Are Sit Ups a Good Core Exercise?

March 23, 2023

By: Our In-House Strength Expert, Taylor Podboy, PTA

When you think of performing a core exercise, likely one of the first exercises to come to mind would be a sit up or crunch. Although variations of this exercise can be beneficial, such as a curl up, there are better and more efficient ways to train your core. Typically, when we think of training our core, we think of strengthening our “6-pack” muscles which are flashy and superficial muscles that really just look pretty but don’t provide a ton of stability that we need. When training your core, the optimal muscles you are looking to strengthen will provide proximal stability to our pelvis and lumbar spine. These muscles include the transversus abdominis, rectus abdominis, external and internal obliques, diaphragm, lumbar muscles and our pelvic floor (yes, those are important too!). These muscles surround our spine creating a “corset”. Think of a symphony orchestra composed on numerous musicians and instruments, each and every person must play their instrument in a uniform manner with constant changes in tempo and volume, our body also needs to work in a uniform manner to create a purposeful movement.

The goal with creating core strength and stability is to create stiffness to limit excess motion. Each and every muscle of your core needs to co-contract to work together. When wanting to isolate and train only one muscle is nearly impossible as well as inefficient when it comes to creating stability for the spine. Again, you can’t have a symphony orchestra with only 1 person playing their instrument, you need numerous members to create a beautiful, fluent movement.

So, what are some good core exercises? There are a variety of exercises to perform from beginner to intermediate to advanced. One of my favorite beginner exercises would be a posterior pelvic tilt which can later be progressed into a deadbug. The posterior pelvic tilt is crucial for activating your deep, anterior core muscles and is also a great beginner exercise as it is performed in a safe, non-threatening position. When progressing to the deadbug, this will create the need for activating more of your core such as your obliques to facilitate anti-rotation movement within the trunk and pelvis. The bird dog is another favorite core exercise as this puts you in a more weight-bearing position making it slightly more functional. This will be a quadruped position, maintaining a neutral spine then allowing opposite arm and leg to reach away from each other towards opposite ends of the room. This is another great anti-rotational exercise that allows your entire body to work together. Finally, a more advanced core exercise would be a chop – this exercise will require some form of external resistance such as a band, weight, or cable machine. This movement has you in a weight-bearing position whether you are standing with your feet together, staggered or in a half kneeling position (or many more!). You will take your resistance and rotate your trunk to the right and raise your resistance above your right shoulder, then you will rotate your trunk to the left and lower the resistance to your left hip, followed by repeating the opposite direction. This is another great total body movement and the placement of your feet can add as much or as little resistance as you need to challenge yourself.

The best thing to think about when training your core is to create stiffness so when performing a functional task such as lifting groceries from the floor, carrying a tote up the stairs, or picking up your child, there is no excess movement happening at the spine. This allows you to utilize not only your core, but your other proximal stability muscles such as scapular muscles, glutes, legs and all the other muscles to make the lift more efficient. Creating this stiffness also reduces the risk for injury, reduces back pain as well as improving your balance and posture. A stronger core equals a stronger, more stable “you”!