While typically filed under the “core move” category, sit-ups do more than fire up your midsection.
“Sit-ups are more intense and target more muscles than a traditional crunch,” Alison Staples, coach at &Running in Howard County, Maryland, tells Runner’s World. “Sit-ups also engage the hip flexors, leg and abdominal muscles, chest, neck, and low back,” she says.
This is why, after a few sets of sit-ups, you may feel like you’ve just finished a full-body workout. Essentially, you have.
Also important is how these muscles are engaged.
“When performing a sit-up, your muscles are activated for prolonged holds and contract against gravity,” Staples says.
This activates the muscles’ slow-twitch fibers, the smaller fibers that support fatigue resistance.
“Building muscular endurance and training slow-twitch fibers improves stamina, posture, and stability, all of which are critical to runners looking to improve their times in distance running,” she says.
To strengthen your core and potentially shave time off your long runs, Staples developed a sit-up circuit that includes the classic move, plus four challenging variations.
How to do it: Perform each exercise below for the number of reps listed, resting for 30 seconds between exercises. Repeat the full circuit a total of 3 times.
Each move is demonstrated by Staples in the video above so you can master the proper form. An exercise mat is recommended.
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Lie faceup with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, arms crossed over your chest. Engage your core muscles to sit up so that your shoulders are directly above your hips. Slowly return to the starting position. Perform 10 reps.
Lie faceup with your knees bent, soles of your feet together, and both arms stretched overhead, biceps by your ears. Engage your core muscles to sit up so that your shoulders are directly above your hips and your wrists are above your shoulders. Pause. Slowly return to the starting position. Perform 10 reps.
Lie faceup, legs extended, arms at your sides. Lift your right leg so that it’s perpendicular to the floor and place both hands on your upper hamstring. Using a hand-over-hand motion, “climb” your right leg as you lift your head, shoulders, and upper back off the floor. Reverse the movement to return to the starting position. Perform 8 reps on each side.
Lie faceup with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, heels about 12 inches away from your tailbone, arms at your sides. Press your lower back into the floor as you lift your head, shoulders, and upper back. Reach your right fingertips toward your right heel, then your left fingertips toward your left heel. Continue to alternate, performing 8 reps on each side.
Single-Leg Cross-Body V-Up
Lie faceup, legs extended, left arm reaching overhead, and right arm extended to the side, palm facing down. Keep your right palm planted as you simultaneously lift your left arm and right leg into a V position to meet as close together as possible. Return to the starting position. Perform 8 reps on each side.