sit-up alternative
Exercise Alternative

9 Sit-Up Alternatives to Revamp Your Workout

For many of us, the sit-up was the first exercise we ever did. Over the past few decades, however, this fundamental core exercise has come under fire, with many people pointing out that it places too much stress on the lumbar spine.

While the sit-up debate rages, I’m about to arm you with ten awesome sit-up alternative exercises that allow you to work your abs and core without putting undue pressure on your lower back. Make use of them to add variety and intensity to your midsection workout. 

1. TRX Pull-In

Why it’s a great alternative

The TRX Pull-In is an effective sit-up alternative because it combines the elements of instability, gravity, and bodyweight resistance to deliver a very intense core workout. It is great for core strength and flexibility. 

Muscles worked

Rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliques

Step-by-step how-to

  1. Attach the TRX to a secure uptight and extend the straps so that the foot stirrups are about 12 inches from the floor.
  2. Place your feet in the foot stirrups and extend your body out in a straight line with your arms locked.
  3. Now draw your knees in toward your chest.
  4. Reverse and repeat. 

Equipment used 

TRX 

Tips

Keep your core tight and maintain a neutral spine position. 

2. Swiss Ball Pike

Why it’s a great alternative

The Swiss Ball Pike strengthens and builds core strength and power.

Muscles worked

Entire core area

Step-by-step how-to

  1. Place your feet on a Swiss ball, with your body extended out and hands on the floor with arms fully extended so that you are in the plank position.
  2. Keeping your legs straight, draw the Swiss ball toward your torso, as your hips come up into the air.
  3. Contract your core in the top position.
  4. Slowly return to the start position.
  5. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.

Equipment used 

Swiss Ball

Tips

Maintain a natural arch in your lower back throughout the exercise; do not round it! Keep the ball under control at all times. 

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3. Windshield Wiper

Why it’s a great alternative

The windshield wiper exercise targets the obliques at the side of the waist. In doing so, it also improves explosiveness and power emanating from the core. 

Muscles worked

Obliques, Hip flexors

Step-by-step how-to

  1. Lie on the floor with your legs in the air, perpendicular to your torso. Your arms should be on the floor at your sides.
  2. Hinge from your hips to lower your legs down laterally to the left, stopping about six inches from the floor.
  3. Reverse to come back to the start position.
  4. Now lower to laterally to the right, again stopping just short of the floor.
  5. Do 3 sets for 20 reps. 

Equipment used 

None

Tips

Keep your legs off the floor at all times; do not pause between reps; keep your upper body down on the floor. 

4. Inverted Hinges

Why it’s a great alternative

The inverted hinge movement isolates and contracts the entire core area while eliminating any stress on the lumbar spine. 

Muscles worked

Abs, obliques, intercostals

Step-by-step how-to

  1. Get down into the position of a push up with your arms at full extension. From here rise up on your toes and fingers.
  2. From this start position,  lift your hips toward the ceiling, coming up as high as possible.
  3. In the top position, hold for 5 seconds.
  4. Lower and repeat.
  5. Perform 3 sets of 12 reps.

Equipment used 

None

Tips

Keep your entire core tense during the 5-second hold on each rep. 

5. Barbell Roll

Why it’s a great alternative

The barbell roll delivers a fantastic extension and contraction of the abs to completely work the muscle. 

Muscles worked

Rectus abdominis

Step-by-step how-to

  1.  Place a barbell on the floor and get down on your knees in front of it. Grab the barbell with your hands at shoulder distance. 
  2. Roll the bar out to full extension, pause, and return to the start position.
  3. Do 3 sets of 15 reps.

Equipment used 

Barbell

Tips

Be sure to roll out to full arm extension, pausing briefly before returning; do not bend your elbows; maintain a neutral position through the spine.

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6. Around the World

Why it’s a great alternative

The Around the World exercise works the obliques and intercostals through their full range of motion. It also enhances mobility and flexibility.

Muscles worked

Obliques, intercostals

Step-by-step how-to

1. Hang from a pull-up bar with your legs straight and feet together.

2. Hinge at the hips to bring your legs up to the left and then around in a circular motion to the right.

3. Reverse the action in a fluid manner and continue to complete your reps.

4. Perform 3 sets of 12 reps.

Equipment used 

Pull up bar

Tips

Perform the movement in a smooth, continuous manner with no pause between reps; do not swing with your upper body. 

7. Crunch Pulses

Why it’s a great alternative

The crunch pulse exercise very intensely targets the rectus abdominis muscle to give you an awesome ab burn.

Muscles worked

Rectus abdominis

Step-by-step how-to

  1. Get down on the floor with knees bent and hands held alongside your ears. Bring your legs up with bent knees and your feet crossed over.
  2. From this starting position, crunch your abs up while keeping your shoulder blades down.
  3. No begin short pulses up and down.
  4. After 5 pulses return to the start position.
  5. Do 3 sets of 12-15 reps. 

Equipment used 

None

Tips

Perform the crunch pulse through a limited range of motion to maintain focus on the crunch.

8. Alternating Leg Lowers

Why it’s a great alternative

The alternating lower legs exercise targets the lower abdominals with a narrow range of motion that isolates the working muscle without stressing the lower back. 

Muscles worked

Abdominal muscles

Step-by-step how-to

  1. Get on the floor on your back with arms by your sides and legs outstretched. Lift your legs off the ground about an inch.
  2. From this starting position, draw your left knee up to a perpendicular position to your torso.
  3. Lower and repeat with the right leg.
  4. Do 3 sets of 12 reps on each side.

Equipment used 

None

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Tips

Keep your feet off the floor at all times and your entire body taut throughout the movement.

9. Ball Transfer

Why it’s a great alternative

The ball transfer is a dynamically loaded exercise that works your entire core muscles through an extended range of motion. This move will give you a strong core as well as promoting core stability.

Muscles worked

Rectus abdominis

Step-by-step how-to

  1. Lie on your back with knees bent and your arms extended beyond your head, holding a small ball in your hands. 
  2. Contract your abs as you bring your arms up overhead and draw your knees up.
  3. Transfer the ball to hold it between your knees.
  4. Reverse and repeat.
  5. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps.

Equipment used 

Small ball, around the size of a volleyball; you can use a 5-pound medicine ball

Tips

Perform the ball transfer in a smooth, continuous manner. Do not touch the ball to the ground. Keep your core braced. 

Final Thoughts

The nine sit-up alternative exercises that have just been detailed put you in a position to work your core from every angle without hurting your lower back. Combine 2 or 3 of these moves into an 8-10 set workout routine, with reps ranging from a high of 30 reps with a light weight to a low of 10 reps with your heaviest weight. Finally, don’t make the mistake of overtraining your abs – hit them once every 5 days for optimal results. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are sit-ups bad for you?

The traditional sit-up is problematic for your lower back. It places large compression forces on the discs and vertebrae of the spine that can result in long-term lower back pain. 

Can reverse crunches reduce belly fat?

No, reverse crunches cannot reduce belly fat. The exercise will strengthen the muscle that sits underneath your belly fat. The only way to lose the bulge is to eat fewer calories than you burn off. 

Will planks flatten my stomach?

No, for the same reason just given. You cannot spot reduce body fat. To flatten your stomach, do cardio exercise to burn calories and maintain a daily caloric deficit.

Steve Theunissen

Steve Theunissen is a former gym owner and personal trainer based in Tauranga, New Zealand. He is the author of six hardcopy books and more than a hundred ebooks on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness, and fat loss.

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