Curl-up your way to a six-pack

Study finds sit-ups don’t do much for your abs and can be a strain on your back.

by Jill BarkerThe reasons to stop doing sit-ups continue to mount.

First, Stuart McGill, professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo, declared the sit-up more harmful than helpful. And now a study out of Youngstown State University in Ohio says sit-ups don’t build strong abs.

The goal of the study was to find the most effective method to strengthen the rectus abdominus, the long flat muscle that runs between the sternum to the pubic bone and forms the much-coveted “six-pack.”

Despite the fact we have been doing sit-ups for years, there’s a shortage of definitive research stating the optimum training protocol necessary to maximize stength gains.

Some experts suggest that the abs, like any other muscle, benefit from an every-other-day training routine.  Others maintain that a daily diet of sit-ups yields the best results.

Then there’s the question of whether a traditional sit-up done without any added resistance (beyond body weight) provides the necessary training stimulus to strengthen the abs.

The Youngstown State University study, published in the October, 2009  edition of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, separated 71 men and women into three groups.  The control group did no sit-ups.  The other two groups performed three sets of 20 repetitions (30 seconds” rest between sets) of three distinct abs exercises for 11 weeks.  Group One performed the sit-ups three times a week on non-consecutive days and Group Two trained the abs six days per week.  The ab exercises increased in difficulty every four weeks and speed was regulated by a metronome.

The results surprised even the researchers.  None of the three groups of exercisers demonstrated any strength gains. Nor did they reduce their waist circumference or percentage of  body  fat.

“This finding suggests that training the abdominals with resistance levels short of fatigue is inadequate to produce strength gains, and may be consistent with findings suggesting that pushing a muscle to repetition failure is more effective in producing strength gains,” said the study’s authors, Jennifer Pinter, Ken Learman and Renee Rogers.

The authors did acknowledge that the exercise regime may have improved muscular endurance, but it was not measured in the study.

What does that mean for anyone who wants a stronger set of abs?

The message is clear:  Sit-ups aren’t going to get the job done.

Muscles need to be sufficiently fatigued before they can build strength.  That fatigue is notable only when the muscle has reached its repetition limit, at which point  your abs are so fatigued, you can’t perform even one more sit-up.

That being said, when it comes to well-conditioned abs, strength may not be your ultimate goal.  McGill suggests that building muscular endurance is more important than building muscular strength–at least initially.

Which means training the abs to work harder, longer is better than developing strength without endurance.  He also says repeated bending of the spine (similar to the action that occurs during a sit-up) increases the risk of back pain.

If you want a better-conditioned set of abs,  substitute curl-ups for stability exercises such as the plank, or try McGill’s modified curl-up.

Time in the gym is too precious to waste on exercises that fail to live up to their billings.

Canwest News Service

Breaking News: Monday, March 29, 2010

[The use of the Mastermoves Core Training Program “Masterdisc” to tone up the abdominal muscles follows the principle of exercising the “abs” to fatigue when following a comprehensive Core Training program. This is a major reason that Fred Samorodin, RPT recommends this program instead of ineffective sit-ups! ]

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