The L-Sit and V-Sit Are Core Bodyweight Alternatives to Situps

The L-Sit Kicks the Sit-up’s Ass

I’m sure most people reading this post are familiar with situps and crunches, if not with the L-sit. Situps and crunches are frequently staples of workout routines intended to develop washboard abs.

Calisthenics enthusiasts often replace situps and crunches with more effective core and ab exercises. Further, there is genuine concern about injuries that can be caused by doing too many situps and crunches.

We’ll cover a number of those situp and crunch alternatives here, and what to be concerned about related to situps an crunches. We’ll focus strongly on the L-Sit–a difficult but accessible exercise that can drastically improve your fitness in a hurry.

The sit-up is a well-known bodyweight exercise that targets the mid-section. Your back, abs and hips are all “strongly” involved. (see what I did there?)

via GIPHY

OK, that’s not quite it. Here’s how you actually do it:

  1. Lie on your back, put your feet under something heavy like a chair or a pair of dumbbells, and bend your knees.
  2. Put your hands behind your head, stretch your elbows out so your shoulder blades retract.
  3. Activate your core, then raise your torso towards your knees.
  4. Keep the head straight, looking forward – don’t pull it forward or touch the chest.
  5. Retreat to the starting position.

So that seems pretty simple.

The situp does apply resistance to the abdominal muscles, so we should add it to our routine if we’re trying to sculpt a better looking stomach.

Maybe.

Maybe we can vary it up some.

What kinds of Situps and Crunches are there?

via GIPHY

Livestrong contributed this list of 21 types of crunches and situps — check out the demonstrations and steps for each in that article:

  • Standard crunch
  • Weighted crunch
  • Reverse crunch
  • Raised leg crunch
  • Swiss ball crunch
  • Weighted swiss ball crunch
  • Frog crunch
  • Bicycle crunch
  • Side crunch
  • Full Sit-up
  • Wide Leg Sit-up
  • Running Man Sit-Up
  • Dragon Flag Sit-Up
  • Reverse Crunch Pulse
  • V-Ups
  • Medicine Ball V-Ups
  • Stability Ball Back Crunch
  • Russian Twists
  • Weighted Russian Twists
  • Scissor Kick Crunch
  • Side Plank Crunch

There are plenty of ways to incorporate situps and crunches into your workouts.

The question is, is it safe to do so?

Why is the Sit-Up Bad for you?

Situps aren’t good for you. In fact, I want you to consider calisthenic movements as an alternative to situps.

You’ll need to be careful if you have back pain. Perhaps try doing your situps on a medicine ball to minimize the stress on the back as you raise your torso.

But it’s more complicated than that.

The sit-up is notoriously bad on the back. It’s really a fundamental flaw of the exercise, not just something to be covered up by performing the exercise using a medicine ball.

Experts now recommend exercises like the plank, which is an isometric exercise that tenses the muscle without any movement.

The trend I’m seeing is towards isometric exercises to work isolated muscles, but building overall strength using compound movements that strengthen multiple muscles–which better prepares you for the demands of every day life, in which you aren’t just using one muscle at a time to get work done.

Harvard Health puts it this way:

One reason is that sit-ups are hard on your back — by pushing your curved spine against the floor and by working your hip flexors, the muscles that run from the thighs to the lumbar vertebrae in the lower back. When hip flexors are too strong or too tight, they tug on the lower spine which can be a source of lower back discomfort….[A]ctivities of daily living, as well as sports and recreational activities, call on your muscles to work together, not in isolation. Sit-ups or crunches strengthen just a few muscle groups.

But core strength is vitally important:

There is no doubt that strong core muscles are crucial — they help to stabilise the trunk, enabling your legs to transfer power to your upper body so you can do everything from running and weight training to carrying shopping. By protecting the spine, they also help to prevent injury.

The important thing to remember is that a number of muscles are involved in creating a six-pack, not just your abs. So if you’re doing ab isolation exercises hoping for core strength, it’s like doing bicep curls and expecting improvement in your chest.

RELATED:  Top 3 Bodyweight Training Gurus to Learn From on Twitter and YouTube

So the first thing is that sit-ups don’t engage all the muscles involved in core strength, but let’s look at what they do to the back:

old-fashioned crunches and sit-ups, still the most popular core exercises, are also not the recommended route to a stronger middle. If these are all you do, the results are not only likely to be superficial but can overload the spine in a dangerous way, says Professor McGill.

His own studies have demonstrated that repeated bending of the spine, as happens when we do crunches, can damage spinal discs over time.

So, if not for the fact that they’re not effective and they cause damage to your body, they’re great! 🙂

What About Crunches?

Coaches instructing athletes to perform crunches offer similar warnings:

Crunches are exercises that require you to lie on your back, tighten your abdominal muscles and lift your head and shoulders upward. When you perform them properly, they can improve the strength of your abdominals and provide a variety of other benefits. However, when performed improperly, they can trigger pain and/or injury in your lower back.

In the interest of completeness, there are also some more dubious reasons to avoid crunches and situps that circulate among fitness professionals.

Specifially, several pros advise that the spinal discs can handle a limited number of bending motions over a person’s lifetime before the risk of damage increases.

Ben Greenfield states:

Each of your spinal discs is only able to support a limited number of bending motions over the course of your lifetime before you get low back pain, a disc bulge or a disc herniation.

And since crunches involve lying on your back and repeatedly bending and extending your spinal credit card, they place excessive strain on the part of your low back that has the most nerves and is most prone to wear and tear.

Christina Carlyle agrees:

Each of your spinal discs is only able to support a limited number of bending motions over the course of your lifetime before you get low back pain, a disc bulge or a disc herniation.

I’m looking for scientific backup of that claim, so if you know of any please get in touch with me 🙂

T-Nation points out a couple of examples that, even if outliers, seem to refute that theory:

Manny Pacquiao, one of the world’s best boxers, performs 4,000 sit-ups per day……………Herschel Walker, football legend, Olympic bobsledder, and current MMA hopeful, has been performing 3,500 sit-ups every day since he was in high school. He started doing sit-ups daily when he was 12 years old. Considering that he’s now 49 years of age, this equates to 47,267,500 sit-ups. That’s almost 50 million flexion cycles performed under compressive loading!

Situps Vs Crunches: Who Wins?

If you want to include these in your workouts despite the risks, which one is better? Let’s ask the bodybuilders.

This post on Bodybuilding.com advocates for crunches:

Traditional sit-ups emphasize sitting up rather than merely pulling your sternum down to meet your pelvis. The psoas muscles run from the lower back to the front of the thighs. This muscle action is to pull the thighs closer to the torso.

This action is the major component of sitting up. Because of this, when you are doing sit ups your psoas muscles are the primary muscles being engaged and not your abdominal exercises.

So, sit-ups are a pretty useless exercise if you want to get your abs in shape. Instead, use crunches, because they directly work your abs.

This is a pretty common perspective.

RELATED:  13 Benefits of Pushups And Why You Shouldn't Do 100 Pushups A Day

From a risk perspective, Livestrong.com takes the same position:

There is more risk involved with performing situps versus crunches because of the involvement of both the targeted and stabilizer muscles. Crunches offer a smaller range of motion, which makes the exercise less of a risk.

All things considered, I still believe there are better exercises than the crunch and the situp, but it’s not becuase of the limited number of bending motions I think my back will support.

It’s because these exercises put a lot of stress on the lower back due to their nature and the motions necessary to perform them.

There is something better.

Ditch Sit-Ups and Crunches for L-Sits or V-Sits!

via GIPHY

If your goal is to strengthen the core using bodyweight exercises, you should really focus on the L-Sit and then the V-sit, not to mention one or more forms of the popular Plank.

The plank is a good overall mid section exercise that involves taking a push-up position, your body straight, engaging your midsection and rear to keep your core muscles activated, and then holding that position for a length of time without moving.

Some people do these for upwards of 5 minutes at a time.

The plank’s impact is distributed widely over the abdomen and lower back, which makes it a good exercise for strengthening the overall core. By itself, it is a good alternative to situps.

But you need more.

In the L-sit, you extend your legs forward, and then lift your entire body weight up on your hands. This puts extensive stress on your mid section, which is responsible for holding your legs up in the air.

Currently I can do about a 2 or 3 second L-sit, so I certainly have to do a lot more of them to reach the duration that people can pretty easily hold a plank for.

The L-Sit also works the quads and glutes more to keep the legs raised.

Your arms get a much more vigorous workout as well, as you’re using them to support your entire body weight.

So it’s a bit more localized, but it’s a lot more intense.

What’s V-Sit, then?

The V-Sit is a more challenging version of the L-Sit.

There are two basic variations of the V-Sit.

First, the Frozen V-Sit. Here, you’ll balance on your glutes while holding your legs up in the air at a 45 degree angle. This takes some focus and concentration and puts a good strain on your abs. Meanwhile, notice it’s not performed while balancing on your hands–that’s the Advanced V-Sit.

With the Advanced V-Sit, your objective isn’t to hold yourself up with your legs parallel to the ground–it’s to hold yourself up with just your arms, and then extend your legs up into the air–moving your hips forward to enable that range of motion.

This one’s tough!

Have a look at Ryan’s demonstration here:

 

What about injuries from the L-Sit or V-Sit?

Let’s not kid ourselves–the L-Sit is not without risk. It requires significant back strength and there can be pain involved.

However, the risk is much much lower.

Why?

The L-Sit is a static exercise. It puts your abdomenal muscles under tension without repetitive stress.

Therefore, there’s less stress placed upon your lower back, the spine, vertebrae and discs.

Same goes for the V-Sit–you’re aiming for a static hold, not repetitive motion.

What Equipment is Needed for the L-Sit or V-Sit?

You’ll need some way to suspend yourself on your hands.

Those with experience performing the L-sit (and with long arms) can suspend themselves on the floor with their own hands.

RELATED:  The Herschel Walker Workout & 6 Other Celebrities Into Bodyweight Fitness

Others of us need a little bit of help.

In my experience, I am able to lift myself just far enough off the ground with my hands placed on a couple of small (5-pound) dumbbells.

Others use devices like parallellettes to perform the move. Parallellettes are bars that raise above the floor far enough to allow full range of motion in getting into the L-sit position, and to keep your legs from touching the ground while you’re in it.

Antranik says you can use the floor by teaching yourself to extend your shoulders to keep your arms as low as possible; I’m not convinced that is practical for all people.

Check out these parallellettes if you need inspiration!

Oh Yeah! What about Planks?

Planks are another isometric (hold) type exercise that benefits the core.

Because of the lack of motion during the exercise, it’s similarly better from a risk perspective. And with the variety of planks you can execute, there are plenty of ways to build your abs.

Greatist created a list of 47 different planks including:

  • Standard Plank
  • Rocking Plank
  • Knee Plank
  • Side Plank
  • Reverse Plank
  • TRX Plank
  • Walking Plank
  • Bosu Planks
  • Single Leg Plank
  • Plank on Stability Ball
  • Leg Raise PLanks
  • Bird Dog Plank
  • Plank Rollout

There are a bunch more with demonstrations in that post, so please check it out. And recognize that the plank is a group of exercises that can also benefit your core, while avoiding a lot of the injury risk (and limited benefit!) of situps and crunches.

Floor L-Sit Progression by Antranik

One way to do an L-Sit is to use parallel bars on the ground, or even a pair of dumbbells. This gives you some extra clearance for the butt over the ground.

Doing an L-Sit on the floor is harder. I recommend you work towards the floor L-Sit, but suspend yourself on dumbbells as you’re getting started.

This video by Antranik explains a progression you may  consider as you build your ability to do the L-Sit.

Here’s the progression Antranik encourages:

  • Foot-supported L-Sit
  • One foot-supported L-Sit
  • Tucked L-Sit
  • Extended Legs Tucked L-Sit
  • Full L-Sit

Please note–the series noted here is not a set of “Steps” on how to do an L-Sit, but rather a set of different kinds of L-Sits.

Like other calisthenic progressions, you may need to master one before moving to the next. This is how you accomplish more challenging exercises in calisthenics.

I can’t demonstrate all those L-sit variations at this point in my own development, but I think Antranik did a fine job of demonstrating them in the video.

One Last Thing: the L-Sit Pullup

In closing, I want to share another useful variant of the L-Sit, although it almost doesn’t qualify it is a killer ab scorcher.

The L-Sit Pullup.

This is a pullup that you perform with your legs extended out straight.

  • Jump up and grab an overhead bar
  • Pull your legs up until they are extended straight out, parallel to the floor
  • Now do a set of pullups without dropping your legs.

This one is a good finisher for a workout, or something to add to your regular routine if you are really trying to strengthen your core.

I wish you luck as you add the L-Sit and its variations to your bodyweight routine, and remember…quit it with the sit-ups already! 🙂

 

Image source: Flickr