Sit-up Form


I am taking a test for a Public Safety Position (Corrections) and for this test you have to be able to touch your knees with your elbows when performing the sit up.

On your site you say that this way is not recommended because it involves the hip flexors. My question is, is it bad for your back to perform the sit up this way?

I have to train to do 34 sit ups in this fashion. Any insight would be much appreciated as I do not want to injure myself but I want to be able to pass this test with flying colors.

Answered By:

Mike Behnken, MS, CSCS ANswers the Fitness Question

Short Answer:

No. It is not bad for your back to perform a maximal set of sit-ups as you describe.

Long Answer:  Lordosis

On the other hand it is definitely not recommended for the vast majority to overwork the hip flexor muscles, which is common in abdominal exercises such as in the sit-up form you mention.

Due to our sedentary lifestyles which usually include ample sessions of sitting, our hip flexor muscles become extremely tight.

Tight hip flexor muscles can actually pull your pelvis anteriorly. This excessive anterior pelvic tilt causes the lower back to arch excessively. This excessive arch in the lower back is called lordosis.

Putting your body out of alignment can lead to multiple problems, because after all, your body is a kinetic chain and it is only as strong as the weakest link. Excessive anterior pelvic tilt worsened by improper sit-up form can render your abdominal exercises useless and possibly even cause problems in the joints throughout your whole body including the ankles, knees, and shoulders.

Get a Professional Opinion:

I highly recommend you find a certified personal trainer at your local gym or a physical therapist and ask them to analyze your static and dynamic posture. Don't be alarmed by this long drawn out response. This is just to show you what could happen and it's often not as simple as something that is correct or incorrect.


Sit-ups were once thought to be the best exercise for abdominal muscle strength and endurance but there are far superior exercises for abdominal development. The sit-up form in your fitness test were likely implemented because by touching your elbows to knees it is easy to see if you're cheating or not.

Although the sit-up form you mention is working the hip flexors more than the abdominals, you should train using full range of motion (as you mention) sit-ups so you can improve and be ready for the test. Once you have the job you can then stop this sit-up form and begin performing a wide variety of crunches and core exercises. Also make sure you stretch your hip flexors to keep them at optimal length.

Suggested Reading

Check out the following articles to learn more about posture and how to correct muscle imbalances. Even if you think your posture is great, you may want to take a look at the article anyways, just in case. Plus, we give you some great tips which may come in handy down the road. Once you're confident your posture is all in order, see our 100 abdominal exercises article for over 100 effective exercises.

Here's a Must Read Article on Posture and Muscle Imbalance
Learn why people develop poor posture over time. Learn the muscles which are commonly prone to tightness.

Here's One Hundred Abdominal Exercise Demonstration Videos
Free exercise video demonstrations for your entire core including oblique exercises, core exercises, and exercises for the rectus abdominis or six pack. Remember to first to get your posture assessed before beginning if you want to achieve optimal results.

More Posture Correction Information

  • What exactly is a hunch back? We explain.
    One of the more common postural problems is protracted shoulders which some call hunchbacks, humped backs, and even Quasimodo. Learn how to decrease your chances of developing this unsightly postural problem.

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