Sit-ups are a bedrock exercise to work yours abs and build your 6-pack. They can be done anywhere and anytime, with no equipment required. The U.S. military uses the sit-up as one of three exercises to measure physical fitness (the others being running and push-ups), so that is pretty good evidence of their importance and effectiveness.
Proper form is a must to make sure you work not only your abdominal muscles, but your entire core (including your hip flexors). Your hip flexor muscles are a bundle of skeletal muscles which attach from your hips to your femur to pull your knee up.
Sit-ups are a generally safe bodyweight exercise, but you should check with your physician if you have ever had any back issues. To safely perform the exercise, it is recommended to cross your arms on your chest, not put your hands behind your head. Putting your hands behind your head and pulling your head during the up movement can put unnecessary strain on your neck and spine. That being said, for most people either method is fine.
Remember also that in order to actually see your 6-pack, your diet is 80% of the action. Yes, perform a solid and effective ab workout routine, but your diet has to be very clean to see your abs. A steady onslaught of burgers and pizza will not get the job done. As a general rule, to see your abs shine you will need to be at approximately 10% body fat.
There is a lot more info on a great workout diet here.
Performing a Sit-up
Performing a sit-up is a very simple and natural movement. It is an exercise for any skill level, and should be a part of any overall fitness plan. It is best to perform the exercise on a carpeted floor or workout mat, as a hard floor can be uncomfortable on your back.
- Lay on your back with your arms crossed on your chest.
- Bend your knees at a 45 degree angle, with your legs together and your feet flat on the floor.
- Anchor your feet under a sturdy object to brace your lower body as you perform the sit-up. At home you can use a couch, table, bed, or like object, and at the gym you can use a sit-up bench. Or you can have a workout partner brace your feet using their knees.
Performing a sit-up:
- Lift your upper body by bending at the waist, and feel the contraction of the abdominal muscles.
- As you lift your upper body, make sure you keep your back straight, and exhale on the way up. Good breathing during exercise ensures your muscles are properly oxygenated.
- Continue to “sit up” until your upper body is vertical. Hold the position for a second.
- Return to the start position by lowering your upper slowly, and inhale on the way down.
A great variation to include in your sit-up routine is the famed “Rocky” sit-up. It is very similar in form, but is different because it also targets the obliques. The oblique muscles (external and internal) are on the outer edge of the abs, and are activated by twisting movements of the torso.
Performing the Rocky sit-ups is similar to a regular sit-up. The only difference is that when your body is in the up position, you will twist your torso 45 degrees to the left, and then 45 degrees to the right. During the twisting movement you can also touch your right elbow to your left knee, and then your left elbow to your right knee.
Health Benefits of Sit-ups
It is well-known that sit-ups are great to strengthen your abs and core, and to also help you achieve the 6-pack look. However, there is another really great benefit to this exercise.
Abdominal exercises are very important to overall core strength, which vastly improves the health of your lower back.
So this is one more great reason to include this exercise in your fitness wheelhouse. If you have never had lower back pain, you know that anything you can do to protect against it is well worth your time. A pound of sweat is worth an ounce of prevention!
To learn more about push-ups, click here.