Before I tell you if that viral Japanese towel flat-stomach “exercise” works, a couple of things: First, a flat stomach is a fair, but unnecessary physical goal. Secondly, as I was performing the exercise last night, my boyfriend took the opportunity to try and place his balls on my forehead. So, just proceed accordingly.
Earlier this summer, a TikTok demonstrating a “Japanese ab exercise” that would deliver a “flat stomach and toned abs in just 10 days” went viral. Calling it an exercise is a bit of a stretch — all the move requires is lying on your back with a rolled-up towel or foam roller placed beneath the belly button region, with your arms extended behind you. You’re supposed to turn your feet inward, and place your hands palm-down so that your pinkies touch. You then lay there for five minutes a day, for 10 days. Allegedly, after that 10-day period, you’ll notice a flatter stomach.
Given that it requires almost no effort, it’s easy to see why this would be a popular and tempting hack — I mean, there’s a good chance you’re lying down already. As someone who loves both being reclined and (kind of) likes ab exercises, it was obvious that I’d give it a try. So, for 10 days, I took out a rolled-up towel and pretended to be a log on my living room floor. It was largely uneventful — I felt nothing in my abs, though I did feel some lopsided engagement in my legs while trying to keep my feet angled inward.
After 10 days, I look much the same as I did before. Nor has my waist measurement changed. Given that it only required laying on the damn ground with a towel, I’m not too disappointed. I think it did help relieve some shoulder pain I had, so I’m at least grateful for that.
If you dig a bit beyond the viral TikToks, you find that the claims of the exercise are pretty overinflated. The practice seems to have originated from Japanese physician Toshiki Fukutsudzi, who recommended the practice for people with spinal issues and lower back pain. Because the exercise can help correct posture and encourage people to tuck in their pelvis, it might help give the appearance of a flatter stomach for some.
How this concept became mistranslated to suggest it would make everyone’s stomach flatter is unclear. It’s not necessarily harmful, but it does point to just how pervasive diet culture and bodily norms can be.
There’s some evidence to suggest that carrying too much stomach weight is seriously detrimental to the heart health of older men, but that’s not what this exercise is intended to address, anyway. Particularly on TikTok, the majority of popular videos demonstrating the exercise have been created by young women who already have pretty flat tummies. Stomachs don’t even need to be perfectly flat — where the hell do you think your organs are supposed to go?
It would be nice if this exercise was effective, but there’s absolutely no reason why it would be. I take less of an issue with its ineffectiveness than I do with the discourse that brought this myth into existence in the first place. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make changes to your body, but diet and actual exercise are still the best way of achieving them. Lay on a rolled-up towel all you like, but don’t do it because you think you need a flat stomach.