Better Than Sit-Ups

Okay, you might say that anything is better than sit-ups. Laundry, washing the dog, castor oil…. But what I meant is that there is an exercise that is actually more effective for firing the abdominal muscles than sit-ups. Sit-ups and crunches do fire the abdominal wall pretty well but not as well as this exercise does. A series of studies were done at the University of Waterloo in the 1990’s. The studies recorded which exercises fired which muscles and to what levels did those muscles fire. Here are some of the results for you (Low Back Disorders, McGill, 2002).

Rectus Abdominis External Oblique
Sit-Up 52% 44%
Crunch 50% 20%
Cross-over Crunch 71% 40%
Push-up/Leg Pull Front 40% 40%
The isometric exercise demonstrated in this Blog 75% 70%
The percentages indicate the percent of ‘Maximal Voluntary Contraction’. The most any muscle could possibly contract would be 100%. When you are doing a Sit-Up, for example, the Rectus Abdominis (RA), or your six-pack ab muscle, is working at 52%. When you do a Push-Up the RA is working at 40%. To me that is amazing because it’s almost working as hard as when you do a sit-up. This is of course only if you are doing a push-up correctly. Remember your gym teacher or trainer telling you to get your tushie out of the air? If your tushie is in the air then the RA isn’t working, or at least not much.
But the piece de resistance (and EXTREMELY exciting for fitness freaks) is that out of all of our typical ab exercises the one that works the best is the one where you don’t even move. This is an exercise that absolutely anyone can do. You can lie on your bed and do this exercise. I would have been doing this exercise post-back surgery, in the hospital if I thought I could have gotten away with it. (After I cut down the peach tree with a hugely gimpy back my husband wasn’t about to leave me unattended.) I love effective exercise which is why I love Pilates but when it is effective and easy. WOW!
Here’s how you do it. Lie on your back. Bring your right knee up over your hip. Now put your left hand on your right knee. Now push for all your worth. Now push harder. That’s it! I would recommend holding it for 5 seconds and doing it 10 times. When you are preparing for the exercise take a deep inhale. When you are pushing exhale and pull the belly button to the spine (but don’t pull the spine to the floor or bed; just leave it where it is). Use the picture above as your guide for the exercise.

By the way, this exercise is great for anyone with low bone density. When you have osteopoenia or osteoporosis you are not to flex the spine especially with exercise. So no sit-ups if you have low bone density (this includes crunches). The exercise is also great for anyone with low back issues. The exercise works the abdominal and spine muscles without placing undue pressure on the discs of the spine.

For the Pilates World:

Teasers and Roll-ups are great exercises. There is definitely a place for them when it comes to spine articulation and coordinated challenges. But what it you have nagging back pain? Well, then this article should come as good news. Your stomach muscles are not going to suffer because you can’t do a Teaser or Roll-up. As Pilates professionals we have so many tools in our toolbox that no one ever need to worry that there won’t be one thousand different ways to accomplish a task. Is it stronger abs you want? Then we can find a way to make that happen even if flexing the spine is not recommended for you!

If you have any questions, Let me know!
Better Than Sit-Ups