Sit-Ups Are Bad For You (Maybe)! Here’s What You Might Not Know About Ab Workouts

It’s possible that sit-ups aren’t just torturous garbage dreamed up by sadists obsessed with something made up called “core strength,” but it’s entirely possible that sit-ups are bad for you. Maybe. Well, they could be bad for your back. Eventually. Like, you could pull a disc in your back. It’s not as awful as, say, smoking half a pack of cloves every morning with a frosty glass of vodka, but it could be unchill in the long term, at least according to one so-called professor of spine biomechanics in Canada.

Professor Stuart McGill studied the spines of pig cadavers to see the long-term effects of all that crunching on spinal discs, and the results weren’t great — for the pigs, at least. As the BBC’s report points out, people who do sit-ups aren’t doing them at the same rate or frequency as the pigs’ spines were being manipulated. Also, we are not pigs.

According to the BBC, “Research published in 2005 on soldiers stationed at the U.S. military’s Fort Bragg attributed 56% of all the injuries sustained during the two-yearly Army Physical Fitness Test to sit-ups.” That said, how many of us are doing the sort of rigorous sitting-up required of soldiers? Probably not a lot! Plus, there are lots of other reasons why the discs in your back could degenerate into creaky goo; according to the Twin Spine study, it could be as simple as genetics.

There are ways to mitigate the possibility of injury from sit-ups, besides just not doing them. According to McGill’s book Back Mechanic, putting your hands underneath your lower back minimizes the stress, as does keeping your head and shoulders just barely off the ground. You can also experiment with bending one knee while keeping the other extended. Of course, there are other studies that report sit-ups don’t actually do anything at all, so knock yourself out.