Acosta and Wheeler agree that practicing body shots to the abs as part of martial arts training under the guidance of a trainer who can facilitate a safe atmosphere can be appropriate—and, yes, it can also build strength for the abs. “Anytime you’re breaking down the fibers in the muscle, the more it has to rebuild, so you’re building stronger muscles, basically,” Wheeler says.

The risks of stomach-punching in workouts

While stomach-punching can appeal to abs strength, the risk of injury simply doesn’t outweigh the reward of muscle gains—particularly because there are so many other effective and safe ways to achieve the same result.

“It’s a drill from the combative arts realm—it’s not done in cosmetic training.” says Jason Kozma, Los Angeles personal trainer and former Mr. America. “If you punch somebody too hard and they’re not prepared, they could die.” Back in 1926, magician Harry Houdini died after complications of appendicitis not long after he received a sucker punch without having prepped himself for the blow. (Whether or not the punch actually precipitated his appendicitis and then death has been a source of much debate.)

Even so, practicing stomach punching is indeed a safety concern that can lead to injuries like broken ribs and ruptured organs, Acosta says.

Ideas for safely working and toning your abs

Good news: You can still work on your own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle abs without ever receiving a punch. In fact, most of the exercises the trainers recommend to achieve the same aesthetic effect as bracing yourself for 40 punches doesn’t involve any contact with anything at all.

“If you want to have visible abs, then you want to do your extending and contracting exercises, like hanging leg raises, knee raises, crunches, and partial sit-ups,” says Kozma.

Acosta agrees, adding that ab-wheel workouts are a great option; he suggests any movement “where you hold positions, slowly contract your muscles, and then disengage them.”

No matter the exercise you’re doing, though, paying mind to how you feel is key for upholding your health and safety. “Listening to your body is really, really important when you’re doing any type of physical training,” Wheeler says. And that’s a truth worth your commitment—even if it doesn’t land you 90,000 Instagram comments.

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