Those sit-ups might be working on your abs, but they're doing no favors for your back. A new editorial published by the Navy Times, an independent publication covering the U.S. Navy, called for the banishing of sit-ups from required physical readiness tests, calling them an "outdated exercise today viewed as a key cause of lower back injuries."
U.S. Navy sailors aren't the only people calling for the end of sit-ups. Recently, the Canadian Armed Forces banned the exercise from its fitness test because of rising concerns for injury and the fact that it's not relevant to military work. Tony Horton, the creator of the P90X video workout series, also removed sit-ups from his workout routine.
"I really believe that the traditional, antiquated crunch has seen better days, and it's time to make a change," he told the Wall Street Journal.
Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics at Canada's University of Waterloo, explained that sit-ups or crunches can put hundreds of pounds of compressive force on the spine. McGill has found that this force plus the repeating flexing motion of the sit-up can squeeze discs in the spine, which is what develops bulges that press on nerves and cause back pain.
So what kind of exercises can people do to replace sit-ups? McGill said that there are alternatives that people can try that are better for your back but achieve the same result, like a modified curl-up he invented where you place hands under the lower back and barely lift your shoulders from the floor.
The Navy Times recommended replacing sit-ups in the U.S. Navy routine with a 50-yard load carry, a standing long jump or a kneeling power ball toss. These exercises can better test a sailor's upper body strength and ability to carry heavy weight, the article explained. Commander David Peterson, executive officer for the physical education department at the U.S. Naval Academy, wrote a paper in a 2013 edition of Strength and Conditioning Journal, advocating that the Navy replace sit-ups in the physical readiness test with a plank pose.
Other experts, according to the WSJ, also suggest replacing sit-ups with a plank pose, when a person holds the body straight in the upper position of a push-up. This exercise strengthens a variety of core muscles, which is actually more effective than a sit-up.
If you're experiencing lower back pain from sit-ups or other exercises, you should schedule an appointment with a professional chiropractor.