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Say ''So Long'' to Sit-Ups

By , Melissa Rudy, Health & Fitness Journalist
From grade school gym class to military boot camp, the sit-up has long been a benchmark of endurance. But for those who don't embrace the old elbow-to-knee move, there is some good news: The traditional sit-up may be on its way out.
A recent editorial in the Navy Times called for a reboot of the physical fitness test that sailors undergo twice a year. Specifically, the sit-up was criticized as not just outdated, but also potentially harmful to the lower back.
Why are sit-ups under fire? According to Harvard Health, the exercise can cause damage or discomfort in two ways. First, the position itself is unhealthy, as the naturally curved spine is forced to lay flat against the floor or mat. Second, the actual lifting motion activates the hip flexors, the muscles that connect the thighs to the lower back. Over time, that motion can strain the lower back.
In a Daily Mail article, Professor Stuart McGill, director of the spine biomechanics laboratory at the University of Waterloo in Canada, said that the results of traditional crunches and sit-ups "are not only likely to be superficial, but can overload the spine in a dangerous way."
Another reason for the anti-sit-up movement is that they're not as effective as some alternative exercises. Sit-ups work only a few abdominal muscles that are closest to the skin, but you also need to work deeper stomach muscles—as well as muscles along the back and sides—to achieve a truly strong core. Plus, it's easier to cheat with sit-ups than with other movements.
Add Some Spark to Your Core Workout
Sick of sit-ups? We've got you covered. Try some of these SparkPeople-approved exercises that work the core without straining the lower back:
Basic Forearm Plank: There's a reason planks have become the new go-to core exercise among fitness experts. The position—lifted off the ground and balanced on the forearms and toes while holding the body straight—works the entire core while helping to improve balance, all without straining the back. Try this basic plank first, then move on to more challenging variations.
Side Plank: The side plank is a great way to target your oblique abdominals, with a bonus balance challenge. This version calls for you to hold your body in a straight line while balanced on one hand and the sides of your (stacked) feet, but you can also opt for the modified forearm version.
10-Minute Crunchless Core Workout: Combining Pilates-inspired exercises and stretches, this video will work your entire midsection without a single sit-up.
5-Minute Beginner Abs Workout with Ball: In this video, Coach Nicole demonstrates effective abdominal exercises using a stability ball. The ball allows you to work the entire circumference of core muscles without straining the lower back.
9 Crunchless Abs Exercises: Stretch and strengthen in a sit-up-free zone with these nine crunchless exercises that make abdominal workouts as close to fun as possible.
While they're not likely to disappear entirely, all signs seem to be pointing to a world where sit-ups are no longer the gold standard of core strength. Whether you're in a plank, on a ball or even standing, there are hundreds of ways to tone and tighten your tummy and trunk without putting other muscles at risk.
Tell us, what are some of your favorite crunch-free abs exercises?

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I STILL like crunches I used to do about a hundred EVERY class never hurt me. Report
I like sit-ups - they're one exercise I can do well and see improvement over time. With all due respect to the good professor, if I listened to every expert who tells me what things are bad for me, I would have been long dead as I would be unable to eat, sleep or move. Having said that, I will certainly try the other core exercises as well and maybe incorporate them into my routine. Report
Bye bye sit-ups!!! Hello planks!!! :) Report
I have always hated sit ups and gave them up a LONG time ago. Not only did they place unnecessary strain on my neck and lower back, I always ended up with the skin torn off my tail bone area. Report
This article makes me happy. I have ALWAYS hated sit-ups because of the fact that it does hurt my back and also my neck. I am constantly checking my form and doing the fist between neck and chest but my neck always ends up killing me. I'll happily drop them for good now and go to better strengthening exercises! Report
I remember sit-ups, and not fondly, from school. However, crunches are not a problem for me. I realized years ago (I'm 59!) that touching the elbows to the knees, or folding arms across the chest, was not good for the neck or back. Keeping elbows to to side, and supporting the neck with my hands, and lifting enough to feel the abs engage is all that is necessary. Planks are not that difficult, but can be tough on older shoulders and especially, wrists.. Report
Had to go to physical therapy for a bulging disc in my L4/L5 last year, and the first thing they told me to was to STOP doing "abdominal" excercises like sit ups and using ab machines, and do core-strengthening exercises instead. They do more harm than good, as they put too much strain on your lower back. Worst pain I've ever had in my whole life; I'll never do another sit-up again. Report
This is a silly article. Yes, one can cheat, as is true with many movements. The answer is not to cheat. Also, the object is not to bring elbows to knees. The sit-up is about lifting from the core. I recommend keeping the arms in a stationary position. The entire body, other than the abs, should remain stationary. Let the abs do the work. Also, if one has tight hip flexors, the answer is to do yoga, martial arts, dance, or some other flexibility exercise that will improve that tightness. The answer is not to abandon sit-ups. As for the criticism that they only work the top layer of abs, this is not true if they are done right, and it is also possible to add a few sets of oblique abdominal sit-ups where one turns to the L and R. Sit-ups are a basic movement that has been invaluable to me in building an extremely strong and well-defined core. Any exercise done wrong, cheated, etc will be problematic. The solution? Stop cheating! Report
It took me a while but a couple years ago, I put a plan in place to do a plank on my elbows for 2 seconds each night and slowly built up. I can now do a full one-minute plank either on my elbows or on my hands. You REALLY feel your core working! Report
HATE planks with a passion! NEVER had a problem with sit-ups! Report