Sit-ups are one of the most common exercises to train the abdominals, but some people find it difficult to do them without lifting their feet. This is considered improper form and should be corrected so you can ensure you’re targeting your abs effectively.
So how do you do a sit-up without lifting your feet? To do a sit-up without lifting your feet, you’ll need to work on building overall strength in the abdominals. You can also do butterfly sit-ups instead, bring your feet further away from your butt, focus on curling your torso up one vertebrae at a time, and do your sit-ups at a slower pace.
While you may see people putting their feet under something or having a friend hold their feet when doing sit-ups, I don’t recommend this. It changes your technique so you have to rely more on your hip flexors to sit up, and it places a lot of strain on your lower back.
In this article, I’ll discuss:
- What a sit-up is
- Reasons why you can’t do a sit-up without lifting your feet
- If it’s bad for your feet to come up when doing sit-ups
- Tips for doing sit-ups without lifting your feet
- Whether or not you should anchor your feet when doing sit-ups
What Is a Sit-Up?
A sit-up is an abdominal (or ab/abs) exercise. It’s done by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor and lifting your upper body while keeping your buttocks in contact with the floor. You can place your arms across your chest or put your fingertips behind your head.
Sit-ups are done to strengthen the abdominals. They are often performed during circuit training or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts. They’re also frequently included in physical fitness tests to examine an individual’s strength and endurance levels.
In addition to sit-ups, cable crunches are a highly effective ab strengthening exercise. But if you don’t have access to a cable machine or are looking for more variety, try one of these cable crunch alternatives.
Reasons Why You Can’t Do A Sit-Up Without Lifting Your Feet
Five reasons you can’t don’t a sit up without lifting your feet are:
- Your abdominal muscles are weak
- Your body weight and/or proportions aren’t suitable for sit-ups
- You’re not using proper form
- You’re doing sit-ups too fast
- You only ever do sit-ups with your feet anchored
1. Your Abdominal Muscles Are Weak
One of the main reasons why you can’t do a sit-up without lifting your feet is that you have weak abdominals.
Your abdominals are the muscles at the front of your midsection. They are responsible for holding you up straight and protecting the organs. They also play an important role in functions such as bending forward at the waist and, well, sitting up.
If your abs aren’t strong enough to support you, you’ll have difficulty keeping your feet on the floor as you perform a sitting-up motion. They’ll come up a few inches to compensate for the lack of core strength.
If you can’t do a sit-up at all, you may also have weak hip flexors. Check out I Can’t Do a Sit-Up: 7 Reasons Why & How To Quickly Fix for ways you can improve this.
2. Your Body Weight and/or Proportions Aren’t Suitable for Sit-Ups
Even though a sit-up may seem like a basic exercise, it’s harder for certain individuals to do it based on their body weight and limb proportions – similar to how some individuals may have difficulty squatting because they have long legs, for example.
You may not be able to do sit-ups without lifting your feet if you carry a lot of extra weight in your midsection but have smaller legs. This is because your body weight isn’t distributed evenly and your body can’t stay balanced as you’re doing sit-ups.
Women with larger busts may also struggle with a similar issue. Being more top-heavy means there’s more weight in the upper body that you have to pull up. If your core isn’t strong enough to pull up that extra weight without assistance, your feet can come off the floor.
3. You’re Not Using Proper Form
Even though sit-ups are a relatively basic exercise, it’s easy to perform them incorrectly. Common technique errors include pulling on your neck if you keep your hands behind your head, keeping your feet too close to your glutes, and arching your back too much.
Sit-ups are just like any other exercise – a breakdown in form will usually result in your body doing something to overcompensate. With sit-ups, that could be your feet coming off the floor.
4. You’re Doing Sit-Ups Too Fast
Speeding through your sit-ups can prevent you from concentrating as much as you should on using proper form with each rep. You focus more on completing reps as quickly as possible and using momentum to sit up faster than properly engaging your abdominals.
It’s easy to let technique issues such as your feet lifting off the floor slide when you’re focusing more on quantity than quality.
5. You Only Ever Do Sit-Ups With Your Feet Anchored
If you try to do sit-ups without anchoring your feet (i.e. putting them underneath a piece of furniture or having someone hold them down) but can’t, then get frustrated and revert back to doing sit-ups with your feet weighed down, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice.
Doing sit-ups with your feet anchored turns them into more of a hip flexor exercise, and you’ll never get any of the core-strengthening benefits if you only ever do them this way.
If you’re also not doing any other core work to strengthen your abs, you won’t be able to make them strong enough that you can do sit-ups without lifting your feet.
Is It Bad to Lift Your Feet When Doing a Sit-Up?
It is bad to lift your feet when doing sit-ups. Even if they only come up a couple of inches, it throws off your balance, which means you won’t be able to complete the rep efficiently because you’re not letting your abs do most of the work.
It also forces you to use momentum by “rocking” your body as your feet touch and come off the floor with each rep. You’ll essentially just be leveraging your legs to help you sit up and go back down to the floor, which means your abdominals won’t be doing their job.
Furthermore, using too much momentum can result you in “thumping” your back on the floor every time you return to the starting position. This will become uncomfortable after just a short time and can cause soreness in your back.
5 Tips for Doing a Sit-Up Without Lifting Your Feet
Five tips for doing sit-ups without lifting your feet are:
- Bring your feet further out
- Do butterfly sit-ups
- Slow down your sit-up pace
- Think about curling your spine up
- Strengthen your abs with other exercises
1. Bring Your Feet Further Out
One of the easiest ways to do a sit-up without lifting your feet is to move them out further so they’re not so close to your buttocks. Depending on how long your legs are and how strong your abs currently are, you may need to place your feet about 16 inches or more away from your glutes.
This helps distribute your weight on the floor more evenly and keep your entire body more balanced, making it easier for you to keep your feet down when doing sit-ups.
2. Do Butterfly Sit-Ups
A butterfly sit-up is when you let the soles of your feet touch each other and your knees flare out to the sides. Instead of crossing your arms across your chest or keeping your hands behind your head, you’ll typically touch your fingertips above your head while your back is on the ground and touch your feet when you’re in the sitting position.
By doing sit-ups in this position, you have less of a tendency to lift your feet because it opens your hips more and puts them in a more comfortable position.
As well, your thighs won’t stop you from sitting up all the way so you can move through a larger range of motion, which keeps the tension on your abs for longer. It also takes your hip flexors out of the equation so you can target the abs more effectively.
3. Slow Down Your Sit-Up Pace
Whether you’re doing sit-ups or any other movement, it’s easy to let form slip when trying to move fast. Doing your sit-ups at a slower pace will allow you to concentrate on your form and focus on keeping your feet on the floor.
There are times when you may want to do your sit-ups as quickly as possible – for example, if you’re doing them in a CrossFit workout or trying to get as many reps as possible for a fitness test.
But if you’re doing them at the end of a workout to work on your abdominal strength, you’ll benefit from slowing them down. Not only will this help you keep your feet on the floor, but it will also ensure you’re targeting your ab muscles effectively rather than working the hip flexors or straining your lower back.
You don’t necessarily have to count to a specific number with each rep you do. Just make sure you’re moving at a pace that lets you complete each rep with good form so you can feel your abdominals working and not have to raise your feet.
4. Think About Curling Your Spine Up
One cue that can help you keep your feet on the floor during sit-ups is to think about curling your spine up one vertebrae at a time rather than keeping your back completely flat. This will ensure you’re not relying too much on your hip flexors to get your torso all the way up, especially if you’re used to doing sit-ups with your feet anchored.
This cue can also help you slow down your sit-ups so you can concentrate more on your form as I described above.
5. Strengthen Your Abs With Other Exercises
Doing more sit-ups can help you perfect your form so you learn how to do them without lifting your feet. But they’re not the only core-strengthening exercise you can do, and you may benefit from also doing other ab exercises if your core is particularly weak.
Other excellent ab exercises you can include in your routine are:
- Ab roll-outs
- Pallof presses
- Hanging knee raises
- Cable crunches
As your core gets stronger, you’ll likely find that your ability to do sit-ups without lifting your feet improves.
Wondering if you could just do squats or deadlifts to strengthen your abs? Check out the following articles:
- Do Deadlifts Work The Abs? (Yes, But Not How You Think)
- Do Squats Work The Core? Research From 5 Studies
Should You Anchor Your Feet When Doing Sit-Ups?
It is not recommended to anchor your feet when doing sit-ups. While this makes the exercise easier, it also reduces its effectiveness.
Putting your feet under something or having someone hold them down when doing sit-ups encourages you to use more of your hip flexors than your abdominals. You’ll also likely feel your quads engage more as your legs push against the weight holding your feet down, and your abs will no longer be doing much of the work.
Anchoring your feet when doing sit-ups also increases the likelihood of arching your back, which pulls on the muscles in your spine. This can cause lower back discomfort or lead to muscle strains.
However, there are some instances where you may want to anchor your feet to do sit-ups.
For example, when you do sit-ups in a physical fitness test, you’ll most likely have someone hold your feet. If you’re preparing for a test, practicing with someone holding your feet or anchoring your feet under something else will enable you to replicate the conditions you’ll be tested under.
Related Article: Are Planks Better on Elbows or Hands? (Pros & Cons)
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Can’t I Keep My Feet Down When Doing Sit-Ups?
Reasons why you can’t keep your feet down when doing sit-ups are that your abs are too weak, you’re using improper technique (i.e. keeping your feet too close to your butt), you’re doing them too fast, or your body weight or limb proportions make it more difficult for you to do so.
Should You Put Your Feet Under Something When Doing Sit-Ups?
You shouldn’t put your feet under something when doing sit-ups because it forces you to use more of your hip flexors and less of your ab muscles. It can also lead to strains in the lower back muscles. However, if you’re doing sit-ups for a fitness test, anchoring your feet can help you do more reps within a set time.
Not being able to do sit-ups without lifting the feet is a common issue, but it’s one that should be fixed. Doing sit-ups this way can cause you to use momentum to get your torso off the ground, which takes the emphasis off the abdominals and makes the movement ineffective.
Strengthening your abs, adjusting your technique, slowing down your tempo, and focusing on lifting one vertebrae at a time from the floor can all help you keep your feet on the floor when doing sit-ups. You can also try butterfly sit-ups to put your hips in a more comfortable position and help your body stay more balanced.
However, unless you’re preparing for a physical fitness test, I don’t recommend anchoring your feet. This puts more emphasis on your hip flexors and takes the focus off your ab muscles.
About The Author
Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.