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Sit-Ups and Push-Ups: How To Do Them Wrong

If you’ve been enjoying the “Move Right Monday” exercise videos we do every other week, I want to give you a little look “behind the scenes.”

I have a friend who helps me create the videos. Every couple of months, he comes to my office with his gear and tapes me demonstrating each exercise. Then he edits them and posts them on my website. Often, when we’re discussing the exercises I’ll be doing, he brings up some questions that people might have, so I can answer them during the video.

Why Not Do A Video About Sit-ups and Push-ups?

A few months ago, we were in between takes and he suggested that we might want to do a video where I would demonstrate how to do a proper sit-up and a proper push-up. After all, these are the staple exercises that everyone in the world seems to know – exercises we all learned in second grade and carried with us our whole lives. Any time there’s a discussion of fitness or exercise on TV, sit-ups and push-ups are the go-to exercises that people always mention first. And when people talk about not wanting to exercise, they always seem to mention the pain of trying to do sit-ups and push-ups. Surely, something this obvious should be in the lesson plan, right? There are so many variations…which ones are the best?

It’s true, they can be very difficult, even painful to do. There are all kinds of cheats and shortcuts we take to make them less painful, all while imagining that we can get all the benefit without putting in all the effort. Why? We’ve taken the number of sit-ups and push-ups we can do at one time and made it into some kind of arbitrary measure of manhood (or personhood). Why? What is it about these exercises that makes doing 1,000 reps some kind of life goal?

Nobody Does Them Right…Not Even Me

When he brought it up, I shut it down right there. Why? In all honesty, I don’t think I’m qualified to teach you a proper sit-up. Except for the very best of the best physically-fit “American Warrior” types, the rest of us do not have the core muscle development to do them right. You’ve seen these people: cut like olympians, wiry thin, rippled with taut muscles. They are truly the ultimate athletes.

A sit-up is done from flat on your back, with your knees flat on the ground. If you can’t sit all the way up and touch your elbows to your knees without lifting your feet off the floor, you’re cheating. If you bend your knees, you’re cheating. If someone has to hold down your feet, you’re cheating. The problem is, most of what is taught is wrong – so wrong, in fact, that I couldn’t find a single diagram of a proper sit-up online. I’ll have to keep looking.

Push-ups are done with the abdomen perfectly flat and straight, like planking. Planking is actually a healthier, easier, more productive exercise for most of us. If your abdomen bends anywhere between your ankles and your neck during a push-up, you’re doing it wrong.


Even though they are introduced to you early in life, these are not beginner exercises. These exercises might be standard in some places, but in order to do them right and get the maximum benefit from them, you have to already be in advanced shape. Even the U.S. military has developed other levels of training to get you in shape to the point where you can handle sit-ups and push-ups.

If you want to hear that part of the conversation, the camera was off, but the microphone was still recording, so we have an audio recording of that moment.

Other Experts Are Talking About It

Honestly, when the conversation took place, I didn’t think anything would ever come of it, least of all a blog article. But this week, the Wall Street Journal did an excellent article that confirmed what I’ve been saying all along: there are several other exercises you could be doing that are more effective for toning and strengthening core muscles, they put undue tension on your back muscles (especially if you don’t do them right), and most people do them wrong. I wanted to make sure we talked about it here, because it is important to understand.

I Have Something Better For You

So, in case you have ever wondered when I’m finally going to get around to teaching “basics” like sit-ups and push-ups, you can stop waiting. I won’t. I have dozens of other exercises lined up that will help you far more. Like this one. It’s the first one we published last winter. Start with that one and do it for five minutes five to ten times a day. Do that for several days, or a week, and then add the next one. Do them for a few minutes each, or alternate them throughout the day. Then add the next one.

Over time, you will build a repertoire of movements that will strengthen and tone the muscles around your abdomen – the “core muscle groups.” You will start to feel stronger, healthier, more energetic, more stable, and more sturdy. That’s what these movements are meant to do. Plus, you can do them at work, at home, or anywhere you are. You don’t have to go to a gym or the park or anywhere else, and you don’t have to spend a dime to get the full benefits.

Let’s make 2016 the year we all got in better shape with these simple movements. Join us on Facebook (look for Fundamental Health Solutions and like our page), where we are building a community together. We are sharing our successes and encouraging each other to keep growing. I hope to see you there.

“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your principles is a PROMISE.”  — Eric Thomas

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