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Should Sit Ups Really Be Banned?

After the post about standards earlier this week, today we have one about Military fitness, and arena where standards absolutely must be upheld.

Before we continue, this isn’t just about military fitness, I am not military. I’ve trained lads up to not just pass, but ace the fitness tests to join and pass out of the army and I’ve spent a good deal of time training with former elite forces guys who know a thing or two about the physical needs of a soldier.

But that’s not what we’re about today.

It seems the US army has eliminated the sit up from their test. While I think it;s a good idea, I’m not impressed with their reasoning.

Have a read and come back to me:

First off, referencing Tony Horton of P90X???


Now, Dr Stuart McGill, he’s a smart cookie.

But, and it’s a big but, is it the sit up that is causing the issue?

I work with Muay Thai and BJJ players who bang out hundreds of sit ups and crunches daily, few of them have back problems.

The ones that do, well we can usually fix that fairly quickly by:

  1. Strengthening their extensor chain (Hips, hamstrings, middle & upper back)

  2. Restoring some functional range to the hip flexors

  3. Taking a whole body view.

The main problem with the sit up, and the reason the crunch largely came to replace it, is the fact that the hip flexors tend to dominate the movement in so many people. And as the psoas muscle attaches onto the lumbar spine, guess what? Yes, we can easily fuck up the back!

This is actually an opportune moment to throw in a sales pitch…

This topic of low back pain caused by spending a lot of time in a forward flexed position is covered in a lot of detail in my eBook, Fighting Back. Yes it was written for the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu audience, but the information is applicable to a much wider audience than that. So buy it.

No seriously, buy it, here’s the link:

Anyhow, back to the army and the sit up.

If your body works well, there’s no reason not to do sit ups. If your hip flexors always feel tight, don’t touch them.

And then there’s the plank.

Is that really such a good replacement?

Not in my opinion.

The plank can be as problematic, although as it’s a static can be easier to control. Most planks we see demoed look like this:

Note the angle of the pelvis

Note the angle of the pelvis

And this is terrible. Anterior pelvic tilt which gives an aesthetically pleasing bubble butt, but also places the stress in the back rather than on the abdominal muscles.

Tuck the pelvis under and the abs will start screaming at you, you’ll also notice the glutes get involved.

Like this:

See how the hips are tucked under, much better

See how the hips are tucked under, much better

So the question really becomes two fold:

Why are the recruits in such poor shape that they’re getting hurt by something as simple as a sit up?


What are the honest and real needs of an athlete?

To answer the first one, we need to be doing individual assessments, and in large groups that may not be practical.

What are the needs? Abdominal and core strength are vital, but there are a multitude of ways to improve it without ever getting on the floor. The Canadians are lifting sandbags, which I approve of assuming good form is adhered to.


Farmers walks are another great option, particularly if loaded one side at a time.

You can hit tyres with sledgehammers, punch the heavy bag, wrestle/grapple or any number of unilateral lifting drills.

Seriously, a lot of this is in eBook, here’s that link again:

But lets end with a simple point.

No exercise in itself is bad. But your body may not be set up to be able to perform said exercise.

And if you do a lot of running and carry a heavy pack on your bag, I’m going to guess you’re poorly positioned to do sit ups, hence the injury rate, and instead ought to be deadlifting and doing Kettlebell Swings.

Double Swings

Deadlifts and Swings ought to be the corner stone of most fitness programs, especially anyone involved in any form of combat, be it sports or war.

Done well they’ll build a solid foundation of core strength which can be further developed with overhead work and carries. Sit ups are low value, they have value, but low value.

Save them for armour plating the midsection against impact, which is why our Thai Boxers do so many of them.

Now, I’ll sit back and wait for the DoD to get on the phone and hire me to rewrite their entire fitness protocols….


Dave Hedges

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