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Question: I have been working out for quite some time now and I am doing lots of sit-ups. However, I am not taking any inches off my waist. Am I doing the sit-ups correctly?

Answer: Some people mistakenly think they can burn fat around their waists by doing exercises involving muscles in that area, such as sit-ups and side bends. Unfortunately, sit-ups will not reduce observable fat around the waist. Doing exercises for any single muscle group does not burn enough calories to noticeably reduce fat.

To get rid of undesirable fat through exercise, your body as a whole must burn excess calories by involving as many muscle groups as possible. This means doing exercises like walking on an incline, jogging, stair climbing, cycling, elipse machine, aerobic dance, jumping rope, or circuit training. Plus, you must do them consistently over a period of time. Fat then comes off from all over the body, not just from the areas being worked.

Abdominal exercises, done correctly, will strengthen your midsection and thus prevent and alleviate back problems. My advice regarding sit-ups is don't do them! Besides their inefficiency at strengthening your abdominal muscles, sit-ups place inordinate stress on your lower back, which over many years could result in disc degeneration.

The three exercises for abdominal strengthening described below are among the best and they will not place stress on your back. You should do them in the order listed so you work your lower abdominal muscles before the uppers. If you tire the upper abdomen first, the fatigue will limit the amount of lower abdominal work you can do.

1. Lying six-inch leg raises Lying on your back with your hands (palms down) tucked under your pelvis, raise your legs about 18 inches off the floor. Then lower to about 12 inches. Repeat until fatigued. Your hands function as a cradle to prevent your lower back from arching. Your lower back should remain flat against the floor throughout the exercise.

2. Cross-knee abdominal crunches Lying on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, clasp your hands behind your head, reach one elbow toward the opposite knee, lifting only that one shoulder blade off the floor. Alternate, and repeat until fatigued.

3. Abdominal crunch Lying on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on floor, cross your arms behind your head with your hands placed on the opposite shoulders or with arms folded across your chest, contract the abdominal muscles, lifting the upper body so just the shoulder blades come off the floor, while your lower back is pressed against the floor. Repeat until fatigued.

Remember, start slowly with any exercise program. Begin with modest goals. You must exercise consistently to expect results.

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