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Great care and excellent technique are required to strengthen the abdominal muscles with sit-ups. To be effective, sit-ups must pull the torso upward from a lying position toward the knees using only the abdominal group. Often, however, other, more powerful, muscles (those that flex the legs and hips) do much of the work. This is especially true with straight-leg sit-ups.

Bending the knees during sit-ups helps neutralize the action of the hip flexors and makes the abdominal muscles work more. Even so, the abdominal group tends to be involved only in the initial phase of the sit-up, after which the hip flexors take over. Conducting sit-ups with momentum, knees bent or not, does not work for the abdominal group. That is why raising slowly only partway works the abdominal muscles best.

Sit-ups also can be hazardous to your lower back, especially when using the straight-leg variety, which arches the back and may create overextension and strain. Twisting (right elbow to the left knee and vice versa) at the top of the sit-up movement is not only useless, but it also places tremendous rotational stress on the lower back that can lead to injury.

Do not interlace the fingers of your hands behind your head as this will place a strain on the neck - place your hands on either side of the head.

When doing sit-ups, never push through the back pain. Stop immediately at even the slightest twinge in the lower back.


  • Lying on back with knees bent
  • Feet flat on the floor close to the buttocks
  • Hands-on the thigh
  • No jerking or twisting movements
  • Athlete to exhale on the way upward
  • Commence curl with the shoulders then the upper back
  • Bring hands to the top of the knees
  • Hold momentarily
  • Lower the torso to the ground
  • Athlete inhales while returning to the start position
  • Relax but keep abdominals tight and shoulders curled in
  • Head and shoulders should not touch the ground once the set has started
  • Repeat sit up


Sit Ups Sit Ups

General conditioning exercises

For general upper body conditioning exercises, including variations of the sit-ups exercise, see the upper body conditioning page

Related References

The following references provide additional information on this topic:

  • WHITING, W. C. et al. (1999) Muscle activity during sit-ups using abdominal exercise devices. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 13 (4), p. 339-345
  • CURETON, K. J. and WARREN, G. L. (1990) Criterion-referenced standards for youth health-related fitness tests: a tutorial. Research quarterly for exercise and sport, 61 (1), p. 7-19
  • ALARANTA, H. et al. (1994) Non-dynamometric trunk performance tests: reliability and normative data. Scandinavian journal of rehabilitation medicine, 26 (4), p. 211-215

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (1997) Sit Ups [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

Related Pages

The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic: