What should I be focusing on when doing a situp?
Are there ways to reduce strain on muscle groups that should not be getting strained?
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The primary thing you should focus on is contracting (tightening) your abdominals as you bring your chest to your knees.
I never do the traditional sit-up anymore because it puts so much strain on other areas, and there are safer and more effective exercises to focus on. That said, here are some ways you can reduce the strain on your body during a sit-up: