Want to Lose Weight, Have a Flat Tummy? Sit-Ups Aren’t the Answer
Sit-ups don’t really help with weight loss and also put undue stress on the spine, often leading to pain and injury.
Trying to strengthen your core? Please don’t expect the answer to lie in sit-ups (and the US Army agrees).
If reports are to be believed, sit-ups place undue stress on your spine and can lead to lower back pain and even herniated discs. Because of the motion the exercise involves, it leads to the compression of the backbone in a manner that, even if done on a soft surface, has the potential of leading to bulging of the discs. This, in turn, will press the nerves leading to discomfort ranging from mild to debilitating.
Yoga expert Zubin Atre comments on the futility of sit-ups and emphasises that they leave the back especially vulnerable to injury.
Too caught up to read? Listen to the story here:
When you’re doing sit-ups, it’s not only the abdominal muscles that you are working out, but also the spine. If you’re someone with an arched back, you have a high chance of injuring your back. Instead of strengthening your back or abdominal muscles, sit-ups can rather damage your lower back in a way that you will feel pain for the rest of your life.Zubin Atre
So, what’s the solution?
Strengthen your lower back, answers Zubin.
I recommend that before you start with abdominal muscles, you should have a strong back to carry on those exercises. One should really focus on strengthening the lower back muscles and the glutes before starting with abdominal muscles.Zubin Atre
Sit-Ups ≠ Slimmer Waist
This report cites a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information where two groups of people were selected in Illinois in 2011 for a study on the effects of sit-ups on belly fat. Of these, one group was made to do the exercise for six weeks while the other wasn’t. At the end of the period and after detailed measurements, it was found that sit-ups did nothing for the waistlines of the participants. While there was improvement in the muscular strength of that group, there was no fat-loss on the waist.
The same report further goes ahead to point that in 2005, it was found that the US soldiers who were stationed at Fort Bragg, a military installation of the US Army, held sit-ups responsible for 56 percent of their injuries sustained during their two-year-long Army Physical Fitness Test.
Zubin agrees on the ineffective nature of sit-ups when it comes to weight loss and says:
They’re absolutely, highly overrated. If you’re 30 years old and looking to lose a beer-belly, sit-ups is absolutely the wrong approach to go for. You shouldn’t be starting there. Are sit-ups going to help you lose weight? Not really. If losing weight is your aim, you really need to look into what you eat. If you don’t have a belly and you’re looking into having a nice core and making abs visible, even then sit-ups are not really going to help. Just go back to the kitchen and see what you’re eating.
Similarly, holistic expert Vesna Jacob says that sit-ups by themselves don’t have a lot to offer if the goal is slimmer waistlines.
Only abdominal exercises won’t work. They should be combined with dynamic movements for them to work. Curling in and curling out in a way that makes the core go against the gravitational force is much more functional than a sit-up.Vesna Jacob
Alternatives to Sit-Ups
Research suggests, however, that there are better alternatives to sit-ups which would help strengthen the core. One of them involves holding planks.
While some studies might have recently debunked the benefits of this exercise too, there is still support for planks in the fitness community when it comes to strengthening the core.
What you can do in place of sit-ups are planks. When you hold the body in a plank with your elbows down and rest of the body in one straight line, you end up using the same muscle group - abdominal and lower back muscles, and glutes. Start with 10 seconds and gradually increase it to three minutes.Zubin Atre
If injury is a concern, planks are definitely the better choice of the two.
A plank is very safe and effective and you have a lot of control as opposed to sit-ups which have a lot of jerky movement, and when you’re in that motion, you may not realise a mistake. You might ignore pain and continue with the movement. Once done, you’ll see the damage after a couple of days.Zubin Atre
It’s important to keep the body moving, says Vesna, but it’s also important to listen to the body and give it time to get there. If you’re not following this, all the huffing and puffing would amount to nothing.
It’s further important to build core strength because it helps in maintaining balance and keeping the backbone firmly supported, especially if your lifestyle involves sitting at a desk for long hours.
But if Sit-Ups are Pointless, Why Have They Survived For So Long?
Vesna says that the reason sit-ups have stuck around for so long is linked to people’s need to quantify their workouts.
It’s more to do with the fact that we like some numbers to measure up. Sit-ups are quite a neat way to count and do that. I don’t think it’s more than that.Vesna Jacob
Zubin adds that standards of beauty have changed drastically over the centuries with different practices and ideas related to fitness moving in and out of our regimes. However, if you’re looking for weight loss, you may just skip sit-ups and instead pay attention to what you’re eating, sleep quality, metabolic rate, water content in the body, protein intake, what does your day look like and the daily level of activity.
The importance of diet cannot be insisted enough and sometimes, says Zubin, just educating yourself about that would be enough to lose weight.
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