Sit up variations

These sit-up variations explain how to perform the perfect sit up and gives you different levels to challenge yourself.
Published 4 December 2015 | Updated 12 June 2024

Sit-up variation workout

The plan: Start with the basic sit-up and aim for three sets of 10 reps. As your core strength improves, challenge your body by trying the variations on this page.

What you need: A gym mat to cushion your back, and a weight for the dumbbell variation.

Common mistakes: Sit-ups are best done in conjunction with core strengthening exercises to better support your lower back. Sit-ups shouldn't involve straining your neck – you need to engage your core before you begin the exercise, and lift from your torso rather than your neck.

1. Basic sit-up

Do it right: Lie on your back, knees bent. Keep your arms straight and focus on a point beyond your knees. Lift your shoulder blades off the floor to a 45-degree angle. Inhale on the way up, exhale on the way down.

Basic sit-up

2. Low sit-up

Make it easier: Get into position on your back, lightly supporting your head with your hands. Look straight ahead, keeping your neck in line with your spine. Activate your core muscles by pulling your belly button in towards your spine and slightly lift shoulder blades up, breathing in. Lower yourself, breathing out. As you lift, avoid moving your neck and head. Keep your neck in line with your spine throughout the whole movement.

Low sit-up

3. Weighted sit-up

Do it harder: Want a challenge? Add a dumbbell to your sit up. Hold the weight in front of your chest – the heavier the weight, the harder it will be. Keep your feet firmly on the mat. If you feel pressure in your neck return to basic sit-ups and increase the number of repetitions to make it harder.

Weighted sit-up

4. Turning sit-up

With a twist: Starting in a regular sit-up position, lift your shoulder blades up and twist to the right, aiming your left shoulder at your right knee. Lower and repeat the twist on the opposite side. Engage your core.

To make this harder, lift your legs until your shins are parallel with the floor. Keeping your core engaged bring your left knee forward as you lift your right elbow up and across until your left knee and right elbow almost touch. Lower back to starting position and repeat with the opposite arm and leg.

Turning sit-up

Before starting any new exercise routine, make sure to check in with your doctor.