THE CLASSIC SIT-UP is a workout staple. Whether you learned how to do the movement in gym class or from watching a Rocky training montage, you’ve probably performed more than a few sets over the years in the pursuit of washboard abs.
You can drop to the floor and rep out sit-ups almost anywhere you want when the desire strikes, and the exercise’s simple bodyweight nature allows you to rack up the volume. Especially if you’re the type of person who likes to push the envelope in pursuit of your goals, how do you know when to stop? Is there a set benchmark for how many sit-ups you can crank out in a day, or is it more dependent on your tolerance for tedium? Here’s the scoop on sit-ups.
How Many Sit-ups Should You Do Every Day?
Everyone has different goals, fitness levels, and circumstances, but maxing out at 40 sit-ups daily is a fair goal for most people, says US Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. While that might not sound like a ton of reps—especially if your ultimate objective is chiseling a set of six-pack abs—it’s all about quality over quantity, he explains. “People who have abs and do this will tell you to slow down on the way down,” says Samuel. “If you try to bang out 50 or 60 or 100 [reps], then you wind up curling up and laying back down really quickly.” In other words, the form concessions you’ll likely need to finish a huge volume of reps isn’t worth the effort.
Training age and overall health and fitness level would also come into play when determining how many sit-ups is too much, says Kurt Ellis, C.S.C.S., owner and coach at Beyond Numbers Performance. Remember that “doing a ton of sit-ups could lead to overuse injuries, poor form, and compensations in the movement pattern,” adds Ellis. Translation: for better results and your long-term health, don’t go for a world record.
How to Do a Sit-up Properly
Speaking of poor form, being mindful of quality reps means dissecting your sit-up form. To perform a traditional sit-up:
- Begin lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Ellis recommends keeping your hands by their sides with palms facing up, instead of behind the neck to avoid pulling your head and neck as you sit up.
- Engage your core and lift your upper body toward your knees, exhaling as you rise.
- Inhale and slowly lower your upper body back down, maintaining control throughout.
Key Sit-up Form Tips
- Don’t rush.
- Avoid straining your neck as you curl up.
- If hands are behind the head, keep elbows out wide.
- If hands are in front, keep them extended throughout the movement.
- Think about curling one spinal vertebrae off the floor at a time.
The Benefits of Sit-ups
The sit-up is a foundational exercise that does so much more than burn out your abs—but it does that, too. Sit-ups “carry over directly to your everyday lives by improving posture and strengthening the musculature needed to perform functional movements such as bending and lifting,” says Ellis. This can help to make your movements throughout the day easier, more comfortable, and less injury-prone.
While some core exercises such as the plank or deadbug primarily target the deep traverse abdominis muscles that are responsible for a tight mid-body, the sit-up is all about the rectus abdominis. These muscles are responsible for flexing the spine and are also known as the six-pack muscles for their hallmark shape. This aspect of spinal flexion is important—but it’s also something that you can easily take overboard with too much volume and bad form, which is why the recommended number is lower than you might expect.
To a lesser degree, sit-ups can engage the transverse core and obliques to the sides, but because situps happen in the sagittal plane of motion (moving front to back), you wont get any rotation or lateral engagement here. Just keep that in mind when crafting a complete core workout. Even if visible abs are on the fitness goal menu, you’ll want to include moves that target the entire core to get a comprehensive workout.
Is It Safe to Do Sit-ups Every Day?
If performed correctly, you can do situps every single day. The more important question is whether you need to do so. Remember, sit-ups are only one part of a comprehensive core training plan. “To avoid redundancy, training different aspects of the sit-up is ideal,” says Ellis. For example, if increasing the total rep count is your focus, try alternating between days of low-, moderate-, and high-rep sets of sit-ups, he says.
Importantly, the sit-up shouldn’t be the end-all, be-all ab movement for your workouts. “It’s really only hitting one function in the abs, maybe two,” says Samuel. “You’re gonna get spinal flexion, which is what happens in the sit-up. And then you’re gonna get a little bit of anti-extension, if you lower with control.” You’ll want to train more than just those functions of the core for a comprehensive routine.
If a daily habit is what you’re after, Samuel has a plan for a more effective movement: Try a hollow rock instead, he suggests. “Muscle is built and really strengthened in lengthened positions,” he says. “You’re not spending much time on your lengthened position in a sit-up. However, in the hollow rock, you have tension on your abs, but they’re lengthened.”
Pair your hollow rocks with plank shoulder taps for some anti-rotation action, and you’ll have a more well-rounded core circuit to hit your abs from more than one angle. “You’re gonna get more results from that versus just doing a bunch of sit-ups,” Samuel says.