Personal Growth

Sit-Ups Are Risky. Try These Core Exercises Instead.

If you want a six-pack, what's the first thing you should do? If you follow the popular wisdom, the answer is sit-ups. But that's not actually what fitness experts recommend. Sit-ups have proven to be a big injury risk—and besides, there are more effective exercises to achieve rock-hard abs (or stronger core muscles, anyway).

Competitors do sit-ups during the Army Physical Fitness Test portion of U.S. Army Europe's 2013 Best Warrior Competition in Grafenwoehr, Germany, Aug. 19.

Drop and Give Me L5

During the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), soldiers perform push-ups, sit-ups, and a two-mile run to demonstrate that they're physically qualified for duty. In a 2005 study, researchers found that although only 117 soldiers out of more than 1,500 sustained injuries during the test, a whopping 56 percent of those injuries were caused by sit-ups.

This is no surprise to many: everyone from biomechanics experts to celebrity trainers have stopped recommending sit-ups because of their high potential for injury. According to Dr. Stuart McGill, professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo, sit-ups and crunches place up to 750 pounds (340 kilograms) of compressive force on the spine, which can lead the discs between the vertebrae to bulge and even herniate, pressing on nerves and causing serious back pain.

You Don't See Sit-Ups in the Wild

What's more, sit-ups aren't even that useful. The core muscles are primarily there to stabilize the torso, not flex the spine, so the strength gained from a flexing exercise like the sit-up has very few uses in the real world. (We don't know about you, but we're much more likely to stand upright holding groceries than we are to sit up in bed a few dozen times in a row). That's why trainers and physicians are recommending stabilizing exercises like planks to help people build stronger cores.

Planks are one of the easiest moves to set up, even though they're deceptively difficult to hold: just get in a push-up position on the floor, but bend your elbows 90 degrees so you're supporting yourself on your forearms. With your muscles engaged and your body in a straight line, hold your position for as long as you can—start with 30 seconds, and try to work your way up to two minutes. According to Men's Fitness, this move goes far beyond ab strength to give you stronger shoulders, arms, and glutes as well.

Better Core Exercises From Dr. Stuart McGill

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Sit-ups can lead to herniated discs in the spine and cause back pain. 00:13

  2. Here are several alternate core-strengthening exercises. 00:42

  3. If you did hundreds of sit-ups, your discs would break before your spine had a chance to catch up. 02:38

Written by Ashley Hamer June 21, 2016

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