I don’t know why I hate sit ups. I always have. I can’t be the only one out there that never does them. For heaven’s sake, they’re not as hard as hiking a steep hill or any more difficult than some yoga positions. Think about it, sit ups are one of the few exercises you can do lying down – you’re already halfway home before you start! So why all the hate?!
As I get older it’s hard to ignore certain facts, and one of those facts is that I’ll go to my grave never having seen myself with a flat stomach. Vanity aside, I have to admit that one of the most important pieces of the fitness puzzle is building core strength, especially important as we age. Building strength in your core helps alleviate muscle fatigue, strain and can even create less stress on your internal organs. When the core is strengthened you are better able to support your lower back, spine and extremities.
One of the best exercises to relieve and even alleviate lower back pain and strengthen the core is sit ups – sigh. Nowadays we refer to them as crunches, but when you get older and your back actually starts to make a crunching sound, you prefer a less literal translation.
So, how to do the perfect sit up? I asked our resident fitness expert Lynn Ann Covell what she recommends and this is what she had to say:
“Many women are under the impression we have upper, middle and, lower abdominals. In fact the rectus abdominus is one muscle! We have lower fibers, middle fibers and upper fibers, but they are all within the same muscle. We also have inner and outer obliques. Typically we work the upper and middle fibers of the rectus abdominus muscles first, not realizing that the lower fibers are working at the same time. Therefore, those lower fibers are usually close to exhaustion before we even begin to concentrate on them. I suggest working those lower fibers of the rectus abdominus first.
Here’s an easy exercise that most anyone can perform at home:
The pelvic tilt. Lay on your back with your feet hip distance apart. The most important thing to remember is spinal stabilization. Keep that back flat or in a neutral position on the floor or surface you’re laying on. Round you’re back into the floor by curling the pelvis upward. While doing this, the tendency is to try and lift the buttocks off the floor. Don’t! Instead, think about pulling your belly button towards your spine as you exhale and curl.
Diagonal Curl. Place your right ankle over your left knee (don’t cross the leg over if you have a knee problem). Next, place your hands gently and low on the back of your head. Leave that right elbow on the floor as you roll upwards toward the right knee. If you have a problem with these, try to pretend that you’re just rolling out of bed in the morning. Lean towards the bent knee but never try to touch the elbow to the knee. Instead, try to roll your left shoulder towards the right knee….works like a charm and helps to flatten that bell out nicely.
Abdominal Crunch. Here’s a tip on how to do this one correctly. Lay on your back with your feet hip distance apart and your spine stabilized onto the surface you’re laying on. Then place your hands on the back of your head. (Think about keeping your thumbs low and your elbows wide on this one) Now, you’re in the starting position for the abdominal crunch. Take a breath, and exhale as you roll upwards towards your knees. Never pull on your neck while performing this movement. Instead, try to think about rolling up from the chest and shoulders. If you can see about 6 inches above your knees you’ve come up far enough.
As with all abdominal exercises, it is important that you breathe in a way that allows the correct amount of oxygen to reach the muscle that you’re trying to work. Inhale in the ‘down’ position of the exercise and exhale on the exertion or ‘up’ portion of the crunch. For each exercise try to do one set of 10-15 reps 2-3 x per week then 2 sets, then 3 sets. Remember to take a day of rest in between.