Are Sit-Ups Bad For Your Spine?

Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: January 26, 2016

situps and the spine

Sit-ups used to be a staple of many fitness routines, but lately the exercise has come under scrutiny by some health groups. In fact, the Canadian Armed Forces recently dropped the exercise from its fitness test and replaced it with exercises that better simulate real-world movement. The decision to remove sit-ups from the fitness test was done partially for practicality, but it was also done because sit-ups can do damage to your spine. Here’s what the CAF had to say about sit-ups and your spine.

Outdated Movement

Sure, the movement strengthens your core, but plenty of other exercises do the same without putting excess stress on your spine. When the CAF looked at the common biomechanics of military personnel, they noticed the movements necessary to do a sit-up weren’t used very often throughout the course of training, leading them to look for a new, more practical exercise.

Potentially Detrimental to Spine Health

According to Stuart McGill, a spine biomechanics professor at the University of Waterloo, individuals are more likely to develop a back injury or disorder if their spine is repeatedly put under force in a significantly bent position, which occurs during a sit-up.

Overloaded Spine

“We measured the loads on the spine with each sit-up. (The spine loads) were right on the limit noted by us (and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the United States) as causing damage over time and with repetition,” said McGill.

Risk For Bulging Disc

McGill likened the sit up to bending the branch of a willow tree, and then trying to do the same thing with a larger, thicker branch. “If you take a thin willow branch and bend it back and forth, you won’t damage it. But if you took a thicker branch and bent it to the same angle, it would damage right away. That’s why bigger, thicker spines get hurt much sooner doing a sit-up. Disc bulges are the main concern since they result from repeated simultaneous compression and bending the spine.”

In the end, you can work the same muscles in your core by performing planking exercises without adding excessive stress to your spine. If you don’t want to kick the habit just yet, try turning your sit-ups into crunches, as those too put less stress on your spine.

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