When you think of any exercises to work our stomach muscles what do you think? Most of the time a sit-up (also known as ‘crunch’ or ‘abdominal curl’) will be a common answer. But is it actually an effective “core” exercise? Is it actually doing us any good?
In our latest article we will look into this... We will also give you an exercise which will be able to see if you can even do ONE sit up... properly that is!
For those of you who aren’t aware a sit up is an exercise we lay on the ground with our knees bent. From here we pull our upper bodies up towards our knees with the intention of ‘using our abdominals’.
The problem is when many of us do so; we unintentionally are using the wrong muscles. The majority of us hope to be using our abdominals but in actual fact we are using our Iliopsoas (hip flexor). In some case we may also be using our shoulders & neck too, but for this article we will only focus on the iliopsoas.
In John Gibbons book ‘The Vital Glutes’ he states “If full sit ups are performed on a regular basis the iliopsoas is predominately the muscle being used. Repeated sit ups will make the iliopsoas stronger and tighter, and result in weakness of the abdominals; this can maintain a patient’s lower back pain”.
What basically means is full sit up exercises make our hip flexor muscles stronger, causing our abdominals & glute muscles to become dysfunctional as a result, which can result in less stability for spine causing increased back pain. Not good if you want good glute & abdominal muscles!
Have you either tried having someone hold your feet down or placed your feet under a heavy weight to help your sit up? This will further increase activation of your iliopsoas (hence why it feels easier) and cause you to work a lot less in the intended places.
Here I am going to give a variation on the sit up which will deactivate your hip flexors, shoulders and neck.
Lay on your back with your knees bent. Lift your heels off the ground keeping your toes in the floor. Get a partner to place their hands on the ‘laces’ of your feet. Also gently ‘squeeze’ you glutes for the exercises. Finally lock your fingers together and place behind your head. You want to keep a gentle ‘push’ into your hands from your head to deactivate the dominant neck muscles. Also keep your elbows in a straight line and don’t bring them forward (this would work the front of the shoulders/chest muscles. Attempt your ‘sit up’ with these four things in mind and see how it feels.
I have a video here, if you find it easier to watch than read of the article.
Some of you may be a little confused as you have seen me do a curl style up exercise in my Pilates classes, however we complete this exercise in my class to mobilise the thoracic spine rather than ‘work the abdominals’.
Give it a go and let me know how you get on.
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.
Gibbons, J: The Vital Glutes 2015:: p89-90
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About the author
I am a Manual Therapist covering a range of different disciplines including massage & Biomechanics. I also run small specialist Pilates classes around Corfe Mullen, Broadstone, Wareham, Wimborne & Poole. Instead of just purely rubbing the pain, I always look to see if I can find a potential cause (or causes of the pain) and then work on treating this.
Pilates Instructor & Therapist, helping you understand why we do what we do!