The Ultimate Guide to Sit Ups

A sit up is one of the most well-known and common bodyweight exercises. It is used to build strength in your abdominal muscles (often referred to as your core muscles). And having a strong core is very important for keeping the proper posture and technique in pretty well every other exercise.

Oh, and we can’t forget the endless search for the ‘six pack’!

This detailed article is the ultimate guide for beginners, regular gym goers and even personal trainers and coaches. It walks you through what a sit up is, what equipment you need, what muscles it helps develop, proper technique, a guide to the weight to use, tips for success, variations and a description about what could go wrong and how to minimise the chance of injury.

What are you waiting for. Here it is …

The low down

A sit up is one of the most well-known and common bodyweight exercises. It is used to build strength in your abdominal muscles (often referred to as your core muscles). And having a strong core is very important for keeping the proper posture and technique in pretty well every other exercise.

While there are what seems to be 100s of variations of the good old sit up, basically, a sit up involves lying on the floor and lifting your upper body off the ground using your abdominal muscles and lowering back down again.

Other names

Sit ups are sometimes referred to as crunches. Though the term crunches is mostly associated with a short sit up that involves only moving through the first quarter of the full movement.

What does this one do?

Sit ups work your entire core musculature and, with enough work and the correct diet, can lead to the development of a six pack – being the visible ridged muscles around a person’s stomach region.

Note: While a ‘six pack’ is seen by many as the ultimate prize, a six pack really only involves the outer visible abdominal muscles which, while they may look impressive, have little functional benefit.

You should spend more time on strengthening your deeper core muscles as these muscles provide you with stability and safety. And a good solid strong core will be the base upon which you will build strength in all exercises.


Standard sit ups require no equipment at all. Just lie on the floor and get started!

There are particular incline benches and other apparatus to make things a little more interesting, but they are not essential.

People also use balls and all number of other items and contraptions which, at the end of the day, might spice things up a little but are not required.

If you are adding weight to your body you will also need a kettlebell, a weight plate, dumbbell, a bag of rice or almost anything really.

How do I do the standard version of this exercise?

Start by lying on the floor or a mat with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.

Now, place your tongue on the roof of your mouth to activate your neck flexors, which will help protect your neck during the movement.

Then put your hands flat on your upper legs. Slide your hands up your legs towards your knees at the same time as you lift your head and shoulders off the ground, tucking your chin in towards your chest slightly, and start to curl up using your abdominal muscles. When your palms reach your knees, curl back down until you are again lying on the ground.

Remember to properly engage and squeeze those abdominal muscles. Pushing your lower back into the floor during the movement helps protect your lower back muscles from injury while at the same time helping to ensure that the abdominal muscles are being worked effectively.

Note: you can curl higher if you are able. For example, until your wrists reach your knees or until your elbows reach your knees.

How much weight should I be using?

Sit ups are generally performed using your own bodyweight. However, it is easy enough to add weight if you wish, just hold onto something while you are performing the sit up movement. A weight plate, a dumbbell, a sack of rice, anything really.


Always, and we mean always, stretch and mobilise all the muscles you intend to work before you start. A foam roller, a Rumble Roller, stretch bands and even a tennis ball placed in just the right spot are all useful tools. Yes, even for sit ups.

While working on your abs specifically can be useful, you are actually using your core muscles in every other movement, or at least you should be!

So, performing heavy squats or deadlifts, doing chin ups and push ups etc etc, will, if you properly focus on using your core, build your core muscles at the same time.

How can I mix it up a bit?

There are heaps, and we mean heaps, of ways to mix up the sit up. Check out these variations:

Change the tempo: Changing the time it takes you to curl up and/or curl down during the sit up movement can really bring on the burn. For example, curl up quickly for a one count and curl back down slowly for a count of four. If you are really up for a challenge, try stopping and holding half way up or down through the movement.

Change the angle: Most gyms have specific sit up benches that can be placed on a decline angle and have a place to hook your legs. By performing a sit up on an angle you can work the muscles in a slightly different and more intense way.

Change the range of movement: You can modify the sit up simply by changing how far you curl up. Using your knees as a reference point you can, for example, curl until your palms reach your knees, until your wrists reach your knees, until your elbows reach your knees or until your chin reaches your knees.

What could go wrong?

Not much can really go wrong with a sit up though some people will complain about getting a sore neck or a sore lower back.

While it may well be that the neck and lumber muscles are becoming sore because they too need to be strengthened, you can help protect your neck by placing your tongue on the roof of your mouth to engage your neck flexors. You can also protect your lower back by being sure to push your back into the floor and properly activating and using your abdominal muscles. After all, that is what this exercise is for.

At the end of the day, just focus on keeping the full movement, both up and down, nice and controlled.

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2 Responses to “The Ultimate Guide to Sit Ups”

  1. If you want to have that well-sought six pack abs, one should lower their body fat percentage, but if you want to have a powerful core, a sit ups (alternatively, abdominal crunches) can help you with that.

    People should also know that having a strong core muscles is as aesthetic as a six pack, though the former is functionally beneficial than the latter.

    Sit ups also supplements your lifts, as with a powerful core, you’ll be able to manage to keep proper form, and you don’t need anything else to perform this exercise, unless you want to incorporate a weight plate as a variation.

    • Darren Fittler 22/05/2014 at 10:13 pm Reply

      Hi Arianne, Thanks for your comment. I completely agree. I am currently half way through a 30 day detox and I have stripped about 5Kg, most of which I think is fat. All my good form and heavy training have developed abs afterall and we are just starting to see them now.

      Core work is definitely better for actual training improvements, but for those who like the look of a washboard,crunches and a fat reduction program can go a long way to get there.

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