The Best Ab Exercise Or Back Breaker?

March 16, 2010

By John Alvino

For years now, sit ups have gotten a bad rap by many fitness “experts” who tout that the sit up is damaging to your spine. Where did this persuasive opinion come from? The way the sit up has been ostracized by the fitness community; you would suspect that thousands of six pack abs seekers have permanently damaged their backs while performing this “dangerous” exercise! Luckily, that’s not the case…not even close.

The “never do sit ups during an ab workout” mantra that is chanted throughout gyms from coast to coast actually started in the lab. EMG studies have shown that sit ups do stress the spine more so than crunches do. So what? Lying on a bed of cotton balls stresses the spine less than crunches! Does this mean that lying on cotton balls is a better exercise than crunches is? Where do we draw the line? Remember, every exercise is a form of stress to the body. It is that very stress that causes our body to get stronger and adapt, thus eliciting a positive training effect.

Let’s take a second to investigate the sit up a little further. The reason why the critics say sit-ups stress the spine more than crunches is because of the involvement of the hip flexors during a sit up motion. They state that this hip flexor activation leads to compressive forces in the spine, and therefore, should be avoided. Is this a gross overreaction, or do they have a valid point?

Well considering that athletes and fitness enthusiasts have been performing sit ups safely for decades, it should be glaringly obvious that this “fear” is unsubstantiated in the real world. In fact, after being in the fitness industry for over 16 years, I can say with confidence that I have NEVER seen a single back injury result from performing a set of sit ups.

I know that some trainers are saying, “Alright, you convinced me that sit ups are not as dangerous as the “experts” claim, but since crunches work the abs just as well as sit ups do, why should I bother doing sit ups, anyway?” Let me explain why this is not the correct way of thinking.

It is true that during a sit-up, your abs are only directly responsible for the bottom portion of the movement. Once the spine is flexed (when you have finished the “crunch” part of the sit up), the hip flexors predominately take over to finish the movement. What is often overlooked is that even though the hip flexors provide most of the movement during top range of a sit up, the abs are still working hard isometrically (contracting without producing movement). This contraction absolutely does contribute to a positive abdominal training effect.

Another great “side effect” of the sit up is the caloric deficit that it creates. The sit up requires you to move through a large range of motion and incorporates the hip flexors as well as the abdominal musculature. Thus, a sit up burns a significantly greater number of calories than a crunch does. If you want six pack abs, burning calories and losing body fat are of the utmost importance.

I personally recommend sit ups to any individual who fits the “sit up” criteria. The criteria are simple: no pre-existing back problems, and a solid base of abdominal strength. Couple that with proper form, and you will not have any problems!

For more information, check out How To Get Ripped Abs.


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