I recently sat down with an old friend to chat about life. The first thing he brought up was how happy and excited he is to have found two apps that help guide him through a core workout for five minutes per day. He then went on to tell me that he needs help with his sit-up technique because his tailbone aches when he does them. As you might imagine, my immediate response was to tell him to stop doing sit-ups. Which was followed by his response (the exact same response I always get after I answer a question about sit-ups)… a look of astonishment.
The reason I decided to write about not performing sit-ups is because a week prior to talking with this friend, I saw an article about a 23-year-old Brazilian woman who was temporarily paralyzed after performing a sit-up on an inverted bench (where your knees and ankles are secure above the bench). The strap broke, she slid down the bench, and hit her head on the floor. The result? She broke one vertebra, compressed another, and knocked a third one out of place. Now, obviously, having equipment that did not malfunction would have prevented this particular tragedy, but the story reminded me of the many ways that incorrectly performed sit-ups can cause injury.
If you look online, you will find lots of research about why sit-ups have fallen out of favour. One of the biggest issues is that repetitive flexion of the spine (curving forward) can eventually cause disc discomfort or the breakdown of the vertebrae (especially the facet joints), which can eventually lead to other issues such as a slipped disc, or facet fractures, or the worst case–paralysis.
If you are looking for specific exercises to target your core, I recommend starting with front and side planks. These exercises not only target the trunk muscles (360 degrees around your waistline) but your upper body as well. The photos below show the proper positions. As always, these exercises can be progressed or regressed, as appropriate. Next month, I will include two videos that show how to perform front and side planks in the best possible way. Happy planking!