Weighted sit-up? Hernia waiting to happen!

Meyken Houppermans, PhD. CrossFit Level 3 Trainer.
Founder and Head Coach
Every (weighted) sit-up causes pressure on your spinal column similar to 340 kg. This is a risk for the development of spinal issues, especially for ‘morning athletes’. There are better alternatives.

Controversial exercises

Every (weighted) sit-up causes a pressure on your spinal column similar to 340 kg. Such a great pressure can lead to spinal issues such as discus protrusion where the core of the disc is going to bulge out or to a hernia where that core actually comes out. This can cause severe pain in the back, buttocks and legs when the bulgy nuclear puts pressure on the nerve and nerve roots become  inflamed. (However, there are also people with a herniated disc without symptoms) This risk also applies to exercises like the weighted back extension and the Russian Twist.[1]

Research has shown that a combination of spinal compression with lumbar flexion and lateral bending (executing an exercise with load in which you lean forward or hollow your lower back while moving sideways at the same time, like the Russian twist) increases disc pressure, contributes to early disc degeneration and increases the risk of disc injuries such as herniation.[2]

Furthermore, some stretches often adviced to relieve back pain in the morning should be avoided in case of spinal issues. Such as pulling the knees to the chest, dropping the knees to one side, or standing and touching the toes with the hands. These stretches trigger a stretch- reflex that relieves back pain or stiffness for about 15 minutes. But, because these movements put the spine in a position in which the discs are aggravated, the situation becomes worse over time. and a vicious cycle of stretching and worsening begins.


A strong core, meaning muscular endurance that supports spinal stiffness, is essential to all human movement. You cannot squat, deadlift, bench press, run or cycle if the core is weak. A strong core can help to prevent and fix many back problems.

The risk of back and neck injury is three times greater in the morning. During the night the vertebrae of the spine absorb fluids from the body, making them more bloated in the morning than in the evening. That is why the human body is taller in the morning than in the evening. This makes the back stiffer in the morning and makes it more difficult to move. It can complicate movements such as bending over, pulling your knee to your chest, situps and heavy lifting. It’s much safer to do core exercises and heavy lifting two to three hours after waking up and at least after having a walk. In every case a proper warm up at moderate intensity is key. The spine needs time to set in the right position after sleep. [3]

These three exercises are scientifically proven to be safe and result in a strong core.

Create your own health!©


[1] Ghorbanpour A, Azghani MR, Taghipour M,Salahzadeh Z, Ghaderi F, Oskouei AE. Effects of McGill stabilization exercises and conventional physiotherapy on pain, functional disability and active backrange of motion in patients with chronic non-specific low back pain. J PhysTher Sci. 2018 Apr;30(4):481-485. doi: 10.1589/jpts.30.481. Epub 2018 Apr 13.PMID: 29706690; PMCID: PMC5908986.; McGill SM. Low back exercises: evidence for improving exercise regimens. Phys Ther. 1998Jul;78(7):754-65. doi: 10.1093/ptj/78.7.754. PMID: 9672547; Waterbury, C.(2012). An interview with Dr. stuart McGill. Part 1.

[2] Cibulka, M. T., Sinacore, D. R., Cromer, G. S., &Delitto, A. (1998). Unilateral hip rotation range of motion asymmetry inpatients with sacroiliac joint regional pain. Spine, 23(9), 1009–1015; Jandre Reis, F. J., & Macedo, A. R. (2015). Influenceof hamstring tightness in pelvic, lumbar and trunk range of motion in low back pain and asymptomatic volunteers during forward bending. Asian Spine Journal, 9(4),535–540; Neumann, D. A. (2016). Kinesiology of the musculoskeletal system: Foundations for rehabilitation (3rd ed.). Elsevier; Sorensen, C. J., Johnson, M. B., Norton, B. J.,Callaghan, J. P., & Van Dillen, L. R. (2016). Asymmetry of lumbopelvic movement patterns during active hip abduction is a risk factor for low back pain development during standing. Human Movement Science, 50, 38–46.

[3]  McGill, Stuart. (2015). Back mechanic. The secrets to a healthy spine you doctor isn't telling you.