Why Athletes Don’t Need Situps

Posted by & filed under .

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A common suggestion is that people should be doing push ups and sit ups on their own at home.

I am all for people taking their fitness seriously and doing things outside of the gym.

This recommendation is crap.

A lot of athletes do not do push-ups well. Now they are probably going to do a high volume of them. Repeated poor push ups are just going to create bad habits and no progress. Unless this athlete is being coached on good push ups then there really is no point in telling them that they should do them.

That is my piece on push ups and I happen to like them.

I don’t see any purpose for an athlete to perform sit ups.

My thinking really changed when I read Low Back Disorders by Stuart McGill. One thing that stuck out was that a sit up puts enough force on a disc to herniate it. We are luck to have bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments to help spread out the pressure.

The fact that that even happens is a good enough reason for me to ditch them in programs.

The real problem is that they do not really serve much of a purpose for athletes. Everyone thinks that a strong core does X but they are not really sure why. You definitely want core stability but sit ups are a flawed strategy.

Function vs. Action of the Abdominals

Sit ups exist because they train trunk flexion, an action of the abdominals. Take an Anatomy class and you are bound to hear this.

Less commonly discussed is the function of the core. I never took a Functional Anatomy class so I had to learn this second hand.

The function of the core is to resist movement. Muscle actions only take concentric contractions into consideration. Muscles also act when lowering and resisting movement.

We can also look at the abdominal muscle structure. If it was supposed to function as a trunk flexor it would look more like a hamstring.

Abdominal muscles



The line of pull on a hamstring is obvious. The abdominals have a very different structure, one that is not supposed to create much movement.

What About Stability? 

Good core training involves resisting rotation, flexion, lateral flexion, and extension. The goal of the core is to stay in good alignment. Think of the torso as a canister. Maintaining it is important.

A sit up would cause a break in the canister. It causes trunk flexion, one of the movements the muscles are designed to resist.

One objection to stability training is that you can’t really “feel” the muscles working. There is no burn but you also don’t need to feel that for things to do their job.


Telling a kid that they should be doing push ups and sit ups doesn’t do anything for them. How many? How often? If you want athletes to listen to the recommendation then they need to be told what to do.

When I was in college, I used to see programs that said “Abs” x3 sets. How many times do you think Abs got done? If you guessed zero you’re a winner.

Good training has to be specific and defined. If I want someone to do Pallof Presses I am going to have them do 3 sets of 8 each way. A good way to ensure nothing gets done is to leave it up to the person.