Growing up in many school activities we were made to do sit-ups and push-ups. In Navy Cadets we did pushups and situps whenever we exercised. I have also seen it included in many general fitness programs, including in a poster that appeared in our offices in the past couple of days.

Why are push-ups and sit-ups so common?

Is there any indication that these either:

  • Easy for the general population to perform without significant risk of injury?
  • Have a greater reward for effort compared to other exercise?
  • Exercise a greater part of the body or areas of the body that need more attention?

3 Answers 3


Speaking specifically to push-ups:

  • They don't require any equipment
  • They are fairly effective
  • They exercise a wide range of muscles (chest, triceps, shoulders, abs)
  • They can be easily modified depending on fitness level and target muscle(s)
  • They are easy to learn
  • They are pretty safe
  • It's easy to track progress (I could do 25 push-ups last week, this week I can do 28)

Sit-ups have some of the same advantages, although they can cause back problems and their effectiveness as an abdominal exercise is limited because the range of motion brings into play the psoas muscles, etc.

My guess as to why they haven't been fully replaced by crunches is that it's easier to learn the form and count if it's "all the way up, all the way down" rather than trying to learn exactly where to stop. That, and it's just habit/tradition.

Because back and biceps require a pulling motion, it's hard to come up with exercises that don't require some kind of equipment. Since the pull-up only requires a bar, it's fairly popular as well.

  • 1
    +1 for easy to track progress. your body is the best equipment for workout
    – KJYe.Name
    Commented Apr 18, 2011 at 15:16
  • Regarding situps over crunches, it's also a lot harder to "cheat" situps by launching yourself up with a convulsive movement. Back in middle school, I used to pride myself on doing a few hundred crunches at a sitting (it was a martial arts thing), but I've since come to realize that I was avoiding serious physical effort by doing the crunch in convulsive jerks rather than a smooth movement, a punch instead of a push. I've yet to find a way to do situps the same way.
    – Sean Duggan
    Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 15:45

@Aardvark's answer is excellent, and I'd like to add one more to his list...

  • Everyone already knows about them

Compare this with the burpee, which is also an easy to learn, safe, effective, easily modified, easily tracked, equipment-less workout, but much less widespread.

  • perhaps it would have been better to comment this on @Aardvark's answer, so we just end up in one 'best' answer?
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Apr 18, 2011 at 16:15
  • shrug I've seen people do both on the main stack overflow site. I can do that from now on if that's how we roll here.
    – eykanal
    Commented Apr 18, 2011 at 17:45
  • I know it's not required, but if all you have to add is one bullet point vs his 7, well then perhaps it would just be better to up his 7 to 8 ;-)
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Apr 18, 2011 at 18:37

Push-ups emphasize the chest, shoulders, and triceps but every muscle in the body has to do its part for a proper push-up to take place. Your lats, traps, and abs must stabilize your pushing muscles, while your lower back, legs, and glutes need to stay engaged to keep your hips from sagging or piking up too high.

By performing sit-ups or "crunches", you are helping to strengthen and firm up the rectus abdominus muscles, more commonly known as the "six-pack". But crunches will do nothing to reduce the amount of fat you have on your tummy.

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