It’s one of the first exercises we do as babies as well as an exercise you likely performed in PE class.

It works out your upper and lower abs and is rumored to give you a six-pack. Of course, we’re talking about sit-ups, the controversial workout that was once lauded for its efficiency. Let’s take a peek at this workout’s history and why it has led to such divisive opinions.


Although it’s difficult to pinpoint the invention of the sit-up, some historians believe it dates back to the Greek and Roman empires. Both societies were known for being physically fit and engaging in calisthenics, which are rhythmic exercises that mainly rely on body weight, including pull-ups, push-ups and abdominal exercises. Additionally, the Romans and Greeks created statues sporting six-pack abs, which suggests athletes devoted time and effort working on their abdomens.

Sit-ups have certainly been around since the 1950’s considering they were part of the US Presidential Fitness Test. Furthermore, in the 1960’s, they began appearing in World Records. Thus, while we may not know the exact time period people began doing sit-ups, they’ve been around for quite awhile.

Performing a Sit-Up

In order to properly do a sit-up, start by lying down on a floor or bench. Your feet can be touching or approximately one foot apart. Next, interlock your fingers behind your head, and using your abdominal muscles, pull yourself up into a sitting position. Your spine should be straight and elbows may touch your knees. Finally, slowly lower yourself until your shoulder blades connect with the floor before repeating the exercise.

There isn’t one sole suggestion for the amount of reps you should do, nor how frequently sit-ups should be performed. Try to do ten, and if that’s easy, increase to 25. You can check the recommendations for best practices based on your gender, age and fitness level.

Sit-Up Variations

While many people choose to perform sit-ups by placing their hands behind their head, others opt to cross their arms in front of their chest, so they don’t pull on the neck while exercising. Some people also use abdominal frames or cushions in order to make sit-ups less rigorous. While not required, it can be useful to have someone hold your ankles down or tuck your feet under a sturdy object as you move. Additionally, if you find performing a complete sit-up too difficult, try placing your legs at a 90 degree angle to the floor.

Although similar, sit-ups and crunches are not the same exercise. Crunches require the lower back to stay on the floor, which means less muscles are being used. While crunches may seem like a less intense exercise, they actually burn as many calories as sit-ups, and they’re considered a safer alternative.


While sit-ups are generally regarded as safe, they can lead to lower back pain and hip issues. For this reason, the U.S. Army has recently chosen to remove sit-ups from their physical fitness tests. Additionally, on their own, sit-ups are unlikely to give you that desired six-pack. In order to increase core strength — and potentially get those washboard abs — experts recommend eating a low-calorie diet and trying other exercises instead of sit-ups, including planks and bicycle crunches.

Though they were historically a key component of past exercise regimens, sit-ups can be difficult to perform and can have negative consequences if done incorrectly. Always take time to ensure you’re doing yours properly, and in the event that sit-ups aren’t right for you, consider one of the various other exercises to get you fit and swimsuit-ready — safely.