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The ABCs of Safer Sit-Ups

Doing sit-ups or crunches can strengthen your abdominal muscles. But you have to do them correctly to achieve good results.

Well-toned abdominal muscles, which run from the lower margin of the rib cage down to the pubic bone, keep your spine aligned and protect internal organs. They also transfer force between your upper and lower body more efficiently so you can easily perform everyday movements, such as bending, lifting, squatting, walking and reaching.

To tone your abs effectively, keep in mind the following ABCs of sit-up safety.

"A" is for alignment

To set up your sit-up properly, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor close to your hips. Keep the small of your back flat on the floor This will help you engage your abs instead of your hip-flexor muscles.

Don't lock your feet under something. With your hands resting lightly on your temples, palms facing in, exhale, tighten your abdominals, then lift your head, neck and shoulders off the ground several inches.

To avoid jeopardizing the cervical region of the spine, which supports the head, keep your head aligned with your torso. Avoid putting your hands behind your head and yanking, pushing your chin out and pulling your chin down to your chest.

"B" is for body control

As you lift your head, neck and torso, make your abs do the work, not your neck and lower back. Go slowly and with control. Sit up only high enough for your shoulders to clear the floor. Pause at the top of the movement for a count of two, then roll down one vertebrae at a time for another count of two, using your abdominal muscles to resist the pull of gravity. Avoid rushing and using your body's momentum to complete the move.

  • Variation 1: The twisting sit-up. Move your right elbow to left knee and vice versa. To do this sit-up safely, come up off the floor into a contracted position before twisting, rather than twisting as you leave the floor.

  • Variation 2: The tower. With your legs in the air and your ankles together, bend your knees slightly, then bring your elbows as close to your knees as possible before uncurling slowly.

Remember to breathe deeply and continuously throughout each move to oxygenate your muscles. Although you may experience some muscle soreness initially, you shouldn't feel much pain during the sit-up itself. If you do, especially in your lower back, stop immediately.

"C" is for consistency

For a strong, resilient girdle of support, which can help prevent lower-back pain, do sit-ups every other day.

Avoid doing too much too soon. No matter what variation of sit-up you do, quality, rather than quantity, counts. Ten to 20 safe sit-ups performed with good form are equal to 100 fast and sloppy ones.

"D" Develop all the abdominal muscles

Also exercise the lower abdominal muscles. Lying on your back with knees bent. Tighten the abdominal muscles, bring one knee towards the chest, Keep it there. Hold the back and pelvis stable by keeping the abdominals contracted, bring the other knee up to meet the first one, then lower the first one, then the second leg. Relax the abdominals and repeat.