A toned stomach is something we all want, besides looking good in the bargain. This is not only about looking good though, reducing waist and stomach fat also helps to protect you from developing certain health problems. Being overweight or obese can lead to certain health risks, such as diabetes, heart disease and more. So, protect yourself, start your exercise programme.

One of the things to take note of is the way the exercise is performed. If done incorrectly, it could lead to injury, so read up on how to perform the sit-up correctly. Your toned abs are within reach, you just need to take the first step. These exercises can easily be done at the gym and at home, no special equipment is necessary.

Sit-ups – Which muscles are you actually working?

Sit-ups - Which muscles are you actually working?

Here are the muscles which you are working on while doing sit-ups:

  • Rectus Abdominus: Major abdominal muscles
  • Oblique muscle: muscles of the lateral anterior abdomen.
  • Rectus Femoris: part of your thigh muscles
  • Tensor Fascia Latae: muscle of the thigh
  • Chest as well as neck muscles

These muscles are all needed to help keep your body upright and your neck straight. Making it possible to move freely, especially with neck and hip movement. The crunch and sit-up are different from each other, both differ in the way you perform them. They also activate different areas and muscles. You will find that the crunch exercise focuses only on the abdominal area, while the sit-up works a much larger area, almost all of the body. There is just one problem, in order for a sit-up to be effective, it needs to be done correctly.

The Sit-Up

The Sit-Up

First, let’s have a look at some basic guidelines you should be following:

  • Don’t anchor your legs. In other words, don’t have anybody holding your feet down while you do your sit-ups. By doing this your hips will be doing most of the work instead of your abs. This position may even cause injury to the lower back.
  • Make sure you tilt your hips (posterior tilt), which puts your lower back flat onto the ground.
  • Try not to tuck the neck in, this can cause neck strain. The head, neck and abs should be in a straight line. Instead of placing the hands behind the head, try crossing the arms over the chest or leaving them on the sides of your body.

Performing a basic sit-up:

Sit on the floor or mat with your legs out in front of you. Bend the legs at the knees so that the feet are flat on the ground. Ensure the legs are hip-width apart from each other. Place your hands next to you.

Now, roll down onto the floor until your back is completely on the floor. You will then be lying flat with the knees bent and pointing upward. You will notice your lower back has a bit of a curve, this is called an anterior tilt. This is not the position you want to be in while doing sit-ups, as it can cause injury. You can easily change this position by tilting your hips or pelvic region up. Your body will then be in a posterior tilt, with the lower back flat on the ground.

Activate your core. Your head and neck must be in a straight line with the spine, take a breath in and then breathe out. While you exhale use your abdominals and core muscles to perform a sit-up. As you move upward, you can move your hands, which have been by your side up to the knees. Try not to tense the shoulders, keep them relaxed as you make the move.

Breathe in again and then roll down until you are at the start position again. As you move, your lower back should remain flat on the floor. Continue, breathe out and sit-up.

Do the movement slowly and concentrate on using the abdominal muscles. If you are doing it incorrectly, you will be using the hip flexors instead, which is what you don’t want. Remember to maintain a posterior tilt. You could cause injury to yourself if you are constantly changing your position from anterior to posterior tilt.

Once you have the basic sit-up down and you feel comfortable with it, why not take the exercise further by trying some variations.

Successful Sit-ups for toned and strong abs

Successful Sit-ups for toned and strong abs

  • Sit-up – bent legs

Get into the sit-up start position and place your hands and arms straight out above your head. Your knees must be bent with the feet flat on the ground. Breathe in and exhale, on the exhale lift your body up until you are in an upright position. Your hands must remain extended above your head. Breathe in and roll down to the start position.

Perform: 3 sets of 10 repetitions

  • Hands to Heels:

Lie down in the sit-up start position, feet flat, legs shoulder-width apart, knees bent and back flat on the floor (posterior tilt). Stretch your hands above your head with the arms being shoulder-width apart. Breath in and then exhale while performing a sit-up. At the same time, move your arms from above your head down to the heels. Breathe in and then roll back and end in the start position. Remember to keep your neck in line with your spine and not tucked in.

Perform: To start you can perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

  • Sit-ups – straight legs

Begin in the sit-up start position. Position legs straight out in front of you, hip-width apart with arms above the head. Breathe in and on the exhale bring your body up into a seated position. As you move, keep your arms extended above your head. Breathe in and when you exhale roll back down onto the floor.

Perform: 3 sets of 10 repetitions

  • Sit-ups – Butterfly

Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Move your bent legs outwards until the soles of the feet are touching. Now, roll down and lie on your back with your hands and arms straight above your head. From this position breathe in and exhale. On the exhale lift your upper body along with your arms until your hands reach just above your toes. Breathe in and roll back towards the start position.

Perform: 3 sets of 10 repetitions

  • Sit-up – V-Ups (Jackknife)

Lay down on the floor with the legs straight and arms above the head. Remember to ensure you are in the posterior tilt position before you start. Breathe in and exhale, on the exhale lift both your upper body, arms and legs up. See if you can touch your toes with your hands, your body should form a V-shape. Breathe in and roll back to your start position.

Perform: 3 sets of 10 repetitions

  • Sit-up – Oblique V-Ups

Lie on the floor on your side, let’s start with the right side. While lying on your right side, place the right arm in front of your where you will get the most support. Your left hand should be extended over the head. Keep your legs and feet together, with the knees only slightly bent. Engage your core, breath in and exhale. On the exhale lift your legs and body together, you should be able to take your left hand and touch your left leg near the foot. Breathe out and roll back to the position you started in.

Perform: 3 sets of 10 repetitions, on both sides

  • Sit-up – V-Sit Russian Twist

Position yourself into the sit-up start position, but with your palms together. Shoulders relaxed, legs shoulder-width apart, knees bent and back flat on the floor. Breathe in and exhale. On the exhale do a sit-up but include a twist to the left and then to the right. Perform the twist twice to both sides, inhale and return to the start position.

Continue, breathe in and exhale. On the exhale lift the legs, sit-up and then add a twist to each side before returning to the start position. Perform this move four times.

Perform: 3 sets of 10 repetitions

  • Sit-Ups – Weighted

Choose a comfortable weight/dumbbell and sit down. Position yourself into the sit-up start position. Knees bent and legs shoulder width apart and feet flat on the ground. Take your weight with both hands and move your arms above your head, keeping the elbows bent slightly. Your spine, all the way to your lower back should be flat on the floor. You are now in the start position for this move.

When performing the movement keep your body straight and shoulders relaxed. Breathe in and exhale. On the exhale perform your sit-up, bringing your arms and weight with you. Remember not to tuck your chin in or lift your feet off the floor. Inhale and move back down to the start position.

Perform: 3 sets of 10 repetitions

Here are some tips for performing correct sit-ups

Here are some tips for performing correct sit-ups

If you are a beginner and would like to start working on a sit-up routine, the best way to start is with 3 sets of 10 repetitions. Once you get stronger and feel comfortable you can increase the repetitions.

As with most exercises, how you breathe is important. The same goes for building core strength, you should perform the sit-ups slowly and focus on the muscles you are targeting. Begin with the feet about 30cm to 45cm from your butt and continue with doing sit-ups. When you feel you cannot continue, simply increase the distance of your feet from your butt. This new position will help you to perform a few more sit-ups.

The main issue most people complain about when performing sit-ups is back pain. This is why you should perform sit-ups slowly, going too fast may result in lower back pain or even injury. If you still feel uncomfortable doing a sit-up, you can think about using an exercise ball, which should make it easier and more comfortable for you. The best way to avoid straining your back is to remember to keep the entire back straight on the floor.

Adding weights will intensify the workout and add more of a challenge for you. Simply get hold of some dumbbells, which can easily be held in one or both hands. The V-sit up or Jackknife sit-up is the best version in which to add weights.

Following these tips and performing sit-ups correctly is the way to avoiding any pain or injury. The main benefit of sit-ups, is, of course, toning the abs, but there are other benefits as well.

More benefits of performing sit-ups:

  • The exercise improves core strength, which is great for improving balance
  • Helps to improve the strength of the Hip Flexors
  • Sit-ups also help to increase flexibility
  • Assists with losing belly fat
  • Helps you stand up straight, improving posture.

Many try sit-ups and then give up because it causes them discomfort or even pain. But when the exercise is performed correctly, the rewards are great. Simply follow the correct method of performing a sit-up and you should avoid any risks, such as causing damage to the neck or back. So, if after reading this you feel ready, then begin your journey to developing your very own flat and toned stomach. Remember to persevere and maybe include a few family or friends in a workout routine. Supporting each other is a sure-fire way of getting where you want to be.