Sit-ups have long been used as a staple fitness activity. Any fitness professional will tell you that having a strong core helps in standing, sitting, and any other movement that necessitates stability and balance. That's almost all of them! 
However, you might not be aware of a not-so-secret problem with sit-ups: they can be harmful to the spine and lower back. Not just that, but they also don’t actually strengthen your core. In fact, they could end up doing long-term damage to your lower back vertebrae. 

How sit-ups hurt your back 

The abdominal muscles are worked during sit-ups and crunches by bending the spine. When you arch your back, your spine presses against the floor and becomes wedged between the floor and the rest of your body. 
Harvard researchers found that the hip flexors took the brunt of the work during sit-ups, leading to strained lower back muscles and spinal discs. The curved nature of the movement can cause back pain by pressing the spine down toward the floor, and when the hip flexors are overly stiff or too strong, they put pressure on the lower spine, which can cause lower back discomfort and poor posture
If you sit for most of the day, your hip flexors are contracted and your glutes are relaxed. Think of a typical office job. 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. 

Try these exercises instead 

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’s 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. 

Plank one arm extension: 

Step 1: 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. 

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. 

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. 
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Tagged as: exercise, sit-ups, spine
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