I can’t tell you how many times in any given week I have patients tell me they are doing sit-ups. They want to lose belly fat so they do sit-ups (myth). They want to build core strength so they do sit-ups (myth). Their fitness class, DVD, magazine expert or online expert told them it would shred their abs, torch belly fat and make their waste lines slim and trim (MYTH! MYTH! MYTH!). Just because sit-ups have been utilized in gym classes, in the military and as standardized tests on many police forces and in many school districts doesn’t mean it’s a good move. In fact, it’s not only not a good move it’s a HORRIBLE move! It’s so horrible in fact, I call it Dr. Rob’s #1 Back Breaker.
By the nature of the movement itself, the sit-up, breaks all the rules for lower back safety. If you have watched any of my videos or read my book Protect Your Back 101, you’ll have seen me rant about how bad the sit up is for a back that is already broken down or for a young back that is currently healthy. Remember, the job of the core is to stop the spine from moving in the presence of movement. The sit-up creates movement in the lumbar spine through flexion (the movement that causes disc bulges). When you initiate the sit up you flex/round the spine forward (flexion) in order to bring the chest toward the knees. With this movement you are squeezing the front of the vertebral bodies (bones of the spine) together which creates a pinching effect on the front of the lumbar discs. This pinching exerts a hydraulic pressure on the front of the disc that squeezes the nucleus pulposis (jelly inside the disc), backward toward the spinal cord. With enough repetitions the barrier around the disc, the annulus fibrosis, (the donut portion of the disc) weakens and eventually opens up allowing the nucleus pulposis (jelly) to squeeze out the back, creating disc bulges, protrusions and other types of herniations. These conditions lead to acute and chronic lower back and sciatic pain.
So, why not try a simple move like a plank or do plank variations to truly work your core and your abs. Again, when the average person thinks of getting in shape their minds will often go directly to a sit up simply because it’s what they know. Looking at oneself in the mirror often elicits thoughts of current dislike for one’s “spare tire” or “muffin top” which can lead to visions of a trim mid-section by losing that belly fat. The unfortunate thing is you CANNOT spot reduce belly fat with ANY core/ab work, even if it’s proper core/ab work! Having belly fat and being over-weight is incredibly complicated. It has to do with sleep, hormone regulation, what you’re eating, when you’re eating, an individual’s body-type, how often you exercise, the type of exercise, when you exercise etc. So, please stop thinking of the sit up as a way to torch your mid-section adiposity!
If you have/had back/disc issues or other types of back pain or you simply want to build a stronger core dump the sit up and do some simple planks. There are a plethora of plank variations that will build your core in many different ways and if performed properly, they will help you get out of back pain and potentially prevent you from having future incidence of lower back pain. So, dump the sit-up and other movement based “back breakers”, watch my videos to learn how to do proper core work, which includes planks and plank variations, and most importantly PROTECT YOUR BACK!