Expert Q&A

Sit-ups: Why aren’t they helping?

Why aren’t sit-ups helping my abs?

-Isabella from New Hampshire

First, we need to clarify what you mean by “helping”.  If you are referring to strengthening, sit-ups definitely strengthen the abdominal muscles.  As long as you are overloading the muscle (i.e. requiring the muscle to work more than it is accustomed to) and working it to fatigue, you are developing strength.  To get the best results from any exercise program, the trick is selecting the correct exercises and using the proper form

Sit-ups vs abdominal crunches

Selecting the correct exercise is connected to how an exercise works your body. For example, the basic sit-up is far less effective than an abdominal crunch.  A sit-up requires that you sit-up completely from a lying down position.  The problem with this movement is that the abdominals only work for the first half of the movement.  After that, the hip flexor muscles (located in the front crease in your legs, where they meet the pelvis) are engaged instead.  The second half of the movement is thereby a wasted effort if the aim is to strengthen the abdominals. 

The correct way to perform abdominal crunches

Once you have selected the correct exercise, you must use proper form.  The most common error when doing abdominal crunches is yanking on the neck and using more momentum than strength from the abdominal region.  To do crunches correctly, lie flat on your back with knees bent.  Place your fingertips along the side of or behind the head.  Lean your head back, with chin lifted.  Put the tongue on the roof of the mouth and lift shoulders off the floor while aiming the chin towards the ceiling.  Lower your torso back to the ground and repeat. 

Washboard abs are a result of exercise AND diet

If you’re hoping to get washboard abs, you should know that you’re not going to get them by merely doing abdominal work.  A ripped 6-pack comes from more than developing the muscles.  Mainly, it comes from what you are eating.  If you want to see those strong muscles, you have to eat accordingly.  Body fat is what prevents you from seeing defined grooves on your stomach.  If you want to see them, watch what eat in addition to doing regular ab strengthening work.

For more information on abdominal exercises see the following article from TheDietChannel: Ab Exercises: General Info.

Michele Silence, MA
Contributing Expert

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