WASHBOARD abs have long been associated with top fitness.
But while sit-ups were once thought to be the ultimate way to tone those abs and achieve a tighter waist, health and fitness experts have shunned the crunch lately.
They’re leaving sit-ups out of their workout and replacing them with entirely new exercises that they claim are far more effective.
So what has changed? Why has the sit-up fallen out of favor and what has come to replace it?
As a personal trainer and fitness expert, Jenny Francis-Townson has avoided sit-ups for years and says it all comes down to the fact that they just aren’t that effective.
She says: “A strong core is fundamental to overall health and fitness, so I encourage people to work on strengthening their abs.
“A strong core not only often helps people achieve their aesthetic goals, it also helps them avoid injury, relieve back pain, and reduce body fat around these vital organs—a huge improvement in overall health.
“To get a ‘six pack’ you need to have strong abs, but you also need to reduce your body fat for the abs to show, so combining a healthy exercise program with a healthy diet is key.
“The truth is, I never advise my clients to do sit-ups.
“When it comes to planning an exercise program to improve your core strength, there are many amazing exercises you can do both in the gym and at home to achieve toned abs, and those aren’t sit-ups.”
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Here are the three reasons Jenny doesn’t do sit-ups to get abs…
1. Crunches are hard on your back
When you do a sit-up exercise, it presses your curved spine against the floor and encourages you to use your hip flexors (the muscles that connect your thighs to your lower back).
Most of us have tight hip flexors from spending so much time sitting.
When these muscles are tight and we’re doing a sit-up, they can pull on the lower spine, creating pressure and pain in the lower back.
Sit-ups can also cause us to round our backs as we “strain” to get off the floor into a seated position, and this too can put unnecessary pressure on our backs.
Instead of toning those beautiful core muscles, sit-ups can instead cause us to experience aches and pains.
2. If you don’t do them right, they don’t do much
There’s no point puffing and puffing through 20 sit-ups only to not see any real results from them.
Unfortunately, sitting up can be a very easy exercise to “cheat,” and so many people make sitting up easier without meaning to.
This is simply because it’s difficult to repeat sit-ups over and over again with perfect form, so your body will naturally find ways to make it easier.
Common tricks include: raising your head and neck with your hands, arching your spine and releasing it from the floor, dropping your body to the floor quickly and uncontrollably, not bending your knees fully.
These cheats work other areas of the body and not the core muscles, meaning the abs just aren’t getting the workout you’re hoping for.
3. Other exercises just work better
Yes, performing sit-ups with perfect form will work your core muscles, but the truth is there are a whole host of alternative exercises that will strengthen your core muscles much, much more effectively.
So why waste time on a less effective exercise? Movements in the “plank” position are a good example of this.
The plank position, in which you support your body weight with your hands and feet while the rest of your body stays in a straight line like a plank, recruits a much wider range of muscles in the front, sides, and back of the abdomen during the sit- Oops only use a few muscles.
The more muscles you use in an exercise, the more “trained” the abdominal area becomes and the more energy (calories) you use.
Sit-ups only strengthen a few muscle groups, but dynamic exercises strengthen your overall core muscles, making them much more effective at giving you those abs.
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So if sit-ups aren’t the key to rock-solid abs, what are these alternative miracle moves we should be doing instead?
Jenny says, “There are a lot of great ab exercises out there, and they’re always compound exercises.
“It simply means that these are multi-joint moments that we need to use multiple muscles to execute.
“Compound exercises are the most effective training movement anyone can do and almost always require full engagement of the core.
“For the best, most effective core workout, I recommend concentrating on compound movements that work the abs heavily.”
Perform each exercise for 30 seconds and rest 30 seconds. The goal is to complete each exercise five times:
1. Low-plank climbers
Come down to the floor and rest on your forearms. Press into your toes to bring your body into a straight line with your abdomen off the floor.
From here, lift your left foot off the floor, bringing your left knee toward your right elbow while keeping your body in a straight line.
Bring your foot back to the starting position and repeat the movement with your right knee.
2. Lateral plank pulse
Come down on the floor and place your left forearm on the floor under your shoulder and bring your left foot to the side.
Push your body up off the floor so that it is in a side plank position.
From here, slowly lower your left hip down towards the floor and then back up to the starting position.
Repeat the entire set on one side, switching to your right side for set number two.
Jenny’s top tip for abs:
“Don’t hurry. We do believe that “training hard” means working “fast,” but that’s just not true—especially when it comes to building your abs.
“When you force yourself to slow down on core exercises, you’re forcing your muscles to contract longer and helping them get stronger and more toned.”