Can You Do It?
Before you read any further, you need to try this exercise so that you know what I'm talking about. Watch the video and try to do it, and keep in mind these form details:
How Did you Do?
Depending on how well you were able to perform the exercise, you'll have a different way to progress up to the final version.
"I Can't Do It At All"
If you weren't able to do the movement at all, not even for a split second, the first thing I want you to realize is that you're going to have to do a lot of exercises to strengthen your body... but NOT THIS ONE!
You have what we technically call a "form deviation," which simply means you can't get the form right. No problem, you just have to stop doing this exercise until you can get strong enough through some other exercises.
First, strengthen your hip flexors, quads, and back muscles in different exercises. Here is what I want you to work on:
In addition to focusing on the above 6 specific exercises, here's a set of full workouts that can be very helpful overall strength builders. They play all 3 levels simultaneously, so you can choose your level as you go. Here are the workouts:
Get good at these exercises for a few weeks. Once you can do them all pretty well, move on to the next section.
Everyone progresses at different rates. You may need more time, you may need less. One basic principle that you should hold is that your body will tell you when it's ready to move on. There is no shame in staying at this level for several months if needed.
"I Can Hold It, But I Can't Move"
Great! You're halfway there! You can do basically a still-shot of the exercise. What do you do now? The short answer is you just do what you can do for as long as you can.
Here's what it might look like:
DAY 1 - Hold the static (not moving) position with your hips at a perfect 90-degree angle for as long as you can and record that time.
DAY 2 - Try to beat your time (and record time)
DAY 3 - Rest
DAY 4 - Try to beat your best time (and record time)
DAY 5 - Try to beat your best time again (and record time)
DAY 6 - Rest
DAY 7 - Rest
Repeat this process for several weeks until you can easily hold for a full minute or more. Then, your next step is to focus on negatives.
A "negative" is the lowering down part of the motion. So you get into the position with the perfect 90-degree angle at your hip (from the side view), and just lower yourself down toward the floor. Keep your back arched the entire time.
Here's the best way to think about what a negative is...
If you think about the entire movement in the video above, there is the part of the movement where I lift myself from the floor toward my knees, and there's the part of the motion where I'm lowering myself from my knees toward the floor. The harder part of the motion is the "up" or "positive" part. The negative allows you to practice the motion without having to do as much work as the positive.
Your days might look like this:
DAY 1 - Do as many "negatives" as you can with good form (record number)
DAY 2 - Do two sets of whatever your number was from day 1, with 1-2 minutes rest in between the sets.
DAY 3 - Do a static hold (no moving) and try to beat your best time. THEN... do one set of the amount of reps you did yesterday. (one static set, then one active negatives)
DAY 4 - Rest
DAY 5 - Do one set of as many negatives as you can, trying to beat your record. Then rest a minute and do another set of as many active negatives as you can (probably going to be fewer reps than the first one). Then do a set of a one-minute static hold.
DAY 6 - Three sets of active negatives, followed by one minute static hold.
DAY 7 - Rest
Keep adding sets, making it your goal to get up to 20 to 30 negatives while also being able to do another set of a 1-minute hold. Take a rest day every 2 to 3 days. Once you get that, try the next level.
"I Can Do It!"
Great! You're there! Now you can use this exercise as part of a progressive fitness routine. Over the next few weeks or months, build up the number of repetitions until you can do 3 sets of 20.
Here's what it might look like:
Each of these steps should be one week or more, with 3 to 5 workouts per week following those parameters (for example, week 1 contains 5 workouts that each consist of 2 sets of 5). You can play with the format, skip steps, make up steps, etc. Feel free to make slight modifications, but always keep in mind that you want to be progressing over weeks and months. And the best way to know how you're progressing is to track what you're doing.
Why Is This Exercise So Hard?
This sit-up uses the hip flexors and quads to pull you up to the knees. And the abs are forced to work in an "open" position, meaning they are stretched more than they would be in a crunch. Stretching a muscle typically makes it weaker, and harder to contract.
Also, the back muscles are engaging as well, and the back is the opposite of the hip flexors and abs. Imagine doing a bicep curl and simultaneously engaging your triceps. That's kind of what's going on here.
Why This Exercise Is One of the Best
Of course everyone wants to have great abs, 6-pack abs, chiseled midsection with definition, etc. But you don't have to get those abdominals at the expense of your posture. In fact, you can improve your posture with this exercise if you're deliberate with your focus.
Good luck with this. Make your goal to steadily improve everyday, and before you know it you'll be able to do this impressive move.
Please comment below. I would love to hear about your progress.
More in the Podcast
In episode 191 I talk about how important the concept of progression is. This is directly related to trying to progress to be able to do a complicated movement like the Overhead Full Sit-Up.
Listen to Episode 191
Try it Out
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Stop relying on willpower, motivational tricks, and pump-up strategies and learn how to top into your inner fitness fire with Chris' 60-minute audio book: Ignite Your Fitness Passion (published 2015)
Relieve your back pain with this easy-to-follow video program designed to get to the root cause of your pain: muscle imbalance. Check out the Back Pain Module.
Learn the basic principles that make a successful fitness program with Chris' 60-page book, Functional Strength: The Key To Pain-Free Movement (published 2008)