Maximize the Effectiveness of Your Sit-Ups

Maximizing Sit-Ups EffectivenessDeveloping strength and endurance in your abdominal muscles offers an array of benefits. Some may be most interested in the aesthetic opportunities that come from a consistent abdominal training program, but beyond the potential for a “six-pack,” adequate strength in the abdominals also helps improve your posture and decreases your risk of lower back pain. There are an infinite number of abdominal exercises that develop core strength, amongst them the ever popular sit-up. I

With that said, sit-ups are amongst the strength training exercises that are commonly performed incorrectly. Some will boast that they perform hundreds of sit-ups in a single workout, which for most means that they’re performing them incorrectly and not efficiently targeting their abdominals. To maximize the effectiveness of your sit-ups and truly develop core strength, it’s essential that you isolate the abdominals by performing the sit-up exercise with correct technique.

Sit-ups are often performed by lying on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and your hands behind your head. The exerciser will then curl at the waist, bringing their shoulders up off the mat as they bend forward until they’re sitting nearly straight up. Performing the exercise in this way will recruit the abdominals. However, by tweaking three things with the traditional sit-up technique, you can significantly increase the isolation of your abdominals and thus the effectiveness of the exercise.

Get Your Feet off the Floor

One great way to really maximize the effectiveness of your sit-ups is to get your feet off the floor. When you perform sit-ups with your feet flat on the floor, you allow your hip flexors to contribute to the movement. Your hip flexors are located at the front of your upper thighs. When they contract, they flex your hip joint, which means they bend you forward at the waist. However, if you pick your feet up off the floor and hold them up with your knees bent to 90 degrees, you make your hip flexors less effective. This places more emphasis on your abdominals and requires them to do a greater percentage of the work. If you have difficulty holding your feet off the floor, you can place them atop a chair. Just be sure that you’re positioned so that your hips and knee joints are bent to 90 degrees.

Extend Your Arms

Another way to maximize the effectiveness of your sit-ups is to extend your arms. By placing your hands behind your head with your elbows flared out, you encourage yourself to crank the neck and curl forward towards your knees. Not only does this cause irritation at your cervical spine, it isn’t the movement needed to recruit the abdominals. You want to avoid bringing your chin to your chest. To most effectively hit your abs, you want to keep a neutral cervical spine throughout the entire movement and curl directly upwards towards the ceiling. Often personal trainers will recommend that their clients position their arms so that they’re extended in front of them and pointed directly towards the ceiling. This promotes holding the neck in a static position and curling straight up towards the ceiling, rather than bending forward towards the knees.

Perform Small Curls

In order to maximize the effectiveness of your sit-ups it is advisable to perform small curls. Once you get to about the middle point on your way up of a sit-up, your hip flexors take over and perform the rest of the movement. To once again get the hip flexors out of the way and isolate the abdominals, don’t come up all the way until your chest nearly touches your thighs. Instead, when you curl, lift your shoulders just inches off the floor.

By incorporating these three tweaks to your sit-up technique, you will notice a significant difference on how your abdominals are recruited. After just a few repetitions, you’ll feel the difference. You’ll quickly feel burning in your abdominals and won’t need hundreds of repetitions to overload, and thus develop strength in, your abdominal muscles.

About The Author

Kim Nunley - Article AuthorKim Nunley has worked in the health and fitness field for over 10 years. She received her Master’s of Science Degree in Kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (C.S.C.S.) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. She has been a personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach, physical education instructor and athletic coach, and now works as a freelance writer. She also writes short and feature-length screenplays.

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