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Why Sit-ups Make You Fat

Many people want to know why sit-ups make them fat.

The first reason is that building up muscle on your belly will make your belly bigger.

The second reason is that when you stop doing sit-ups, the muscle will turn to fat.

Some people start doing sit-ups because they are trying to get their belly to go away. If your belly is big because of a curve in your spine you will be effectively compressing your spine in order to make your belly look smaller. This compression leads to a bigger curve so it is a self-defeating process. (Also known as "pooching syndrome.")

Another possibility is that your belly is big because you are over-eating. If you are over-eating and you do sit-ups, the extra exercise will "tonify" your appetite causing you to want to eat more! Yum, yum. (This is often conflated with edema or bloating which can have a variety of causes, none of which are helped by sit-ups.)

Another possibility is that you do sit-ups to make your back rigid so that you won't feel a chronic injury. This sort of works but the problem is that it makes you insensitive so you are more likely to injure yourself again in the future (and more likely to over-eat).

Making one's belly and back rigid is popular with some athletes because they are always getting injured from direct impact. If two balls of equal mass collide, the denser of the two will survive and the less dense body will disperse. (This is known on the school yard as the Blamo effect!) For instance, football players often disperse (detach) their retinas this way.

The Blamo effect always works! Its physics! The denser you are the better. Unfortunately there is no art in this. The quickest way to make your body dense is to fall really hard onto a surface like ice or concrete. (A couple times a day and you'll be lookin' like Schwarzenegger in record time. Warning: This may effect your brain.)

Some people like to wear their armor on the inside. Rather than picking up some leather or even chain-mail from the local Walgreens which has the benefit of being effective against sharpened steel, they have decided that they want armor 24/7. Yes, even in the shower! These fighter-exemplars are in constant fear of a surprise attack; they need not worry about over-eating because they are too scared to eat.

There is a group of martial artists who think that making the area between the ribs and the hips rigid will give them more power. The logic here, if we can call it logic, is that a rigid body moves as a single piece and is therefore able to use its whole weight for fighting. If by fighting they mean World Wrestling Federation body-slams, than they are indeed correct. However if your idea of fighting involves mobility, and the possibility of generating explosive power from all the soft tissue in your body, tight abdominal muscles will totally break your power.

Tight muscles reduce movement range and sensitivity. They cut off the flow of power from one part of the body to another and they require constant maintenance. The more alive your whole torso is, the more power and flexibility you will have.

Future Blog: Why are/were some famous Taijiquan masters fat?

Reader Comments (26)

"The first reason is that building up muscle on your belly will make your belly bigger.

The second reason is that when you stop doing sit-ups, the muscle will turn to fat."

Not so sure I agree about these two reasons. The best reason to train the waist and back is to build up core strength. I think there are many positive reasons for IMA people to do so.

December 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterFormosa Neijia

I've been working on my six pack with .... six packs. So far I haven't been really successful, but I feel very relaxed.

December 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRickMatz

You said "The second reason is that when you stop doing sit-ups, the muscle will turn to fat."

No, wrong. Muscle cannot turn into fat nor vice versa. The muscle will loose tone and will get soft & flabby and will probably get covered by fat as you eat more & exercise less. but muscle cannot turn into fat.

Secondly, doing sit-ups is a waste of time. Brid-dogs, planks, rotations holding a weight and similar exercises build a strong mid-section that can generate & transmit power through the body and out the hands or feet.
A strong core is necessary if you ever plan on picking up anything heavy.

December 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDave Randolph

Hi Dave Randolph, thanks for the correction.

It is certainly true that muscle cells which suffer from hypertrophy do not then become fat cells.
What happens is that the body gets conditioned to being a certain size, having a type a circulation, movement, and balance related to that size. Once your body's proprioception adapts to being big it will be difficult to return to a previous size. Your body will just keep trying to get bigger again. Un-interrupted extraordinary discipline will be your only reprieve.

I stand by my statement that sit-ups make you fat, and that also goes for all those silly core exercises. In fact, any repetitive movement which isolates one part of the body from the others inhibits internal power. Muscle building is the worst type. In Chinese cosmology it is associated with demonic possession.

Very few people are willing or interested in cultivating true internal martial arts. Many who are interested do not have the fate to pull it off. To cultivate Dao means to let go of society's expectations of what we should be. It means to let go of preconceptions about what it means to be human.

One of the reasons people eat more when they quit their muscle training routine, is that they have damaged their spleen. In Chinese medicine the spleen is a very sensitive and easily injured organ which is responsible for regulating appetite. Muscle building is likely to damage appetite sensitivity causing people to under-eat and then gorge.

As to lifting heavy objects, I try to help with anything which requires more than two fingers.

I am not trying to convert anybody here. If your route works for you, take it. Enjoy it!

Here is a quote from the Daodejing:

To be preserved whole: bend
Upright, then twisted,
To be full, hollow out.
What is worn out will be repaired
Those who have little, have much to be gained,
Having much you will only be perplexed.
The ancient saying, "To be preserved whole: bend," is no idle remark, those who follow this are preserved.

December 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterScott P. Phillips

"...that also goes for all those silly core exercises. In fact, any repetitive movement which isolates one part of the body from the others inhibits internal power."

Well, that's not always the case. Isolating one body part is often necessary in the case of injury or when that part is weaker than the rest. You don't always solve bodily problems by stressing whole body movement.

I see lots of people that do taiji, etc. that simply have lots of weak links in their whole body connection. Usually the weakness is in the abdomen and lower back. Core exercises can increase the connection of those parts with the greater whole.

Obviously I don't recommend segmented training all the time. You MUST make whole body movement the focus of training. But I just don't see how training the weak links with supplemental exercises is detrimental to internal power.

December 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterFormosa Neijia

Formosa Dave,
I don't want to come across as some kind of Weakness Fundamentalist.
For instance, using weapons is a form of weight training, it is just a type of weight training that is focused on extending one's yi-qi-shen (what ever) in the most efficient way possible. This type of intimacy with a weapon comes from weakness and sensitivity, not from imposing your technique on the tool.

If people quit their jobs to focus on healing when they got injured I wouldn't be asked to equivocate about what might be a good way to "work through an injury." I'm not so idealistic as to presume people shouldn't use strength to cover up a painful injury. People will do it no matter what I say. But I'm still not going to give that advise. A person who only wants that quick fix should go to someone who offers it.

We don't need whole body power! We do just fine in wheelchairs for heavens sake, what's a little sloppiness or disconnection going to do? Well, my answer is the one that makes people mad: The only things truly stopping us from whole body power is our own aggression, and the permanent injuries we have SUSTAINED since birth (many of them repeatedly self-inflicted by aggressive conduct).

Aggression is natural, so is death. Whether we embrace or resist these two forces they will always be part of our lives.

If just training up the weak spots worked, there'd be a heck of a lot more great Taijiquan masters. Actually it's more like you have to weaken all the strong parts until they are as weak as the one weak part. There are many different Taijiquan methodologies, but for the most part if something isn't working well with other parts of the body, you have to connect it (integrate it). If you connect it using strength, you will have to undo that process and find another way to connect it when you get to a higher level. That may be necessary if you are impatient and want to work on some other aspect of practice instead. But you will have created a layer of concrete on top of your treasure that you will have to scrape away later.

December 19, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterScott P. Phillips

you're a dork. You're post is misleading, insensitive, and unhelpful. People might actually believe your bullshit.

February 17, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterigm

I'm going to ignore your first comment because, well, what does one say to that?
If you mean by insensitive that I might give someone cognitive dissonance which causes them to re-think why they do what they do, well, I'm unrepentant.
I'm not leading, so how can I be misleading? I'm trying to inspire people to see beauty.
I'm not responsible for what other people believe, I don't give much importance to belief. I care about action.
As to being helpful, I guess that depends on what kind of help people are asking me for. Do you need help?

February 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterScott P. Phillips

maybe you should realise what effect posting ridiculous articles on the internet, anybody could stumble on this and fact mate, Horse poo are you!!

April 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterphillips poo scott

Hi P.P.S.,
We have very similar names! It appears that this "anybody" has already stumbled.

April 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterScott P. Phillips

Realise the ones that are insulting you are probably Fat or are trying really hard to believe their methods are the best.

April 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

What made my stomach flat was youth. What made it pooch was babies. Sit-ups don't take away the pooch, but they definitely alleviate the lower back pain by giving my back muscles some frontal support. Now, if only I could stop eating as if I were still pregnant....

April 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBookworm

Hi Bookworm,
Thanks for stopping by. Your back pain is most likely being alleviated by two processes. One, muscle tension reduces nerve flow, so you feel less. Two, muscle tension reduces range of motion which means that you are not moving into the positions which hurt.
The tent pole theory of back "support" doesn't have much merit.
You can effectively reduce range of motion without reducing nerve flow by moving slowly and carefully (like Taijiquan) or by putting that new stretchy tape they invented in japan in an "x" shape across your lower back. (The traditional Chinese version is a stinky sticky herbal patch).

The eating problem can only be solved by changing your appetite so that you crave foods which are easier to assimilate and have a better ratio of the nutrients you need in them.
If you were too skinny I would recommend more exercise, it is the most effective way to increase ones appetite.

April 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterScott P. Phillips

I agree with you that training your abs, will make your belly bigger. However, this is with heavy resistance exercises such as weighted sit ups side bends with heavy dumbells or cable stomach curls with lots of weighton the stack.

I do not agree with the statement that muscle turns to fat though. They are two different things. What does happen a lot though is that,people who train a lot, stop, but still eat the same amount of food they did when they trained, and becuase of this, there bodies do not burn the calories quick enough and it gets stored as body fat OVER muscle.

November 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMarksTraining.com

i like Scott P. Phillips, he isn't changing his mind on his beliefs just because people are saying that he is wrong or ignorant. i like that because a lot of todays society is so eaisly influenced by the dumbest things, like those magnetic bracelets that can heal you. i couldn't believe that people were buying those.

November 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLCpl Gentry

I a big fan of muscles (but not in a demonic possession way...think). They are a good starting point for the mind because we have had so much focus on them in our lives...so much fitness advice (gone wrong and ineffective). But we can, often, feel them. That's a good start. (Technically, by the way, you can't feel muscles because they lack those nerves, you'd instead, feel the tissues that surround muscles...)

I figure that some folks own flaccid muscles, especially in their core, and rigid muscles to compensate for flaccid ones. So I'd typically propose use whirling, circular exercises in each joint system, to provoke muscle balance...and then...learn to use eccentric contractions (that's such a weird science term) to extend joints. Some call it Taiji; others: Baguazhang.

Eccentric contractions might be a "weakness exercises." And, ironically, they promote whole-body strength by relying on the body's fabric (fascia) by creating tension-integrity. Tension integrity is not tense muscles, but reliance on the inherent stretched-elastic-strength of tissue.

Using stretch-elastic-rebound (rebound is a better word than strength here, methinks)...one can move from Taiji pose to Taiji pose without doing movement. One can go from circular sit up to rolling on the floor without resisting. And it's nice. These internal arts are very sophisticated fitness forms.

This seems: a potent, revived discussion; thanks for the fun.

November 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterS.Smith

Thank LCpl!
Steven, that's a good description!
Most people have to learn to relax their abdominal muscles in order move in new ways. I've yet to find one of these decrepit people with a weak core. Badly organized core perhaps, but even lazy people hold too much tension in their belly's.

November 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterScott P. Phillips

this website is terrible. the facts u so call provide us with are lies.
muslce and fat are made up of completely different structures consisting of very different cells. please get your facts rite before u start missleading ppl the name of the website in my opinion is an oxymoron!!!

June 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterferoucious

For core strength perhaps yoga?
When we let ourselves be bothered or angry with other people because we don't agree with them, it is our own serenity that disappears. Practicing tolerance of other people's views helps you more than it does them.

July 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCarol Mickelsen

Anger is not so easy to just discard. It is a basic human element, like hunger. Anger arises because the fantasy we are exerting effort to maintain collapses when confronted with reality. True serenity does not require effort, it certainly doesn't involve ignoring unpleasantness. Yoga is a nice way to exercise, so is walking, but humans still don't need "core strength." Core strength is a fantasy.

Markstraining in his comment above suggests that we can train abdominal strength while eating a lot and then just stop training and eat less. Some people maybe, but most are going to have a difficult time with their body size and appetites for years afterward.

July 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterScott P. Phillips

Wow. Some serious new age philosophy. To be strong you must be weak. You must weaken everything to become as weak as the weakest link. Unbelievable. Big muscles are bad. Weakness is strength. So much of this mumbo jumbo makes absolutely no sense. As if everything modern science, medicine and kinesiology have taught us is utter nonsense. I would agree that aggression and tension are negative but they are in fact inherent in life in general.

July 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJonathon

Jonathan, thank you for your interest,

Mumbo Jumbo is the name of a West African ritual tradition: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mumbo_jumbo_(phrase)

The ideas here about weakness come from the Daodejing written in about 400BCE. It was just as shocking then as it is now, because as you said aggression and tension are the norm, they have always been normal. Modern medicine, science, and kinesiology are changing fields which have accumulated very little data on these issues. The question remains, will they begin doing the hard work?

July 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterScott P. Phillips

I hope everyone believes and practices what you preach in your post. I will then become the strongest man in the world because everyone will be weak.

July 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRich Doode

That's funny Rich,
What will you do with your superior strength?

July 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterScott P. Phillips

Your philosophy sounds somewhat excentric but there is some truth in it. I spent one year building muscle and I felt worst. What I discovered was that my body became addicted to weight lifting. If I didn't lift weights my body and brain wouldn't be supplied with blood and I felt horrible. It took me many years to decrease the size of my muscles so that it would be always supplied with blood even if I don't do any weight lifting. My body returned to its natural balance. I feel much better now. Unused muscle does not turn into fat. If you do not use it at all for prelonged period of time it shrinks. Fat fills in the space occupied earlier by the muscle. I have never had problems with my body weight. My body mass index has always been perfect. I just had to find the perfect balance between the muscle and the fat content of my body.

September 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterVictor

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