Workout of the Day

Will Sit-ups Get You Abs?


Will sit-ups get you abs?

In short, no.

You can do sit-ups until the cows come home and, assuming you don’t change any of your other habits, the chance of getting your magazine cover midsection is pretty much nil.

Now I don’t just want to leave you hanging with a definitive “no” and call it there. After all, many of you are interested in changing your physique or getting those highly-coveted abs, so let’s break down a few simple pieces that are a part of the ab puzzle.

Sit-ups won’t get you abs, and neither will a million other core exercises, because abs are a matter of body fat concentration and distribution. In other words, everyone has a six pack, it’s just most people are hiding them in the cooler. Because body fat is our primary determinant for abs/no abs, there are two primary pieces that are necessary.

1 - A negative energy balance.

There’s quite a bit more going on than simply “energy in energy out,” but this is still an overarching principle of the system of your body. You consume energy (food) and expend energy (daily functioning and exercise). When consumption exceeds expenditure, you gain weight. Depending on your activity patterns and the foods you’re consuming, this added weight will either be body fat or muscle. Practically speaking, if you want to lose some body fat, you’ll need to consume less than you expend. There’s really no way around this, no matter how many crunches you do before bed. This can be done two ways: eat less, or move more. People generally see best results from doing both. While exercise does burn more fuel than just sitting there, it takes quite a few burpees to equal that side order of fries you opted for…

2 - Exercise.

While sit-ups aren’t going to get you abs, exercise is an important piece of the puzzle if you’re interested in improving your physique. And while it technically is not 100% necessary (you can simply modify your diet and lose enough body fat to make your abs visible without ever setting foot in a gym), I’m interested in best practices here, and I think you should be too, so I’m not interested in half-assing any physique-changing efforts. Exercise helps to expend more energy, but it’s primary contribution is in affecting how your body composition is distributed and in contributing to your overall health and fitness. Exercise, and particularly resistance training, promotes muscle building (and this is good, both for physique and health and performance). Simply put, calories will be needed to build muscle, which positively affects physique and improves energy balance. So what kind of exercise is best? Because the key factors here are energy expenditure and contributing to overall health and fitness, a bias towards full-body, full range of motion, high-intensity movement is going to provide the best bang for your buck. Can sit-ups be a part of this? Absolutely! There’s some mixed evidence on the efficacy of “spot training” (i.e., doing more abdominal work to burn more abdominal fat); but, unsurprisingly, all of the research, regardless of whether it shows benefit from spot training, shows that a negative energy balance is necessary. But let me give you a little secret: you can get abs without ever doing a single sit-up. It’s not magic, it’s just doing enough of the right stuff and less of the wrong stuff.

I don’t want to say it’s that simple, because it is hard. I get it. But really, it is that simple. There are, of course, numerous other factors at play here. Composition of your food (quality and macronutrient quantities), for example, will have an effect on how the food is metabolized and how it is distributed on the body (the 165lb couch potato eating 2000 calories of cheetos in a net energy balance will not look the same as the 165lb frequent exerciser eating 2000 calories of high-quality food in a net energy balance, despite all of the numbers being the same). On top of this, we all carry our weight differently, and it does take time (it took you 10 years to get that extra layer around the middle, don’t expect it to disappear overnight). But there’s no way to circumvent the basics here.

Abs really aren’t that important, but I get that they’re on the list of “wants.” The good news is, everything involved in a balanced and effective fitness practice is directly in line with what it takes to get abs. Stick to the process, and you just might find yourself sporting abs in time for beach season.

- PS


  • AMRAP 20

    • 20 cal row

    • 20 step-ups (24”/20”)

    • 20 cal row

    • 20 T2B

    • 20 cal row

    • 20 C2B pull-ups