In this post we discuss if sit ups really are bad for your back.
Let’s put this into context before we discuss how we got to asking this question.
Is bending your knee bad for your knee?
Is pointing your ankle bad for your ankle?
Probably not right?
Why would flexing your spine be any different?
Some intelligent people have come to some not so intelligent conclusions based mainly on the following:
2) a questionable piece of research.
3) the sensation you may feel when performing this motion.
Let’s look at each of these in turn.
Great importance is given to sitting. Every ailment is traced back to this thing the majority of us have to do while performing our jobs. If chairs were suddenly confiscated I can assure you visits to rehab specialists would go up not down.
Most of us are not strong enough to stand all day and there are plenty that are not even strong enough to sit.
Just because most of us adopt a flexed trunk posture through the day doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t train that movement. Does sitting with our knees bent preclude us from training our knee flexors? Of course not.
Are you a pig with no muscles?
If you have answered no to this question then you can pretty much ignore the piece of research that most professionals site when warning against performing sit ups.
Professor McGill of the University of Waterloo took pig spines (presumably without their permission) and repeatedly flexed and extended them under load until they broke. From this he deduced that spinal flexion is bad for the spine and therefore sit ups shouldn’t be performed.
Whilst the discs of the spine may have a limited number of flexion and extension cycles before they become injured, it makes sense to train motions that we have available.
Providing this is done under the control of your muscular system and without using speed or an external resistance to drive you into more flexion than you have available, it’s difficult to see how this would cause harm.
Discomfort in your back when performing a sit up
If you feel discomfort in your back when performing a sit up, it may be that your trunk flexors are not strong enough to lift your torso at present. Or that you’re performing it poorly.
It’s an exercise that’s likely to benefit you, but currently you need to adapt it to make it more effective.
Try performing it from an inclined weight bench to reduce the challenge. Focus on slowly bringing your rib cage down towards your pelvis and stop when you can go no further.
If you don’t train a motion you will limit your ability to perform it. Training your trunk flexors without fully shortening them such as with the much eulogised plank, is limiting.
We have been given the ability to flex our trunks and we should, therefore, train that motion.
As long as the exercise is performed with control and at the appropriate intensity it will benefit you. Particularly if you want to do things like get out of bed in the morning.