Are Sit Ups Bad For Your Back?

Do you do sit ups as part of your exercise routine? If so, please read on…

Sit ups can be bad for your lower back and do not in fact strengthen your core long term. Depending on how functional your body is, will determine whether sit ups can be a damaging exercise to do. If you’re a very fit and athletic person, they won’t cause harm, but they’re not a beneficial exercise to be practising and there are so many other beneficial exercises you could do instead. In fact, they could damage the lower back vertebrae long-term.

If you’re office based, as so many people are, you constantly sit in hip flexion, meaning your hip flexors are contracted and your glutes are relaxed. Sit ups add to the same movement you do every day, pulling on the lower back, which will add more tightness to the hips, rather than working on strengthening the glutes and stretching your hip flexors out to help reduce lower back pain.

Four years ago I learnt about this in my sports therapy studies and focused more on isometric, transverse movements and activation exercises based around glutes, lower back, obliques and abdomen, and my trunk strength improved much more rapidly. When I went back into skating after my injury my core strength was so much better compared to before. My glutes were firing much faster too, which lead to much better posture. 

Sit ups aren’t a good exercise to repetitively do because they constantly contract the hip flexor muscles which generates a lot of pulling on the lower lumbar vertebrae.

The hip flexor muscles attach onto the lower vertebrae as shown here in this diagram. Every time they’re put into contraction on the upwards phase of a sit up, they pull on the lower back. We already naturally do a lot of bending and straightening of the back in our day to day lives already, which is why a lot of professionals argue that it is a worthless exercise to be doing in the gym and can be one of the reasons why lower back pain can come about from going to the gym.

What’s more, is that doing sit-ups could potentially cause disc impingement in the long term in some people, depending on your genetics. If they feature heavily in your workout routine it could be harmful, especially with added heavy weights. This is due to the constant pulling from the hip flexor into the Lumbar Vertebrae and flexion and extension of the spine from the repetitive movement.

As a sit up goes from extension of the spine to flexion of the spine. This is what can cause the constant rubbing of the Bursa within the vertebrae. Most people will be a bit weak in their lower back, so they’re more likely overarch their back on the lying down phase of the sit up. It’s very damaging to go from an over arched back position into a flexed position repetitively.

In addition, sit ups are not a movement which will benefit you to train your body to do as they will teach your body a false muscle memory pattern of moving through. It can lead to poorer posture.

I hope you’re seeing the reasoning behind our distrust of sit ups!

Crunches however can be sometimes used for isolation purposes. If someone has a dysfunction and needs to temporarily teach their Abdomen how to fire first, then it can be an exercise useful for rehabilitation purposes on a short-term basis. Otherwise it is really a worthless exercise to perform if you have a balanced functioning body. 

This study is quite interesting if you’d like to read more about this topic.

OK so you’re going to stop doing sit ups.

But what should you replace them with?

Here are few exercises which you can try instead. 

1.     Reverse Plank:

Look up to the ceiling, point your toes, and keep your arms and legs straight. Keep your entire body strong and form a straight line from your head to your heels. Squeeze your core and try to pull your belly button back toward your spine. Hold the position for up to 30 seconds:

This exercise is excellent for improving your trunk strength and especially your upper back posture. It is more beneficial than a plank, although variation planks are of course excellent isometric exercises to perform, too. Perform this exercise up to three or four times.

 

2.     Plank One arm Extension:

Begin in a plank position with your weight resting on your forearms and your body in a completely straight line from your shoulders to your ankles (you can start from your knees to modify the exercise to make it slightly easier to begin with). Step 2: Tighten your abs and without letting your hips shift, raise one arm out straight in front of you. Pause, then lower it back to the starting position.

Again, this is another exercise which is excellent for working on your trunk strength and isolating the muscles in your back which are responsible for keeping a good upper back posture.

 

3.     Banded or Cable Woodchoppers:

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and reach to one side with your free hand to grab the handle. With arms fully extended, pull the handle transversely across your body to your other side while rotating your torso. Keep your feet and hips facing forwards parallel to the front and keep your legs straight. Return to the start position slowly under control. Exhale on the contractions.

 

4.     Pall Off Press:

Grasp your cable in both hands at chest level. Brace your core, keeping your spine straight, knees slightly bent, and hips dipped back a bit and press the cable in front of your chest. Hold for a beat, arms fully extended. Return your hands to your chest and repeat for 8 to 10 reps on each side.

We hope you’ve found this helpful.

 

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