If you are looking for reasons to opt-out of sit-ups, here are some of my favorites:
- We already flex our spines a lot. If you sit a good part of your day or are prone to slumpy posture (who isn’t?) then you are probably already past your quota for daily spinal flexion. I’ll defer to Dr. Stuart McGill for a more comprehensive review of the compressive loading of the spine that comes with sitting, sit-ups, and excessive spinal flexion. After reading his research and seeing many flexion-based spinal injuries in the clinic, I can’t recommend that we supplement daily life requirements with resisted spinal flexion exercise. Especially if you have a condition that is known to respond poorly to excessive flexion, such as degenerated disks, low bone density, or hypermobility.
- Crunches and sit-ups are unidimensional. Your core container is not. It has a front (anterior wall,) a back (posterior wall,) sides (lateral walls,) a bottom (pelvic floor,) and a top (diaphragm.) A comprehensive approach to the core will work the front, sides, and back of the core, with appropriate attention to breathing to engage the diaphragm and the innermost layers of the core, including the pelvic floor.
- You’d prefer not to overload your pelvic floor with excessive intra-abdominal pressure (IAP.) Female athletes have an increased incidence of pelvic floor dysfunction like urinary incontinence, in part for this reason– aggressive core strengthening can put so much pressure on the pelvic floor and intra-abdominal contents (like urine in the bladder) that the pelvic floor and intra-abdominal contents are pushed down/out. Excessive IAP can contribute to pelvic organ prolapse or diastasis recti, making it necessary to avoid exercises that increase IAP if you have signs or symptoms (or a risk of developing) either.
- Sit-ups, and many other traditional core exercises simply aren’t functional. Due to the excessive spinal compression with flexion noted above, PT’s teach patients NOT to jacknife up out of bed, but instead to roll onto their side and press up to sitting using their arms. Similarly, we teach folks to bend from their legs rather than their spines for any heavy lifting tasks to avoid loading the spine in flexion. Strength from the core is needed to stiffen the spine in a healthy neutral position for these tasks, but not for crunching the spine into a flexed posture.
- You just don’t like to do sit-ups. No judgment here– listen to your body, it may be really wise in this case. Perhaps it bothers your neck, or you have noticed that your low back aches with excessive sitting/slumping/flexing. This is useful information that your body is sharing with you. There are better ways to train your core for strength, stability, posture, balance and healthy coordination of all its parts and functions.
Below are a few options to get you started on a more comprehensive approach to training your core that includes multi-planar and progressive exercise. As always, listen to your body and opt-out of anything that significantly worsens baseline pain or causes you to strain and hold your breath. If you start at the beginning of a video and initially can only do the very first option offered– great! Start there. When it gets easier, then add on to keep yourself challenged and engaged in your workout.
See how it feels to integrate core awareness and stabilization into tasks that target the front body:
The side/lateral core container:
And the back body:
Let me know how it feels to skip the sit-ups and integrate your 3D core into your workouts in the comment section below!