11 Alternatives to Sit-ups

Almost everyone who exercises wants a flat, toned stomach. That’s why things like abs cradles, stability balls, abs wheels, and other core training tools are so popular. It’s all about getting a six-pack!

However, contrary to what a lot of people think, it’s very hard to get a flat, toned stomach without exercising the rest of your body. After all, it would be almost impossible to sculpt the perfect arms without working your chest, shoulders, and arms, too.

Diet is important too. You may even have a firm stomach already; it’s just covered in a layer of fat. Subsequently, if you want a flat, lean stomach, you need to follow a holistic approach that involves diet and exercise.

That said, some targeted abs exercises will be useful, and there are plenty to choose from. In fact, if you Google “abs exercises,” you’ll get tens of thousands of results, all promising the abs workout of your life.

Sit-ups invariably rank highly, but that’s not the only or the best exercise for toning your abs. That’s why, in this article, we’re going to reveal the best alternatives to sit-ups.

Whichever exercises you choose, it’s important to remember that your abs are just another muscle group, and there is no need to work them every day. In fact, you’ll probably get better results if you follow a day-on, day-off program to allow time for rest and recovery. And forget about things like spot reduction – that’s just a myth.

Alternatives to Sit-ups

What Is A Sit-Up?

Sit-UpSit-ups are a traditional bodyweight stomach exercise. They can be done on the floor or using an inclined sit-up bench, making them considerably more demanding.

To do a sit-up, lie on your back with your legs bent and feet flat. Place your hands on your temples. Next, lift your head, shoulders, and upper back off the floor, sitting up until your torso is roughly vertical. Lie back down and repeat.

Some people anchor their feet during sit-ups, which is unavoidable for decline sit-ups. However, anchoring your feet increases hip flexor muscle activation and puts more stress on the lumbar spine. Sit-ups have fallen out of favor in recent years and have been replaced by core exercises like planks and dead bugs.

However, providing you have a healthy lower back, they can still be effective.

What Do Sit-Ups Work Out?

Sit-ups are mainly a stomach exercise, but they also involve the muscles of the hips. The main muscles involved in sit-ups are:

Rectus abdominus – this is the muscle at the front of your stomach and is usually known as the abs for short. It runs from your sternum and lower ribs down to the front of your pelvis. Its functions are flexion and lateral flexion of the spine and compressing the abdominal contents.

Hip flexors – this is the collective term for the muscles that bend your hip joint forward. The main hip flexors are the rectus femoris, iliacus, and psoas major. Anchoring your feet means that these muscles are more involved when you do sit-ups.

11 Alternatives to Sit-Ups

Whether you are bored of sit-ups or just don’t like them, the good news is that there are plenty of alternative exercises you can use to strengthen and tone your abs. Here are 11 of the best sit-up alternatives.

1. Crunches

Crunches are a lot like sit-ups, but there is much less hip movement, making them more abs dominant.

CrunchesCrunches also tend to be lower back-friendly. Crunches are a simple bodyweight exercise that are ideal for beginners.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Put your hands on your temples.
  2. Flex your abs and lift your head and shoulders off the floor. Your spine should form a C shape.
  3. Lie back down and repeat.
  4. You can also do this exercise with your legs elevated or resting on a bench or step.

2. Planks

Planks are probably the most popular alternative to sit-ups.

PlanksNot only are they spine-friendly, but they also work several other midsection muscles, including your transverse abdominus and obliques.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your front with your legs straight. Rest on your elbows and forearms.
  2. Lift your hips off the floor, so your weight is on your arms and toes only, and your body is perfectly straight.
  3. Hold this position for as long as you can, taking care not to hold your breath.

3. Stability Ball Sit-Ups

If sit-ups are no longer challenging enough to produce results, this is the alternative for you.

Using a stability ball makes sit-ups more difficult by increasing stabilizer muscle activity and range of motion.

How to do it:

  1. Sit on your stability ball and then walk your feet forward, leaning back as you do so. Continue until the ball is situated in the curve of your lower back. Place your hands on your temples.
  2. Next, lift your head, shoulders, and upper back off the ball, sitting up until your torso is roughly vertical.
  3. Lie back down and repeat.
  4. Try to wrap yourself around the ball to increase your range of motion and, therefore, the difficulty of the exercise.

4. Reverse Crunches

Where crunches involve lifting your head and shoulders, reverse crunches involve lifting your hips and legs. Contrary to popular opinion, this doesn’t work your lower abs, as there is no such muscle.

However, reverse crunches do create a different type of contraction, making them an excellent alternative to sit-ups and regular crunches.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet off the floor. Place your arms on the floor by your sides.
  2. Flex your abs and lift your hips and lower back off the floor.
  3. Lower your lower back down and repeat.
  4. Do not push with your arms. Make sure your abs are doing all the work.

5. Hanging Knee Raises

Hanging knee raises are a lot like reverse crunches, except your body is suspended from either a pull-up bar or a captain’s chair.

Lifting the entire weight of your legs makes this an effective abs exercise.

How to do it:

  1. Hang from a pull-up bar or support yourself in a captain’s chair. Let your legs hang straight down.
  2. Flex your abs, bend your legs, and raise your knees until they are above hip height.
  3. Lower your legs and repeat.
  4. Make this exercise harder by holding a medicine ball between your feet or keeping your legs straight.

6. V-Sits

V-sits exercisesV-sits are a demanding abs exercise that is only really suitable for experienced exercisers. It’s similar to sit-ups but, as well as lifting your upper body, you raise your legs too.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your back with your legs straight and arms above your head.
  2. Flex your abs and lift your upper body and legs at the same time.
  3. Reach up toward your toes, so you are balancing on your butt/lower back, and your body resembles a V-shape.
  4. Lie back down and repeat.

7. Chinnies

This exercise combines several movements to work your abs and other core muscles, including your oblique or waist muscles.

This is a popular exercise with athletes and is a common feature in circuit training classes.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your back with your legs straight and hands on your temples.
  2. Sit up and simultaneously lift one leg. Touch an elbow to the opposite knee.
  3. Lie back down and then repeat, swapping sides as you do so.
  4. Continue alternating sides for the duration of your set.

8. Cable Crunches

If exercises like sit-ups have a drawback, it is that you are limited to your bodyweight for resistance, and making your workout harder invariably means doing more reps.

Cable crunchesThis cable exercise means you can add weight, so you won’t have to do lots of time-consuming reps.

How to do it:

  1. Attach a rope handle to an overhead pulley. Grab the handle and then kneel down. Pull your hands down to either side of your head.
  2. Flex your abs and pull your elbows down toward your hips.
  3. Return to the upright position and repeat.

9. Medicine Ball Sit-Up Throws

Sit-ups are best done using a slow, steady rhythm. This ensures the tension stays on your muscles.

That all changes with medicine ball sit-up throws, which are more of an athletic power exercise.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet flat. Hold a medicine ball in your hands above your head.
  2. Quickly lift your head, shoulders, and upper back off the floor, and hurl your medicine ball at a wall or to a partner.
  3. Catch the ball as it is returned to you, lie back down, and repeat.

10. Boat Pose

Boat poseBoat pose is a yoga abdominal exercise. Like planks, it is an isometric or static exercise. However, unlike planks, it’s done face-up and provides your hip flexors with a good workout.

How to do it:

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs bent and feet flat. Sit up and place your hands next to your knees, arms straight.
  2. Lift your feet off the floor and straighten your legs, so your body resembles a V-shape.
  3. Hold this position for as long as you can, remembering to breathe throughout.

11. Flutter Kicks

Your final sit-up alternative is a special forces’ favorite. This exercise works your abs and hip flexors using just your body weight.

Put on your combat boots for a more authentic special forces experience!

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your back with your legs straight. Place your hands under your butt and flatten your lower back. Lift your legs, head, and shoulders a few inches off the floor.
  2. Kick your legs like you are swimming. Four kicks equal one rep.
  3. Keep going for as long as you can, stopping if you feel your lower back lifting off the floor.

Are Sit-Ups Necessary?

Sit-ups are a very traditional exercise that has been popular for a very long time. That popularity suggests they are effective. That said, they are not the only abs exercise you can do, and some experts go so far as to suggest that they aren’t the best choice for some people.

Thankfully, there are plenty of other exercises you can do instead that are every bit as effective. Use the sit-up alternatives in this article to keep your workouts fresh, interesting, and productive.

Bottom Line

Sit-ups are popular if somewhat divisive exercise. On the one hand, people have been doing sit-ups for years, which is a good indicator that they work. Otherwise, they’d have vanished many years ago.

However, some fitness and medical experts believe that while sit-ups can be effective, they aren’t so good for lower back health. This issue is often made worse when you anchor your feet. This increases hip flexor activation, and the hip flexors are attached to your lumbar spine.

Whether you love or loath sit-ups, it’s always helpful to have plenty of alternatives. If you stick with the same exercises and use them over and over, your workouts will eventually become less productive, and your progress will stall.

The good news is that there are dozens if not hundreds of different exercises you can use to train your abs. Some are variations of or are similar to sit-ups, while others use different movements altogether. Some overload your muscles using things like cables or medicine balls.

Remember, though, while all of these exercises are good for your abs, there is no need to do them every day, and you’ll get better results from your workouts if you combine them with a healthy diet. After all, your abs are just one of over 200 muscles, and you’ll see more progress if you train your entire body.


Patrick Dale is an ex-British Royal Marine and owner and lecturer for a fitness qualifications company. In addition to training prospective personal trainers, Patrick has also authored three fitness and exercise books, dozens of e-books, thousands of articles, and several fitness videos.

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