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Sit-ups: Flat Abs and a New World Record

Today's youth culture loves the midriff and the exercises that accentuate it. Brazilian fitness instructor, Edmar Freitas, breaks his own world record and completes 133,986 sit-ups in 30 hours. The old way of doing sit-up is totally wrong; Dr Stamford gives tips for the right way.

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Sit-ups have been around as long as exercise itself. They were used by military and sports trainers to build abdominal muscle long before Joseph Pilates' emphasis on the "core" gained widespread acclaim. Exercise that flattens the tummy is high demand with today's youth culture with their fixation on midriff; we flaunt it with bare belly buttons by Shania Twain and Britney Spears, and the 6-pack abs of Brad Pitt.

Fitness Instructor Breaks World Record for Sit-ups

Last week, Brazilian fitness instructor, Edmar Freitas, broke his own world record for number of consecutive sit-ups, inside the Pinheirao stadium.
Edmar Freitas
Inside the Pinheirao stadium, Brazilian fitness instructor, Edmar Freitas, sets a new record of 133,986 sit-ups.
Freitas reportedly broke his own record of 111,000 sit-ups in 24 hours set in March, 2002, by 6 hours and nearly 23,000 sit-ups, for a total of 133,986 in 30 hours, inside the stadium just an hour before Brazil was to play Uruguay in a World Cup qualifying soccer match.

Jack LaLanne Set First Benchmarks

Jack LaLanne, now 89 years old, arguably "The King of Fitness," years ago completed 1,033 sit-ups in 23 minutes, 1,000 push-ups and 1,000 chin-ups in less than 90 minutes. At the time there was little fanfare for such Herculean feats.


LaLanne is best known for his popular television show that ran in the '50s and '60s where, in his trademark black jumpsuit, he demonstrated aerobic exercises, along with mild resistance training.

We've Come a Long Way, Baby

Sit-ups have gone through an evolution in the last couple of decades from the old straight leg where your training partner actually held your knees down as you folded your hands behind your head and "sat-up" usually twisting the elbow to the opposite knee. We now realize this is all wrong and harmful. Today we favor the bent knee "crunch" where we actually exercise the abs and not the hip flexors.

Dr Stamford, Director of the Health Promotion and Wellness Center and professor of exercise physiology in the School of Education at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, offers some advice on proper sit-ups, excerpts are below.

When done properly, sit-ups help tone the muscles in your midsection, which can help protect your back as well as improve your physique. When done wrong, however, sit-ups can be a waste of time--and possibly even harmful.

The main purpose of sit-ups is to strengthen the "stomach" muscles by challenging the abdominal group: the rectus abdominus muscles, or "abs" (two thin strips of muscle that extend from the breastbone to the pelvis), and the three layers of muscles that flank the abs. This might seem to be a simple order to fill, but it's not.

Great care and excellent technique are required to strengthen the abdominal muscles with sit-ups. To be effective, sit-ups must pull the torso upward from a lying position toward the knees using only the abdominal group. Often, however, other, more powerful hip flexors do much of the work. This is especially true with straight-leg sit-ups.

Slow is Beautiful

Start each movement slowly, as if you are in slow motion.

Focus on using your abdominal muscles only. Close your eyes and visualize the abdominal muscles tensing and shortening like slow-moving cables through a pulley that draws your shoulders and head off the floor.

Bending the knees during sit-ups helps neutralize the action of the hip flexors and makes the abdominal muscles work more. Even so, the abdominal group tends to be involved only in the initial phase of the sit-up, after which the hip flexors take over. In addition, doing sit-ups rapidly and with momentum, knees bent or not, does not work the abdominal group very much. That's why raising slowly only part way works the abdominal muscles best.

Avoid Straight-leg

Sit-ups also can be hazardous to your lower back, especially when using the straight-leg variety, which arches the back and may create overextension and strain. Twisting (right elbow to left knee and vice versa) at the top of the sit-up movement is not only useless, it places tremendous rotational stress on the lower back that can lead to injury.

Lie on your back on a padded surface, bending your knees to about 90° with your feet flat on the floor. Don't anchor your feet, because doing so will bring leg and hip flexor muscles into the action.

Choose the position of your hands and arms according to your abdominal strength. The closer your hands are to your head, the more difficult sit-ups become. As a beginner, rest your hands at your sides. When you get strong, you can cross your arms across your chest. Eventually, cross your arms behind your head with each hand on the opposite shoulder if you're able.

Don't, however, interlace your fingers behind your head. When you do, you tend to pull on your head, which can stress the neck and cause injury. Pulling on your head also makes the abdominal muscles work less.

Exhale while the abdominal muscles contract and pull you upward. This will suck the muscles inward, ensuring involvement of the deeper muscles. Inhaling may cause your abdomen to protrude, leading to overarching and strain of the lower back.

Stop about halfway to the upright position--about 6 to 12 inches off the floor--and tense your abdominal muscles. Hold this position briefly, then lower slowly to the floor. As the abdominal muscles begin to tire, you may not be able to rise to midway, but go as high as you can.

Upon returning to the starting point, touch the floor lightly with your upper back and head, keeping the abdominal muscles tense, then begin the next movement.

Sit-Ups Will Not Spot Reduce Fat in the Midsection

Strengthening the abs will not remove fat from the waistline. There is no such thing as spot reduction, because muscles do not fuel exercise by using the fat that surrounds them. Instead, during exercise the body tends to mobilize fat from storage depots throughout the body, so the fat used as fuel during sit-ups may come from the legs, back, face, or other areas.

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Posted: 11/26/2003
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