Sir Mix-A-Lot once told us that it was cool to do as many sit-ups as we wanted. But it turns out (and this is shocking, I know) that as far as core exercises go, he was wrong. I spoke to a professional and discovered that not only are sit-ups hard on your back, they're mostly a waste of your precious time.
Lately, I've been wondering about the old fashioned sit-up. Although they seem to have gone out of style, sit-ups used to reign supreme as the most popular exercise for your abs and the best way to get a six-pack. And that may still be true. But does a six-pack equal core strength? And how do sit-ups affect your back (they've always kind of hurt mine)? Should we revive the sit-up or leave it in the gym basement along with all those dusty step class benches and thong unitards?
I spoke to Dr. Christine Anderson, DC, a Los Angeles chiropractor and group exercise instructor, and asked her if she thought sit-ups were worth the effort. "Abdominal muscles are only a small part of your core," she explained. "In general, sit-ups work the more superficial muscles of your abdominal area, the rectus abdominus. If you only strengthen those muscles, you may get a 'six-pack' look, but that muscle group doesn't play a huge role in stabilizing your body."
Ok, so sit-ups maybe aren't the most efficient exercise. But is there any actual harm in doing them? Dr. Anderson said, "While I wouldn't say a sit-up is 'harmful', when you do one, you only use your abdominal muscles for about the first 30 degrees of the sit-up. After that, you're using your hip flexors to come up the rest of the way. Flexion of the body as you sit up places a lot of stress on the discs of the low back. And that's never a great thing."
So, if sit-ups only work one small group of ab muscles and can be hard on your low back, what's the ideal move to strengthen our core? "Plank! As long as it's done correctly...." Dr Anderson warns. "Most people use their pectoral muscles too much. They also don't engage their abs enough to flatten their low back. In other words, they sag!"
But if you're just looking for the hottest bikini belly on the beach, don't forget that seeing that six-pack is almost completely dependent on diet. When your body fat percentage is really low your muscles stand out, particularly your abdominal muscles. The muscles have to be there in the first place, so you do have to put your time in on the mat. But even if you have the ripped-est abs around, you'll never see them if you have a layer of fat over the muscles. So don't forget to eat clean! Love your veggies and drink plenty of water for a lean look that shows off your abs.
Try combining planks, superman lifts, and burpees with this series of maximum definition ab exercise videos I designed to create a killer core session. These core exercises will put you well on your way to developing a gorgeous core, protecting your spine, and building a body that's strong and functional.
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Image: Sarah Olive Bergeson