Weighted Sit-ups: Benefits, Risks, Alternatives,…

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There are many different ways to improve your current exercise routine. What about doing weighted sit-ups, what benefits can you expect?

Before you consider weighted sit-ups, keep in mind that you generally can’t target fat loss in specific body parts like your belly. To get a visible six-pack you have to take two main steps.

The first step is losing enough body fat around your stomach area so that your abs become visible. Sit-ups, even weighted ones, are generally not very helpful for this step.

The second step is making your ab muscles bigger so they stand out more. This is where weighted ab exercises like sit-ups can be a great exercise choice. Sit-ups target your ab muscles and by doing the weighted version you can build more muscle and faster.

Keep in mind that even though there are upsides, your injury risk is generally also higher when you do exercises with more weight/resistance. You may want to talk to your primary care provider before starting a new workout routine.

What are weighted sit-ups?

Weighted sit-ups are simply regular sit-ups where you lift extra weight on top of your body weight. To do a sit-up with a free weight take the following steps:

Lie down on your back with your legs bent at the knees and your feet flat on the ground. Hold a weight or two against your chest or in your hands. Curl up your body up until your chest is as close to your knees as possible. Make sure you don’t use your arms but your ab muscles to do this movement.

Lower your head and shoulders until you are back in the starting position. Make sure you pay attention to using the right technique to avoid any injuries.

Some examples of ways to make sit-ups weighted include:

  • Free weights: Dumbbells, kettlebells, a weight plate, a medicine ball, sandbags, wrist weights, heavy compact and portable weights you find around the house, etc.
  • Barbell: This is generally considered a free weight but to do a weighted sit-up with a barbell you preferably also have a weight bench with a barbell rack.
  • Cable machine: To do a weighted sit-up with the cable machine you have to kneel in front of a cable machine with the pulley at a high setting. Then use your abs to pull the weight down. This is not exactly the same as a sit-up on the ground but you can expect similar benefits.
  • Resistance bands: Resistance bands are basically elastic cords that are used for resistance training exercises. By anchoring them somewhere low behind you they can also make your sit-ups weighted.

Which one of these is the best option depends on things like personal preference and what sit-up equipment you have available. Make sure you can hold the option of choice tightly and comfortably in a safe way.

The way you build muscle in places like your abs is by engaging these muscles so that they get damaged enough. This may sound counterintuitive but this damaging makes it so your body repairs these muscles, and adds a bit more to be better prepared to exert similar efforts in the future.

If you stick to exercises with the same weight, as your muscles become stronger this same effort may not damage your muscles enough to promote extra muscle growth.

By adding weights to exercises like sit-ups you are better able to damage the muscles in a shorter amount of time. If you don’t overdo it, give your body enough nutrients, and give your muscles enough rest this can in turn lead to faster and more ab muscle gain.

Things to keep in mind

Even though doing your sit-ups weighted can offer valuable benefits, there are also potential downsides. Adding weight to regular sit-ups increases your injury risk. Make sure you can do regular sit-ups without a problem before adding any external weights to the exercise.

If you have lower back issues sit-ups may not be the best choice. Other exercises like bird dogs and crunches put your lower back less at risk. When in doubt talk to a professional to see if you should do core exercises and which ones would be a good choice in your situation.

How much weight you should use for weighted sit-ups varies from individual to individual. If you are not sure how much weight would be right for you, you can start with light or no weights and slowly build up from there.

If you feel pain in any body parts it may be a sign you are overdoing it. In that case, you may need some rest, better lifestyle habits, a less intense workout schedule, or it may be a sign that doing weighted sit-ups is not for you.

Benefits of doing weighted sit-ups

Some people question how useful weighted sit-ups can be but adding weights to your regular sit-ups can offer you some of the following amazing benefits.

1. Helps you build more muscle

Sit-ups are mainly a strength training exercise, which means they are mostly for improving muscle strength and endurance. Extra muscle is not only beneficial for your health in many ways but it is also considered to be visually appealing.

Some of the muscles you work out with sit-ups include:

  • Abdominal muscles
  • Hip flexors
  • Neck
  • Lower back

As explained previously, doing weighted sit-ups can lead to faster and more ab muscle gain compared to regular sit-ups.

2. Can improve athletic performance

Getting better at a certain sport or exercise isn’t necessarily done by doing these activities more. Cross-training which is training in a different sport can be useful.

A training exercise like sit-ups is done to strengthen core muscles. Weighted sit-ups instead of bodyweight sit-ups even more so.

One study observed that 6 weeks of core strength training led to a significant improvement in 5000 meters running performance compared to the non-core strength training group (1).

Another small study measured that a 6-week core strength training program improved performance in 50 meters front crawl swimming compared to no core strength training (2).

3. Helps you build fast muscle

Not all muscle is the same, it can be made of different types of muscle fibers. These different types have different properties with accompanying advantages and disadvantages.

A common categorization of these muscle fibers is “type 1, slow-twitch muscle” and “type 2, fast-twitch muscle”. Your muscle groups are not made of one or the other, they are made of a certain ratio of type 1 vs type 2 fibers. The way you train can influence this ratio (3).

The type 1, slow-twitch muscle fibers are generally more useful for longer duration workouts like jogging, swimming at a low tempo, cycling at a low tempo,… Basically activities at intensities you can do for an extended period of time.

The type 2, fast-twitch muscle fibers are generally more useful for short duration, fast body movement workouts like sprints, powerlifting, javelin throwing,…Basically activities at intensities you can only do for a short period of time.

As a strength training beginner bodyweight sit-ups will initially help you build type 2 muscle fibers. Once you get to a point where sit-ups start being a less intensive exercise they will help you build more type 1 muscle fibers. If you add external weights at this point you can continue building more fast type 2 muscle fibers.

4. Improved bone density

Exercise can help improve, and prevent degeneration of, your bone density, basically the strength of your bones (4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).

This is helpful for avoiding broken bones. Depending on your age you may not be that worried about something like this right now. However, exercising right now can help you avoid broken bones in 40 years. The things you do today have an impact on the future.

The way many parts of your body work is that by challenging them you set in motion processes that strengthen these body parts. The same goes for your bones, by putting pressure on them you make them stronger in the long term.

Weighted sit-ups put more pressure on your bones than bodyweight sit-ups. This in turn will benefit your bone density in the long term.

5. Makes your sit-ups more time-efficient

Another benefit of weighted sit-ups is that they can help you decrease the time it takes to get in a good workout. A good workout session isn’t necessarily about duration.

For example to build muscle you basically want to put enough strain on your muscles so muscle growth processes start. This doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time out of your day.

Doing weighted sit-ups instead of bodyweight sit-ups can speed up this process. This benefit of weighted sit-ups is especially useful if you have trouble finding enough time throughout your day to fit in a workout.

6. Improves posture

When doing sit-ups, even more with weighted sit-ups, with the right technique you train muscles that are important for a good posture.

Improving your posture will help you avoid related injuries. One small study even suggests that open non-verbal displays, which a good posture helps with, are attractive (10).

Keep in mind that your abs are not the only muscles that are important for a good posture. Other muscles like your back muscles and even your glutes (butt muscles) play a role as well. You can do a lot of ab workouts and still have a bad posture.

Alternatives to weighted sit-ups

If weighted sit-ups are not entirely right for you, you can also do some of the sit-up alternatives with extra weights to get similar benefits. Some examples include:

  • Crunches
  • Leg raises
  • Windshield wipers
  • Reverse crunches
  • Flutter kicks
  • Etc.

For example, if you have trouble keeping your back straight during sit-ups you may choose reverse crunches. An exercise where it is easier to keep a good posture.

You can also do weighted sit-ups on a decline sit-up bench to make the exercise even more challenging.


All in all, it is amazing that you can get so many important benefits from making one change in your sit-up exercise routine.

One thing you need to remember is that even though there are benefits to weighted sit-ups, your injury risk is generally also slightly higher. Make sure your sit-up technique is good before adding weights and pay extra attention to the technique when adding weights.

Especially if you are more of an exercise beginner or intermediate you want to start with regular sit-ups without any extra weights and build up from there. Once you feel you can start doing weighted sit-ups you can start with lower weights first and if that goes well go up to higher weights.

If you feel pain in any body parts it may be a sign you are overdoing it. In that case, you may need some rest, better lifestyle habits, a less intense workout schedule, or it may be a sign that doing weighted sit-ups is not for you.

Also keep in mind that consistency is a big factor for a workout plan. The more you love the exercise you do the easier it becomes to do it consistently. If you like doing weighted sit-ups, great. If not regular sit-ups, sit-up alternatives, and other exercises can also offer a lot of benefits.

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Matt Claes founded Weight Loss Made Practical to help people get in shape and stay there after losing 37 pounds and learning the best of the best about weight loss, health, and longevity for over 4 years. Over these years he has become an expert in nutrition, exercise, and other physical health aspects.