Sit-ups and push-ups have been around for centuries. We have relied on these exercises throughout the years to build core strength and definition. I often associate these workouts with being performed in gym classes at school or in the military. Sure, plenty of people do them, but these people came by their physical fitness by combining these with other methods of exercises.
I must confess that push-ups are not my favorite workout to do. It is an exercise that requires mental discipline and the right form. Proper technique is important, as with any exercise, to minimize the risk of back or shoulder injury and maximizing its effectiveness. Many people end up distributing their weight on their back or shoulder muscles instead, putting a great deal of strain on them in the process. The key is using the arm muscles, (the triceps and biceps), to lift and lower the body along with clenching the ab muscles. This can be sometimes difficult to achieve in a full body push-up. There is a simpler variation which is done by shifting your weight on your knees instead of the balls of your feet. Perform the push-up as normal.
As for a basic sit-up, you are only targeting certain abdominal muscles. Even for people who are able to do them well on a sufficiently regular basis, they would only be targeting mostly their upper ab muscles. If done improperly, the lower back and hip flexors are strained because the abs are not engaged in the lift. Upper abs are only one component when it comes to achieving core strength. There are different variations of the sit-up which target the obliques and lower abs. The side crunch and the elbow to knee crunch, (alternating sides), are some examples of exercises to add that will target the obliques. Lying leg raises and the bicycle crunch are other examples of exercises which target the lower abs. Combine them all together and you are sure to achieve core definition and strength as a result.
People can now opt for the “all in one” core exercise instead. The plank is an isometric exercise which helps build endurance in your entire core – the rectus abdominis, obliques, lower back, and stabilizing muscles. When done correctly, you are resting with your elbows and forearms on the floor. The tops of your feet can either be flat on the floor or curled. This angle automatically encourages you to clench your abdominal muscles and brace the spine versus bending it when doing sit-ups.
You will need to use all your abdominal muscles just in order to maintain the plank. This workout can get challenging but it is doable with practice and time. Your ab muscles are used for balance, just as you do with exercises that require you to stand on one foot along with similar balancing exercises. Never push yourself beyond what you feel comfortable doing. The longer you plank, gravity will begin to pull your midsection towards the ground and your lower back will start to sag. Pressure is placed on the ribs and into the shoulders rather than on the abdomen. Do not sacrifice form at this point in order to maintain the plank. You can change up the exercise or stop altogether.