How to Perform the Perfect Sit Up

Avoid injury and tighten your abs with these 5 steps

Do you remember being forced to do perfect sit-ups in gym class, those awful, boring and painful exercises that made you hate gym more than wearing an ugly swimsuit and running the mile? While they might bring back painful memories, sit-ups are actually great exercises for those who are looking to slim down. According to Jillian Hessel, an L.A.-based pilates instructor, sit-ups can be a great way to strengthen and tone your abdominal muscles, but they can also be harmful if you’re doing them incorrectly. By following these steps, you can make sure to perform sit-ups properly.

Step 1: Consult your doctor

You can’t do the perfect sit-up if doing the perfect sit-up is going to make you ill or get you injured. Ask your doctor if you’re ready to begin a new exercise plan that involves sit-ups.

Step 2: Lay your hands flat at your side or place them across your chest, while keeping your legs flat on the floor

Hessel recommends that you don’t place your hands behind your head, as was probably required in your high school gym class. If you are performing a traditional sit-up, you should keep your legs shoulder-width apart and flat on the floor. However, fitness expert Kris Abbey suggests doing a sit-up with a twist on an exercise ball. She suggests that you sit on the ball with your feet on the floor, then allow the ball to roll back until your thighs and chest are parallel with the floor. Next, she recommends that you tuck your chin, cross your arms over your chest and contract your abdominal muscles.

Step 3: Use correct sitting technique

The perfect sit-up uses the abdominal muscles, because engaging these muscles is what tones the stomach. Hessel advises using only your abdominal muscles to help you curl off the floor.

According to Karena Thek Lineback, a Pilates instructor and president of the pilates studio, Pilates Tek, form is very important here. Be sure you don’t pooch out your stomach, but instead keep your stomach as flat as possible by tightening your transversus muscle — the muscle that runs along both your sides and wraps around your back. Keeping your midsection as flat as possible will help flatten your stomach area, whereas training your stomach to bunch as you curl upward may result in the creation of an unsightly stomach bulge, according to Thek Lineback.

Step 4: Breathe correctly

The perfect sit-up is the sit-up that does the most amount of good while causing the least amount of pain. To make sure your perfect sit-ups don’t cause you pain, Hessel recommends you breathe in as you lie down and breathe out as you sit up.

Step 5: Reflect

While resting between sit-ups, or after you have completed your sit-ups, think about your technique and reflect on its effectiveness. According to Hessel, if you’re struggling with pooching out your stomach, you can keep a hand resting lightly on your abdominal muscles. If you’re struggling with other areas of technique, consider an instructional DVD.


To make sure you’re tightening your transversus, try laughing or coughing with a hand over your abdomen and feel for the tightening muscle.


Be sure to use the correct technique when doing sit-ups. Bad technique doesn’t just make you look bad — it can be very dangerous, causing spinal problems that are painful and damaging to your body. Choosing not to do perfect sit-ups also reduces efficacy, meaning you're less likely to get your flat stomach.

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