Many years ago the sit up was king of abdominal training.  Today in the world of rehab, function and performance training the tide has shifted away from the sit up.  Our study of the human body, how it works and how it responds to various training modalities has led to a shift in our training methods.  Also, Stuart McGill PhD has shown the shear and compressive forces on the lumbar discs while doing a sit up to be quite detrimental to the health of the spine.  Now, we don’t just train the “stomach,” we see the body as a link system and the trunk, front, side and back collectively make up what is now referred to as the “core.” Most abdominal activity occurs while in the upright position working against gravity, ground reaction forces and momentum.   In fact clinicians and trainers, in the know, very rarely train muscles.  They train movement.  Activities like walking and swinging a golf club are engrained in our brain as patterns.

Think of this, people do thousands of sit ups to work their abdominals for the almighty six pack or what they consider “core” training.  If you think of this functionally, while standing, do you really need your abdominals to forcefully pull your shoulders down to the floor?   Of course not, gravity will do this for free!  So what is the “function” of the abdominals?  The rectus abdominus eccentrically controls back bending and the obliques eccentrically control rotation.  This all works together (with the back buscles) to control posture and produce rotational torque for efficient walking and more powerful activities like throwing a baseball or catching your child as they jump into your arms.  It is the rotational and side to side activity that drives us forward.  A bicycle moves forward only because the wheels are rotating.

Current abdominal exercises consist of arms overhead, reaching back, chops, diagonal chops and rotations using various modalities such as medicine balls and bands. We use kettlebell swings, waiter walks, snatches, cleans and windmills.   Also, variations of push ups, planks and bridges are utilized.  Assymetrically loaded squats, deadlifts and lunges are great abdominal activators.  Many want the washboard ab “look”, but the real question is are you training for show or go?  It is possible to have both!

Get Strong! Stay Strong!



  1. Bob (from CT) says:

    Should the sit-up be removed from my exercise program? By the way, these are great posts. Keep up the good work. I check back almost everyday to see what’s been updated! Later Chris!

  2. chriskolba says:

    Thanks Bob! If you do have back problems I would be cautious in doing sit ups. The shear and compressive forces can be quite high and lead to increased wear and tear on the disc. I still do a few sit up and variations once in a while it has just become a much smaller part of the program. I prefer more of a curl up vs a full sit up. Check out Stuart McGill book on Ultimate Back Training for more detailed explanations and rationales. So you dont have to completely abandon them. Great to hear from you and feel free to share this blog.
    Keep up the good work!

  3. Heather MacAuley says:

    Hi Chris,

    I have learned an interesting use of the Body Bar to assist very weak people to do controlled superstiff ‘situps’ that calls upon psoas very little,less shear happens. By reaching the bar forward it lightens the load of the upper body and makes it much easier to control and is like training wheels. Eventually you get better and can gradually go without and taper into other more intense exercises. With a Body bar you can do ‘kayak’ and ‘flagpole’ and things that one cannot do with stubby handweights. The kettlebells and planks are way too hard for most beginner patients.

    PS I also really enjoy Stuart McGills’material.

    • chriskolba says:

      Thanks for the info. The use of the body bar is a great idea/tip. I too have used for many things including “kyaking”. Also love to use if for “chopping” in split stance.
      Take care and keep up the good work.
      Check back often

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