If you want a fort, healthy core, throwing a few sets of sit-ups won’t be enough. You need to incorporate a variety of sit-up alternatives into your fitness routine.
It’s not that the traditional sit-up is bad, says Mary Beth Rockwell, CPT, CES “Sit-ups primarily target the rectus abdominis (the ‘six-pack’ area) and change other parts of the core ,” she says.
Plus, it’s easy to do sit-ups incorrectly. “Using momentum to throw yourself, or what I call ‘chicken wing’ with your arms, can make the movement less effective or maybe even hurt you,” Rockwell says.
So if you’re going to do sit-ups, take your time. Maintain good breathing mechanics (exhale as you exert yourself) and contract your abdominal muscles when you sit down. And be sure to balance your core strengthening workouts with these sit-up alternatives.
Pilates instructor Nicole De Souza describes the plank as one of the best sit-up alternatives you can do to strengthen your whole body, not just your core.
“Performed correctly, the plank activates all core muscles at once and strengthens your upper back, shoulders, chest, legs and booty. It will also help improve posture,” she says. “Because ‘there are so many variations with modifications and advancements, this amazing bodyweight exercise can be done by almost anyone, anywhere!’
- Adopt a push-up position: feet together (or apart to facilitate movement), trunk strengthened, body straight from head to heels, hands in a line stacked directly under your shoulders.
- Pull your shoulders away from your ears (toward your feet) and engage the lats.
- Squeeze your glutes and strengthen your core to keep your hips from sagging. Your body should form a straight line from head to heels.
- Use your core to stabilize your body for the specified duration.
Make sure you’ve nailed the traditional plank before trying this sit-up alternative, as it’s harder to maintain proper plank form once you add movement.
“Keys to doing this well include pulling your shoulder blades flat across your back to stabilize them, contracting your glutes, keeping your hips aligned with your ears and shoulders as much as possible, and landing softly on the sole of your your feet rather than your toes, which can be downright uncomfortable,” says Rockwell.
- Adopt a plank position. (See above.)
- Spread your feet so that they are just beyond shoulder width.
- Pause, then jump your feet back to the starting position.
- Keep jumping with your feet apart and together, so that the body stays in that straight line.
This alternative sit-up does double duty, says De Souza. “Mountain climbers are one of my favorite exercises. It’s a great way to add cardio to your core workout to get your heart rate up and burn calories!
- Adopt a push-up position: feet together (or slightly apart to facilitate movement), core strengthened, body straight from head to heels, hands in line with wrists stacked directly below shoulders.
- Lift your right foot off the floor and pull your right knee toward your chest, making sure to keep your back flat, your butt down, and the rest of your body still. Tap the ground with your toes.
- Bring your right foot back to the starting position and immediately pull your left knee toward your chest. Tap the ground with your toes.
- Continue alternating legs, performing equal reps on both sides.
4. Reverse Crunch
You can calibrate the difficulty of this sit-up alternative by bending or straightening your legs, Rockwell says. “Performing the move with straight legs is more difficult because you have a longer lever to control. Going with bent knees is a perfectly viable modification.
- Lie on your back with your legs bent and your feet flat on the floor a few inches from your buttocks. Place your hands just below your lower back (skimming the top of the tailbone) for support.
- Engage your core and lift your feet off the floor, keeping your knees at 90 degrees, so your shins are parallel to the floor. Keep your lower back pressed against your hands.
- Reverse the movement and press your feet to the floor.
- Continue raising and lowering your legs for the specified duration.
The V-sit, aka the jackknife, is a very advanced alternative to sit-ups, Rockwell says. “Keeping a long, flat spine and strengthening the core is All. Slouching through V-shaped sit-ups can be torturous to your lower back over time. If you’re new to this sit-up alternative, keep your knees bent and both sets of toes on the floor.
- Lie on your back with your legs straight and your arms stretched above your head.
- Keeping your back neutral and your core engaged, lift your legs and arms off the ground until your body forms a V. You can reach your arms forward or toward your feet.
- Pause, then slowly lower your arms and legs back to the starting position.
- Repeat, avoiding using momentum as you move through each rep.
6. Windscreen wipers
Windshield wipers are another alternative to seating where leg positioning is important. “Straight legs are more difficult than the bent-knee version, so pick the one you can do with the best form possible,” says Rockwell. This includes keeping your lower back and both shoulders in contact with the floor.
- Lie flat on your back with your arms extended out to your sides. Keeping your legs together, bend your knees to form a 90 degree angle and lift your legs up so your shins are parallel to the floor. Make sure the knees are stacked over the hips.
- Engage your core, so your back is pressed flat into the floor.
- As you exhale, drop your knees to the right, keeping your legs together. Don’t drop them so far that your shoulders come off the ground.
- Come back to center on an inhale and repeat on the left side on your next exhale.
- Perform an equal number of repetitions on each side.
7. Hollow plug
“The Hollow Hold is a great alternative to sit-ups because it can be adjusted for all fitness levels,” says De Souza. “The arms and legs act like levers, and the further you move them away from your center, the harder the exercise becomes.”
- Lie on your back with your arms and legs raised toward the ceiling.
- Engage your core, press your lower back into the floor, and slowly begin to lower your legs and arms back. Lower your legs as far as possible without your lower back coming off the ground, aiming for a “hollow” position that resembles a boat.
- Avoid lifting your lower back off the floor. If so, return to your starting position and don’t descend as far.
- Hold the position for the specified duration.
This alternative to sit-ups targets the lower abdominal muscles as well as the hips and thighs. But, done incorrectly, scissor kicks can hurt your lower back a lot. “If your back isn’t feeling great, just lift your legs a little higher to take some of the load off,” Rockwell says.
- Lie on your back with your arms by your side.
- Raise both of your legs a few inches off the floor and spread them slightly apart in a “V” shape. Engage your core and press your lower back against the floor.
- Keeping both legs straight, bring your legs together and cross your right leg over the left. Widen your legs again in a “V” shape, then bring your legs together again, this time crossing your left leg over the right.
- Keep alternating until you’ve completed all reps.
- Always keep your lower back pressed against the floor. If he starts to arch, lift your legs to reduce the strain on your core.