Sit ups are a well-known move used in the workout routines of military men, body builders, and everyday fitness center enthusiasts. One of the greatest advantages of the sit up is its ability to tone and sculpt the muscles of the rectus abdominus – otherwise known as the “six pack.” It also works the transverse abdominus, hip flexors, and rectus femoris located in the quads. While doing sit ups alone won’t give you a six pack, they certainly play an important role, and are moves anyone can do, virtually anywhere, with no equipment.

Sit ups might look easy, but there are still a few ways you can go wrong. Just like any other exercise, it’s important to know the proper form in order to get the most out of your workout and avoid injuries. Let’s take a look at proper sit up form.

Basic Sit Up Form

Sit ups start with your body on the ground, so make sure you’re on a padded surface that’s comfortable for your back, head, and tailbone. An exercise mat at the health club or a lightly carpeted floor should work just fine. Once you’re lying down, draw your knees up to a 90-degree angle with the floor. Your feet should be firmly planted on the ground, about 1- ½ feet in front of your tailbone (basically, a comfortable position that allows them to stay flat on the floor). Your chin should be tucked slightly toward your chest. With your feet and butt remaining on the floor, lift your torso up, exhaling as you engage your abdominals, press your shoulder blades together, and keep your head in line with your spine. Come up into a sitting position, but keep your lower back on the floor. To return to start, inhale and keep the tension in your abs all the way back down to the floor. When you start to feel any lower back strain, pause and sit all the way to stretch your back or go into ‘child’s pose.’ When you’ve completed your desired number of reps or start to feel your abs burning, your workout is complete.

What to Do with Your Arms

You may have noticed the arms weren’t mentioned, which is because there are a lot of variations in what you can do with them. The most important thing not to do with your arms is to wrap them behind your neck, because this encourages pulling and could strain your neck.
Some people may prefer to cup their hands lightly behind the ears, while others prefer to fold them across the chest, hold them straight out, or keep them parallel to the body.

Other Important Tips

Besides pulling on the neck, another common mistake people make is to initiate the sit up motion with a jerking motion to get momentum. Not only will this not work your abdominals – the whole point of the exercise – it could strain your back or neck. Secondly, some experts say its okay to let your lower back raise up off the floor (sit all the way up), while others recommend only coming up halfway, similar to a crunch. Coming up all the way and letting your lower back straighten out may enable greater endurance for your sit ups, but either practice is acceptable. The important part is that your abdominals are getting worked, so don’t forget to engage them throughout the entire movement.

Keep your form correct, feel the burn, and sit ups will help you achieve that toned six pack you can flaunt at the fitness gym.