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 Specifically, the sit-up was criticized as not just outdated, but also potentially harmful to the lower back.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?