If you are still doing situps as you learned in gym class, with your feet anchored by a friend or under a sofa, it’s time for an update. The old-school situp method actually works your hips and thigh muscles more than your abs. Plus, the move can cause your back to arch during the ascent, which may lead to lower back pain over time. Situps can strengthen the rectus abdominis, the top-lying abdominal muscle, if you follow proper form, including keeping your feet anchor free.
Lie on your back on an exercise mat. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor; leave approximately 12 to 18 inches between your buttocks and heels.
Place your hands behind your head with the elbows pointing out to the side; your head should rest lightly in your hands. Pull your abdominal muscles in toward your spine and press your lower back into the ground. Push your shoulders down and away from your ears.
Lift your shoulders and head straight up toward the ceiling. Use your core to keep your body stabilized, rather than anchoring your feet. Rise up only about 12 inches; lifting higher than that will cause the exertion to shift to your thighs rather than your abdominals. Avoid pulling on your head as you rise. Keep your abdominal muscles pulled in, lower back straight and neck relaxed.
Hold the contraction at the top of the situp for one count and then slowly roll back down to starting position. Complete three sets of 10 situps.
- Use slow, controlled movements to maintain proper form and adequately engage the abdominal muscles.
- The neck and spine should remain in one straight line throughout the situp. Allowing the head to tilt forward during the ascent can strain the neck.
- Consult a physician if you feel any pain in your lower back when performing situps.
Beth Rifkin has been writing health- and fitness-related articles since 2005. Her bylines include "Tennis Life," "Ms. Fitness," "Triathlon Magazine," "Inside Tennis" and others. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Temple University.