The Right Way to Do Sit-Ups
Bryant Stamford, PhD
THE PHYSICIAN AND SPORTSMEDICINE - VOL 25 - NO. 6 - JUNE 97
Sit-ups have been the cornerstone of fitness programs for years. But do they deserve this revered status? Can they flatten a protruding gut or remove inches of flab from the waistline? No. (See "Sit-Ups: No Cure for Ab Flab" below.) But when done properly, sit-ups help tone the muscles in your midsection, which can help protect your back as well as improve your physique. When done wrong, however, sit-ups can be a waste of time—and possibly even harmful.
The main purpose of sit-ups is to strengthen the "stomach" muscles by challenging the abdominal group: the rectus abdominus muscles, or "abs" (two thin strips of muscle that extend from the breastbone to the pelvis), and the three layers of muscles that flank the abs. This might seem to be a simple order to fill, but it's not.
Sit Up and Avoid Pitfalls
Great care and excellent technique are required to strengthen the abdominal muscles with sit-ups. To be effective, sit-ups must pull the torso upward from a lying position toward the knees using only the abdominal group. Often, however, other, more powerful, muscles (those that flex the legs and hips) do much of the work. This is especially true with straight-leg sit-ups.
Bending the knees during sit-ups helps neutralize the action of the hip flexors and makes the abdominal muscles work more. Even so, the abdominal group tends to be involved only in the initial phase of the sit-up, after which the hip flexors take over. In addition, doing sit-ups rapidly and with momentum, knees bent or not, does not work the abdominal group very much. That's why raising slowly only part way works the abdominal muscles best.
Sit-ups also can be hazardous to your lower back, especially when using the straight-leg variety, which arches the back and may create overextension and strain. Twisting (right elbow to left knee and vice versa) at the top of the sit-up movement is not only useless, it places tremendous rotational stress on the lower back that can lead to injury.
When doing sit-ups, never push through back pain. Stop immediately at even the slightest twinge in the lower back.
Ab-solutely Excellent Sit-Ups
TV is full of infomercials for abdominal exercise machines that promise to strengthen abs and trim the waist in no time. While some of these gadgets may help you use better form and get more out of your sit-ups, they won't perform miracles. In fact, you can achieve similar benefits on your own simply by knowing how to perform sit-ups properly:
Remember: This information is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. Before starting an exercise program, consult a physician.
Dr Stamford is director of the Health Promotion and Wellness Center and professor of exercise physiology in the School of Education at the University of Louisville, Kentucky. He is also an editorial board member of The Physician and Sportsmedicine.
Copyright (C) 1997. The McGraw-Hill Companies. All Rights Reserved