T Nation

Weighted Decline Sit-ups


Chad Waterbury, I know you recommend these, so if you could take a look at this thread, I'd appreciate it.

I like to do weighted decline situps for sets of 3-5. I prefer to hold a plate behind my head. Things were going great, but now that I am up to a 35, I am experiencing some lower back pain doing this. I find that my lower back has a tendancy to arch more towards the bottom of the movement as the weight used increases. I do not touch my back to the bench at the bottom. Could I possibly have the incline set too high?

Any thoughts?


I'm interested as well


Hey bro, I do these as well. I know you weren't looking formy opinion but, your lower back is being used in these movements as well. This is good. Your abs will get ripped and youe lower back will strengthen. Just a part of working abs bro...you want to get ripped you gotta feel the pain...

Be happy...Never satisfied!!!


I have been doing decline sit up for a long time now, but the technique i use is to hold a dumbell on my chest, i started off on a 20kg dumbell and went up to 35kg. I usually do 3 sets of 10-12 (not done them for about 2 months now)

It has done wonders in terms of the strenght of my abs and I can see the top 4 muscles even when i was at 15-16% bodyfat.

I don't know if the way i do them is less effecive or anything.

It will be intersting to hear what Chad' view on this is.


your psoas muscle attach to the spine and are pulling on the spine thru the lower part of this movement (think of a hand reaching thru you stomach and yanking on your spine...)
the type of abdominal contraction in this type of movt is largely isometric until you are coming towards the vertical when the effective load drops (due to the decreased lever arm) and concentric action takes over. in my mind this is a hip flexor exercise not a rectus abdominal one.
i hope this helps/made sense :wink:


Keep the weights in front of you so you do not put pressure on you back. You're probably "pulling" too much with the weight in back. You're better off "pushing".


Am I misunderstanding something? Why not just use a lighter weight? You could aslo try holding the weight against your chest. What weight were you using before the 35s? If it was 25, then that would be too large a jump in weight, simply hold a 25plate together with other smaller plates if you don't have platemates to bring up the weight in smaller increments.


First off, you're better off holding a db on your upper chest. Holding a plate behind your head forces excessive low back arching even when the load isn't high. Second, be sure to stretch your illio/psoas musculature because it sounds like yours might be too tight. Third, the correct type of bench is imperative. Utilize a bench that allows you to hook your feet at the top portion, instead of underneath the bench surface. Benches that mandate you to hook your feet underneath the bench tend to place excessive strain on the lower back.
Yes, the decline you're using might be too great. Any decline greater than 45 degrees is usually excessive. In most cases, a 30 degree decline is ideal.


Thanks for all the replies. I think Chad and Whetu hit the nail on the head - psoas major pulling on the lumbar vertebrae.

I think the decline bench I use is the only one in the gym, and it is the kind that hooks the feet under the bench (0 degrees of hip flexion). In this case, might I be better off lying on the floor with the knees bent and having my feet anchored and doing my sit-ups this way? I could have my training partner hold my feet down or stand on them. Also, I will try this with a dumbell on my chest, although I assume I will need a lot more weight.

Chad, know any other good weighted ab exercises? (besides plate drops!) I've also been doing hanging pikes with a dumbell between my feet.


Whetu, I agree that the prime movers in a decline sit-up will be the hip flexors, but saying that it is not a rectus abdominis exercise is like saying good mornings are not an erector spinae exercise! Knowhatimean?


yeah pat i Knowhatumean...
what I mean is that for the majority of the movement the "abs" are in an isometric contraction. if this is what you are training for then sweet. how ever if you want a weighted concentric/eccentric rect-ab exercise then cable crunches, wood chops, weighted swiss ball cruches etc would be a better alternative.
the tornado ball also looks awesome, unfortunately i have only ever done rubber medicine ball throw to a wall which i doubt would be as good. Damn i'd would love to get my hands on one of those puppies.
Oh also sledgehammer work on a big ass truck tyre is a good alternative if you have the room and access to these.
cheers for keeping me in line tho :wink:


You could also use standing cable crunches - awesome ab exercise.
Perform by standing with your back to the cable stack. Utilize straps, a rope or V-bar and hold the handle behind your head (hands next to ears or on top of shoulders depending on the handle).
From a standing position, crunch down and flex the trunk forward until your elbows touch the tops of your thighs.

Give this a try if the decline is causing problems.


The way I do these to avoid lower back strain. Hold the dumbell on you chest high enough so your chin is "resting" on the handle. Sit straight up, relax your lower back to let it round. Lower until you can't hold your back rounded, sit back up and repete.

This way I don't feel anything in my lower back even with a heavy load.

You can also try sit-ups in the cable cross. Hook your feet under the support on one side, use the lower pully on the "head side" for resistance. Works great.


I've only been to a few commercial gyms in my life, mostly worked out in school gyms, so I have no idea what kind of decline bench you guys are talking about.

The only ones I've ever seen are incline/decline benches where at the top, where the head goes if you were doing an incline bench, the feet hook under a bar that is approx. 2-3 feet below the end of the pad. Kind of like a stirrup.

Please explain or likn me to a webste that sells them. I'm curious as all hell!


Yup, whetu has it right. Your hip flexors are stronger than your lower abs. I am going to get trashed for this, but 'you' should not do any situps with your feet anchored until you correct this. I am well aware of the fact that hip flexors and abs were designed to work in an integrated fashion (as so many powerlifters say, or writers of powerlifting articles write), but it is no use training them in that fashion if you have strength and coordination imbalances in these muscles.


I wasn't meaning a dig at you Chad. More a case of that powerlifters want to use heaps of weight for every exercise. Just because this is a very effective way of training these muscles together doesn't mean that it is right for everyone. Sorry if it sounded different.

Hanging leg lifts will target the rect-abs.  These also stretch the hip flexors and lower back if done correctly.  I don't know if there is an efficient way to add weight to these (tying a dumbbell to your feet?).  Aim for high reps and you shouldn't need weight.


Too bad I don't have a sledgehammer and a tire, that sounds perfect.

I actually tried the standing cable thing a few weeks ago. Seems like a great exercise if I ever want to do high reps. However, I prefer low reps in my current split and there seems to be no way to do this exercise when the weight you have to use is more than your bodyweight. (I'm only about 169)

I've been doing hanging pikes (touch shins to the bar you're hanging from) with a 5 lb dumbell between my feet (must be careful not to drop it). You wouldn't believe how much resistance 5 lbs adds when it's on a 3 foot lever arm!


Try the swiss ball situps with a weight. Just try them. hip flexors are lrgerly taken out of the equation (unlike leg-raises, pikes, decline situps etc)
Keep you ass on the ball as much as possible to lengthen the lever arm (ie dont have th small of your back on the ball). These are way harder than cable crunches. if you can do more than 35lbs for 10 good reps i would be surprised.


If I were you, I'd just perform traditional sit-ups with your feet hooked. Therefore, the decline issue won't be a dilemma and you'll be able to use a ton of weight. No, it's not exotic but it's a great exercise nonetheless.