How to do the perfect sit-up

5 steps to chiselled abs...

Chances are, you’ve been doing sit-ups the wrong way. Relentlessly straining your spine and neck doesn’t help anyone, and is likely to push you into abandoning the exercise altogether. But don’t despair, it’s never too late – so let us teach you how to reboot this core core exercise and get those washboard abs you deserve.

The classic sit-up

  • Lying flat on your back, bend your knees so that your thighs are raised no higher than 45 degrees off the ground – don’t fall victim of bending your knees too sharply as this will reduce your range of motion. Tuck your chin slightly into your chest and keep your arms both raised above the floor and parallel to your body – with your hands pointing toward your feet.
  • Your feet should be firmly planted on the floor – another tip here is to forego an anchor on your feet (your partner or weight) as it reduces overall abdomen activity and interferes with your hip flexors. It’s more challenging, but that’s the point.
  • Keeping your feet on the floor, raise your torso, and keep your arms in the same flat position, pointing directly away from you, until your entire torso is almost perpendicular to the floor. Ensure your back and neck are kept straight, and never jerk up as the entire movement should be smooth. That’s one rep.
  • When lowering back into the start position, you obviously want the biggest toning payoff, so maximise the amount of time your muscles stay tense by taking it slow.
  • For this classic sit-up, try taking three to four seconds to get upright, holding for a second and end with a three second decent. This will result in maximum taxing of the abs, yielding greater micro-trauma. Remember to breathe – inhale on your way down, and exhale on your way up.

Variations and frequency

How you prefer to position your arms in this exercise comes down to what works for you – there’s no correct way. Find a comfortable place for your hands, whether it’s having them locked behind your head – resulting in greater resistance and support for a better neck position – or crossing them over your chest which may come more natural to others.

We would also recommend incorporating the sit-up on an exercise ball – known as unstable training – which is more advanced. If you haven’t tried this before, you’ll probably be shaky at first, literally, as this isolates your core activity and by do so, strengthens your core stabilising muscles.

As Muhammad Ali famously said, “I don’t count my sit-ups; I only start counting when it starts hurting because they’re the only ones that count.” And we do believe that the rep count of sit-ups doesn’t really matter, as long as each sit-up is completed in full, by finishing with your torso flat on the floor, and that each set is progressive (a count of say, 20 reps and 5 sets) is a good workout to master.



Of course, an effective workout of your abdominals cannot be achieved with sit-ups alone. So make sure to vary your equipment such as a sit-up bench or exercise ball, and equally vary your types of sit-ups, like the butterfly sit-up. This variation mobilises your groin and opens up your hip rotators which is easily overlooked – and you’ll find that this exercise will prove to be an effective warmup for those who squat, deadlift, lunge and run.

Further Reading