Why Can’t I Perform a Sit-Up?

Video why can't i do a sit up

I Can

Whether you frequent the gym, are a strength athlete, or have a fitness test to pass, the sit-up is a well-known measure of core fitness. However, you may find yourself unable to execute a single sit-up. So, what could be the problem? Here are seven possible reasons why you’re struggling:

Weak Abdominal Muscles

Your abdominal muscles, commonly referred to as the six-pack, might be too weak to lift your upper torso off the ground. These muscles play a crucial role in initiating a sit-up. Strengthening exercises such as Russian Twists, Planks, Reverse Crunches, or Negative Sit-Ups can help build up your abdominal strength.

Weak Hip Flexor Muscles

Your hip flexor muscles, located at the front of your pelvis, may be too weak to raise your lower torso off the ground. These muscles bring your core closer to your thighs during a sit-up. Exercises like Hanging Leg Raises, Lying Leg Raises, Roman Chair Leg Raises, Reverse Crunches, and Deadbugs can all target and strengthen your hip flexors.

Poor Posture for Sit-Ups

Starting a sit-up with poor posture can put your muscles at a disadvantageous position for effective work. If your lower back is over-arched to the extent that there is space between the floor and your back, your abdominals will be in a weakened state. You can address this issue by tucking your pelvis under through a posterior pelvic tilt or by stretching your arms upwards, engaging your abdominals and obliques to flatten your rib cage and lower back.

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Sit-Up Postures

Overweight

If you carry excess weight, performing a sit-up might be challenging. The core muscles may struggle to lift your torso off the ground. In this case, a long-term solution that involves exercise and nutrition is necessary. To lose weight, create a caloric deficit by consuming fewer calories than your body needs. Include a combination of cardiovascular and resistance training to burn calories and improve muscular fitness.

Poor Technique

As with any exercise, using proper technique is crucial. Incorrect form during sit-ups can put you in an uncomfortable position and hinder your progress. Avoid pulling your head, grabbing your shoulders, starting with an overly extended back, using leg momentum, or sitting up unevenly. Focus on keeping your back flat on the floor, feet firmly planted, maintaining mild contact between your head and shoulders, and reaching as high as possible.

Current or Previous Injuries

Performing sit-ups can strain your back and hip regions, particularly if you have existing injuries in those areas. It’s important to address any pain or pathology with the help of a medical professional or physical therapist before engaging in exercise or fitness programs. Healing time or specific rehabilitation exercises may be necessary.

Balance Issues

Maintaining balance during sit-ups is essential. Rapidly attempting to sit up or having a heavier torso than your legs may result in balance loss. To counter this, control the speed of your sit-up execution or try moving your feet further away. If your legs consistently come up and cause you to fall back down, you can perform anchored sit-ups by using external support to keep your feet down, such as holding onto a weight.

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These are the likely reasons preventing you from performing sit-ups. So, how can you build up to your first sit-up in four weeks or less? Follow this simple four-week program to gradually increase your core strength:

Week 1

Day 1

  • 5-minute aerobic warm-up
  • Plank: 2 sets of 15 seconds
  • Lying Leg Raise: 2 sets of 8 reps

Day 2

  • 5-minute aerobic warm-up
  • Plank: 2 sets of 15 seconds
  • Lying Leg Raise: 2 sets of 10 reps

Day 3

  • 5-minute aerobic warm-up
  • Plank: 2 sets of 20 seconds
  • Lying Leg Raise: 2 sets of 12 reps

Week 2

Day 1

  • 5-minute aerobic warm-up
  • Plank: 2 sets of 20 seconds
  • Lying Leg Raise: 2 sets of 12 reps
  • Abdominal Crunch: 2 sets of 8 reps

Day 2

  • 5-minute aerobic warm-up
  • Plank: 2 sets of 25 seconds
  • Lying Leg Raise: 2 sets of 12 reps
  • Abdominal Crunch: 2 sets of 10 reps

Day 3

  • 5-minute aerobic warm-up
  • Plank: 2 sets of 25 seconds
  • Lying Leg Raise: 2 sets of 12 reps
  • Abdominal Crunch: 2 sets of 12 reps

Week 3

Day 1

  • 5-minute aerobic warm-up
  • Plank: 2 sets of 30 seconds
  • Russian Twist: 2 sets of 6 reps
  • Abdominal Crunch: 2 sets of 12 reps

Day 2

  • 5-minute aerobic warm-up
  • Plank: 2 sets of 30 seconds
  • Russian Twist: 2 sets of 8 reps
  • Abdominal Crunch: 2 sets of 12 reps

Day 3

  • 5-minute aerobic warm-up
  • Plank: 2 sets of 35 seconds
  • Russian Twist: 2 sets of 10 reps
  • Abdominal Crunch: 2 sets of 12 reps

Week 4

Day 1

  • 5-minute aerobic warm-up
  • Plank: 2 sets of 35 seconds
  • Russian Twist: 2 sets of 10 reps
  • Sit-Up Negatives: 1 set of 4 reps

Day 2

  • 5-minute aerobic warm-up
  • Plank: 2 sets of 40 seconds
  • Russian Twist: 2 sets of 10 reps
  • Sit-Up Negatives: 1 set of 6 reps
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Day 3

  • 5-minute aerobic warm-up
  • Full Sit-Up

For more ab workouts, check out our other article: The 9 Best Ab Exercises For Powerlifters.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is It Normal Not To Be Able To Do A Sit-Up?
Yes, it’s completely normal if you can’t perform a sit-up. When starting an exercise program, it’s important not to push yourself too hard or strain your body, especially if it’s out of shape. Start at your own level and gradually work your way up.

Why Can’t I Do A Sit-Up Without Someone Holding My Feet?
If you can’t perform a sit-up without someone holding your feet, it could be due to either having your legs too close to your torso or having a heavier torso compared to your legs. To counterbalance your torso, you can continue to have someone hold your feet or try moving your feet further away.

Why Can’t I Do A Sit-Up Even If I Can Hold A Plank For 2 Minutes?
Being able to hold a plank for 2 minutes doesn’t necessarily mean you can do a sit-up. It could indicate that your abdominals or hip flexors aren’t sufficiently activated to lift your torso off the ground.

So How Do People With Weak Abdominals Train Them Without Doing Sit-Ups?
Fortunately, there are various core exercises that can target your abdominal muscles without sit-ups. These exercises offer variety and allow you to work different areas of your abs. You can try front planks, side planks, and deadbugs as alternatives.

How Should A Beginner Perform Sit-Ups?
For beginners who can’t do sit-ups without external support, start with anchored sit-ups by keeping your feet secured to a weight or immovable object. Once you can comfortably perform around 15 repetitions of anchored sit-ups, you can progress to sit-ups without external influence while keeping your feet on the floor.

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Should Seniors Do Sit-Ups?
Seniors should opt for alternative core exercises instead of sit-ups to avoid potential strain on the neck or back. Front planks, side planks, and deadbugs are better choices for seniors to target their abdominals and obliques.

Are Planks Better Than Sit-Ups?
Planks have certain advantages over sit-ups. They help improve posture by avoiding overextension of the back and reduce strain on the neck and back. Planks are prescribed based on time under tension, while sit-ups are prescribed by repetitions.

For more core-related articles, check out:

  • Do Squats Work The Core?
  • Do Deadlifts Work The Core?
  • Best Cable Crunch Alternatives.

In conclusion, not being able to do sit-ups shouldn’t discourage you, as there are ways to gradually work your way up. If your goal is to strengthen your core without focusing solely on sit-ups, there are many other effective exercises to consider. Remember, a sit-up isn’t the sole benchmark for core strength and fitness.

About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach
Norman Cheung is a highly experienced powerlifting coach, accredited by the UKSCA as a strength and conditioning coach. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. Norman has worked with lifters of various levels, from novices to international medallists and university teams. Additionally, he offers coaching services through Strong Ambitions Coaching.

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