Sit ups have historically been touted as an important part of a person’s exercise routine. After all, sit ups will chisel your abs fast, right? Wrong. Not only are sit ups not the most effective exercise for building abdominal strength; they are also flat out bad for your back.
How Sit Ups Damage Your Body
Sit ups do not live up to their golden reputation of promoting fitness. On the contrary, they have the capacity to damage the body, specifically the back. Here’s why: when you sit up, your abdominal muscles pull your ribs towards your gut. At the same time, your spine flexes as you sit up from your laying position. This in itself is not a harmful action, but flexing the spine over and over can potentially wear out the discs in your spine.
Physiotherapist Dan Swinscoe explains, “When you curl up your trunk (in a sit up), you expose (your) discs to sheer force. Discs are great at dispersing force, but not sheer force. When exposed to (this type of force), the wall of the disc begins to fail and it is this wall that prevents the gelatinous nucleus of the disc from bulging outward towards the nerves.” Once your discs begin to bulge, you are in for a heck of a lot of pain.
You can protect your precious (and much needed) discs from harm by steering clear of sit ups.
Lose the Sit Ups, Learn Some New Abdominal Exercises
Sit ups may be no-nos, but it’s still vital that you strengthen your abdominal muscles. Why? Because strong abs can reduce, sometimes even eliminate, back pain. Those who want to lessen back pain and tone their midsection should shy away from sit ups and consider other types of core strengthening practices that are easy on the back. Here are a few suggestions for building the strong core you desire:
1. Practice Pilates or yoga – Pilates and yoga both have great reputations for being safe, effective practices for building strong core muscles. If your health allows for it and your doctor approves, try out a beginner level class and see how you like it.
2. Try physiotherapy – Physiotherapy is not just for people with injuries; it is also suited for those who want to strengthen their abdominal muscles in sit up-free ways. A physiotherapist can help you strengthen your body in the healthiest manner possible. Best of all, a physiotherapist-designed exercise program will be 100 percent personalized to help you gain muscle strength AND protect your back.
It may be hard to believe that sit ups, innocent as they may seem, can potentially cause bulging discs and severe back pain, but they can. By all means, strengthen your abdominal muscles, but do so with exercises that are safe for your back.