenge is keeping your back straight as you slide the dumbbell down your leg. Plus, it could become a hip-dominant exercise if you fail to control the movement.

If you’re keen on doing the side bends, the devil’s in the details. Start with lighter weights and focus on stretching your obliques rather than moving your hips. Or switch to a side plank instead. It’s one of the most effective exercises to lose belly fat and love handles.

The Russian Twists

Gym-goers seeking exercises to lose belly fat turn to the Russian twist. But most people do it wrong, undermining its benefits. One common mistake is speeding through the rotations. Rapid movements mean less tension on the targeted muscles and a higher risk of hurting your lower back. If you’re new to working out, consult a trainer on the best ways to achieve your fitness goals.

Remember, the power behind Russian twists comes from your obliques and core muscles, not from swinging and jerking motions. If you want to take things up a notch, use a weighted or medicine ball. Maintaining a deliberate pace and proper form is the key. In the end, compound exercises trump any ab-specific movements. Mix up your fat-burning routine on the reg and allow your body to rest.

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Don't neglect your face, either. Bacteria from gym equipment mixed with your sweat can clog the pores, resulting in . Wash all the nasties away with POND'S Men Facial Wash Energy Charge. Its main ingredient, coffee bean, is chock-full of antioxidants that help repair skin damage from stress and UV exposure. The best part? It can control oil for up to eight hours.

Your fitness journey may ebb and flow, and that's normal. It takes time to see progress but, when you do, you’ll be fired up to do more exercises to lose belly fat. Patience and consistency are crucial, so don't give up!