The ultimate sit-ups guide: How-to, pro tips, and mistakes to avoid!
I remember when I was in elementary school and I wanted abs, I went straight home to do as many sit-ups as I could. It’s the only thing I knew to do and work.
Sit-ups are among the most popular abdominal exercises around the world. We are often introduced to them as a youngster. It’s the classic go-to.
But like with any exercise, we’re prone to developing some bad habits reinforced by repetition. So if you’re just starting out or returning to your fitness journey after a while, you may need some fresh guidance on how to properly engage your abs.
Even if you’re seasoned, it could be worth double-checking your moves and learning new variations for maximum results.
That’s why in this article, we’re saving you the cost of a personal trainer are going to help you master the correct form of a sit-up so you can start developing core strength, the right way.
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Why Should I Do Sit-Ups?
Because your PE teacher told you to since you were 6.
That, and the fact that classic sit-ups help muscle development throughout your life and maintaining muscle mass in old age.
In fact, one study showed that older women who could do more sit-ups suffered less age-related muscular atrophy (sarcopenia), resulting in more mobility and a longer lifespan.
Sit-ups are a great ab exercise for athletes, amateur sportspeople, and just active citizens alike.
Nailing them will yield a stronger core and work out muscle groups like the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and obliques. Better-trained muscles will allow greater athletic performance and again, improved mobility.
All-in-all, there’s no doubt that sit-ups can build muscle and engage important areas of your entire core. But are you doing them correctly? Are they the best option for your abdominals?
You should know that sit-ups are often criticized for putting extra strain on hip flexors and lower backs instead of your core, which can be bad for posture.
Which muscles do sit-ups activate?
Sit-ups strengthen and tone your abs by using your body weight. It covers a ton of areas at once, which makes it a versatile exercise for your workout routine (especially considering you don’t need a gym).
Specifically, core muscles like your rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and obliques are all targeted with sit-ups, along with your hip flexors, chest, and neck muscles. Lastly, by working your lower back and gluteal muscles, they encourage good posture.
The wider range of motion from situps allows them to target more muscle groups than crunches and static core exercises.
As such, they make a great addition to your fitness regimen. In the following sections, you will learn how to do situps, their benefits, and variations.
How to do sit-ups, properly.
Time to play a game. There’s no point in grinding, sweating, huffing and puffing, for sit-ups you’re not doing with proper form. They might feel easier with incorrect form, but is that what you’re here for? Of course not.
You want to be a mountain. A flexible, healthy, chiseled 6-pack mountain.
Throughout the exercise, always remember to keep your feet firmly planted and your legs together.
As you work through the repetitions, you’ll find it hard to maintain that position, but that’s where you have to keep fighting—to achieve results a lot of people aren’t getting.
Let your core drive the movement.
- Lay flat on your back with your fingers behind your head, your knees bent, your thighs together, and your feet flat on the ground. Align your elbows with your ears, or just below.
- Do not move your head forward as you perform the sit-up—your hands and arms should also remain still. Nothing should aid your momentum other than your core.
- Lift your upper body until you’re sitting at an incline. You should feel your abs tighten at this point.
- Slowly lower yourself back to where you started.
- Keep breathing consistently: take a deep breath in a neutral position (when you’re on the ground) and exhale as you go up and contract your stomach muscles.
The beginner sit-up form adjustment: making sit-ups a tad easier
To do the sit-up correctly, you need strong core muscles, so naturally, as a beginner, you may find it difficult to perform up to par. So, we’ll start with what’s call the modified sit-up.
For beginners in their fitness journey, or for anyone who hasn’t yet built up strength and flexibility in their core, making one small adjustment to the classic sit-up can make things easier and help you master the form properly:
- Cross your hands and place them on your shoulder blades, then, elevate them at a 90-degree angle in front of your body.
Remember to begin slowly—it’s better to do it slowly and perfect the sit-up than quickly with poor technique.
How Many Situps a Day Should I Do
Sit-ups are effective at toning and tightening your six-pack muscles (rectus abdominis) and the entire core.
They strengthen and engage your rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus and oblique abdominal muscles. Additionally, it’s one move that works your next muscles.
To reap the benefits of sit ups, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 8-12 reps for 3 sets, 3 times a week. If you are performing with the correct form, it’s enough to see the effects in the obliques,
Doing too many sit ups may also heighten your risk of back injury unnecessarily.
This is more true if you are doing full sit ups as opposed to crunches. Because sit ups target primarily the hip flexor muscles, it is important to stretch your hips to keep them getting too tight.
Common mistakes when doing a sit-up
Keep an eye out for these bad practices during reps while you’re working for your six-pack abs and core stability, so you can lower your chance of injury.
- Sitting up too much. You should focus on how your abs feel rather than how far you sit up. It’s all about engagement. If you sit too far up, you’re releasing tension and will feel as if you’re “resting.” In other words, you’re not productively working your abs.
- Pulling your neck/head with your hands. This puts strain on the neck, which can lead to injuries. Your hands are behind your neck solely so that they can support your head. Unless you want neck pain, don’t use them to pull your body up, as the heavy lifting should be done with your core.
- Unbent knees. Sit-ups should never be performed with straight, stretched-out legs. If your knees are not flexed, you will probably put too much pressure on the base of your spine. Furthermore, make sure your feet are firmly planted on the ground, so they won’t rock up and down as you do the exercise.
Sit-ups can be tricky. If you perform the traditional sit-up on a hard surface like a wood floor, it can put a lot of pressure on the lower back as the floor puts pressure on the spine as it curves.
If you find yourself suffering from lower back pain, refrain from adding sit-ups to your exercise routine, as it’ll increase your risk of injury.
Switch to safer exercises to continue engaging your core, like planks, crunches, or use a swiss ball—which supports your spine curvature, allowing for a full range of motion while avoiding undue pressure on your lower back.
Sit-up variation: The V-up
For a greater workout, the V-up provides arm movement and works your upper and lower abdominal muscles simultaneously with more intensity.
This is a great alternative to regular sit-ups if you’re bored with them and need some extra spice to build a strong core.
It gets its name from the V-shape your body makes while performing the workout.
- With your arms stretched behind your head, palms facing upwards, lie flat on your back.
- Lift your arms, legs, and torso at the same time, as if you are trying to touch your toes. The movement should originate from your trunk.
- Start the next repetition immediately after returning to the starting position.
Variation: frog leg sit-up
With frog-leg sit-ups, you can target your core and double down on abdominal strength without risking neck and back pain, since the movement is less strenuous on your spine than regular sit-ups.
Additionally, that tricky frog stretch will increase your flexibility (e.g. more hip flexion).
In a frog leg sit-up, you sit upright as if you were doing a classic sit-up, but your knees are bent and splayed out.
- With your arms overhead, lie flat on the floor.
- Knees should be bent wide and feet close to the groin area.
- By using your abs, pull yourself to a seated position and bring your arms forward.
- Go back to lying and repeat.
Alright, tiger, go get that six-pack. You know the form, you know the mistakes, and you know the elite variations. Just remember that if you want to see results, weight loss is a major consideration (lower calorie intake), as your visceral fat is infamous for hiding those bad boys.
And, this probably goes without saying, but don’t just do sit-ups. Incorporate the sit-up in an exercise program.
Keep all that in mind and you’re ready to train your abs and develop rock-solid core strength like a pro. It’s also important to do other ab exercises and work on aerobic exercise to improve your overall fitness.
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