Sit-ups have long been a go-to abdominal exercise. The type of sit-up you do and your range of motion affect what areas of your body are being worked. Most sit-ups target your rectus abdominis, obliques and hip flexors. If you rise to only a 30- or 45-degree angle, however, your hip flexors will not have to work during the exercise.
The most common form of sit-up starts with lying on the back with knees bent and feet flat. With your hands behind your head or your arms crossed over your chest, you sit up off the ground and touch your chest to your thighs for the largest range of motion. Other ways to do a sit-up are to have someone hold your feet, to decrease your range of motion by sitting up only halfway and to keep your legs straight, which works your hips flexors more.
Your core is made up of your abdominal muscles, parts of the muscles in your back, and your hips. Sit-ups mainly target your abdominal muscles and your hips. If you are doing a sit-up that goes up only halfway, you are targeting your abdominal muscles, including your rectus abdominis and your internal and external obliques. If you go higher, or if you perform a sit-up with the legs straight, you begin to work your iliopsoas, or your hip flexors, as well.
Doing sit-ups with a full range of motion can be detrimental to your back. Many people, especially if their hands are behind their head, pull on their neck, round their back and strain near their lumbar spine at the top of the sit-up. Additionally, if the legs are straight during your sit-up and your hip flexors kick into gear, the lower back risks hyperextending, causing stress and pain in the lumbar region. To avoid back pain with your sit-ups, limit the range of motion to partial, keep your knees bent and consider placing a rolled-up towel under your lumbar spine while you are performing the exercise.
Sit-ups can be a beneficial abdominal exercise, but they work only certain parts of your core. For the most effective core work, you should target each area separately. You need to work your transverse abdominis, one of your very deep abdominal muscles, as well as your erector spinae, alongside your spine. Since sit-ups generally work only the rectus abdominis, the obliques and the hip flexors, you should perform other exercises, like planks and superman raises, that will help strengthen the rest of your core.
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