Give Up the Sit-Ups! How Yoga’s Plank Pose Can Shore Up Your Core

Recently I’ve been hearing that the U.S. military is phasing out sit-ups! They’re calling them an “outdated exercise today viewed as a key cause of lower back injuries.” Whoa.

Phalakasana in the U.S. Military

Military fitness experts recommend practicing Phalankasana (Plank Pose) on the forearms instead, saying that it’s much safer and a better way to improve and measure core strength. Here’s how Navy Times put it:

It’s well past time, for example, to deep-six the sit-up, an outdated exercise today viewed as a key cause of lower back injuries. Experts say there are better measures of core strength that have the added advantage of being less prone to cheating. The plank, for example, more accurately measures core strength, and because it’s done by holding the body arrow straight while resting only on the toes and forearms, it does not subject muscles to strain by motion.”

The Marines and the Army are also moving in the same direction. Here’s what USMC Life has to say:

Many fitness experts are calling for an end to sit-ups because of the high potential for back damage. 

Military advisers are weighing into the argument as well, suggesting that military branches forgo sit-ups because of the pressure placed on the spine, according to Daily Mail. Instead, advisers are suggesting that the Plank Pose replace sit-ups in a revamped version of the PT test. 

“The Army recently conducted a pilot program where 10,000 soldiers completed an updated PT test where sit-ups were no longer used.”

USMC Life concludes with this damning quote from Peter McCall, the American Council on Exercise spokesman, who said that sit-ups are “an antiquity of exercise best left in the dustbin of fitness history.”  

Of course, we’ve long said that Plank Pose is a great way to build core strength as well as upper body strength, but we know we have US military fitness experts to back us up! And if you’re not already practicing Plank Pose on a regular basis, maybe this will convince you to start.

4 Versions of Plank Pose

To make Plank Pose accessible to almost everyone, we recommend four different versions (below):

Classic Plank Pose

Accessible yoga practice

Plank Pose practiced with a chair

For instructions on practicing these four versions (and who should do which ones for which reasons), see 7 Reasons You Should Practice Plank Pose and Four Awesome Versions to Keep You Safe. 

In addition, the other two Plank poses, Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose) and Purvottanasana (Upward Plank Pose), also help build core strength because the sides and back of your core are as important as the front—something that tends to get overlooked.

Side Plank Pose

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been doing sit-ups anyway. Now I don’t have to feel vaguely guilty about it!

Try this quick, sit-up-free core-strengthening sequence.

Reprinted with permission from Yoga for Healthy Aging.

Photos by Melinda Meza

Nina ZolotowNina Zolotow, RYT 500, Editor-in-Chief of the Yoga for Healthy Aging blog, is both a yoga writer and a yoga teacher. She trained to be a yoga teacher at The Yoga Room in Berkeley, California, has studied yoga therapy with Shari Ser and Bonnie Maeda, and is especially influenced by the teachings of Donald Moyer. She also studied extensively with Rodney Yee, and is inspired by the teachings of Patricia Walden on yoga for emotional healing. Her special area of expertise is yoga for emotional well-being (including yoga for stress, insomnia, depression, and anxiety) and she teaches workshops and series classes on yoga for emotional well-being, stress management, better sleep, home practice, and cultivating equanimity. Nina is the co-author with Baxter Bell of Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being and co-author with Rodney Yee of Yoga: The Poetry of the Body (with its companion 50 Card Practice Deck) and Moving Toward Balance. She is also the author of numerous articles on yoga and alternative medicine.

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