I have seen several references to situps being harmful due to "high compressive lumbar load" and recommending crunches. When researching where the quote came from, it looks like every reference quotes the same paper by a Dr. Stuart M. McGill named Stability: from biomechanical concept to chiropractic practice. The author being a chiropractor pricked my ears since this is a profession which had sponsored beliefs ranging from "vertical subluxations" that can harm everything from backs to your brain to your liver to your chi (and, in the lab, any given pair of chiropractors will identify completely different "vertical subluxations" for the same patient). I don't know if Dr. McGill has a degree in any form of science-based medicine — his various biography pages are coy as to what he has other than a "PhD" — but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

That said, has there been an supporting or opposing research on his claims? Is there any proof other than a 1999 paper?


Yes, situps are incredibly harmful.

Why? Dr. Stuart McGill said so. Why is that important...

Stuart McGill is a respected academic on spinal mechanics, and most definitely not a chiropractor!

If you look at that his profile which you linked, he is the Director of the University of Waterloo's Spine Biomechanics Laboratory. The paper you mentioned is peer-reviewed and cited by 39 articles, and he is one of the most published and cited authors on spine biomechanics.

Out of pure interest I have read one of his more recent paper on core strength and back stability, and he is pretty methodical about his work and his paper are filled with actual statistics and descriptions scientific methods.

From a pure broscience perspective, he has been interviewed by T-Nation and Bret Contras and they are look like they lift, so you gotta trust them bro.

There are few names I trust in fitness, and when it comes to core exercises and strength Stuart McGill is one of them. If he says sit-ups are bad (which he does, and backs up with actual peer-reviewed science) then I'd believe him.

  • 2
    Bro you lumped Bret Contreras in with broscience? That hurts man. – Eric Oct 24 '14 at 1:39
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    Wow bro, do you even logic? Broscience is based on brologic, which revolves around the ultimate question - "do you even lift bro?". The key proof in Brologic is "Brost hoc ergo bropter hoc", which states that "if they look like they lift, they must know about lifting". Since Bret is huge, and looks like he lifts, he's must know about lifting. Now, just as formal logic and boolean logic are not mutually exclusive, neither is brologic, so there may be other methods of proving Brets credentials. I chose the most efficient method. – user2861 Oct 24 '14 at 1:47
  • Brost hoc ergo bropter hoc lulz – Eric Oct 24 '14 at 1:58
  • Mainly because most of his papers and books have chiropractry in their title? :) And yes, I know he's a professor. That means he has a doctorate. Said doctorate could be in anything, include a D.C. – Sean Duggan Oct 24 '14 at 2:30
  • No, they don't there is one paper (that was targeted to Chiropractors), but none of his books and very few of his papers mention "chiropractor" in the title. You have an unhealthy level of scepticism. – user2861 Oct 24 '14 at 3:04

Well to get away from vague statements, what do you mean by harmful? Are you asking if situps are inherently bad to your health?

If situps are harmful if you have injuries to the areas involved in a situp?

My personal reasoning is that situps are not harmful. Claims to compressive loading don't make sense as you do them supine - you are under a constant compressive load when you stand. So any loading would have to add up to that level and surpass the max weight you can comfortably carry. (You don't twist do you?)

However, if you normally do a few situps and suddenly decide a 100 situps is what "strong" people do, I would say that is harmful.

Overusing your core muscles (abs) would lead to trunk instability as they would be excessively fatigued and you may injure yourself during or after the exercise as they would be unable to do their role in stability, or in a reduced fashion.

As always, just because a little is good, doesn't mean a lot is better.

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