Often referred to as one in the same, abdominal curlups and situps are two different stomach-toning exercises. Both strengthen the main muscles in your abdomen without the use of equipment and are easy to complete. Learning the benefits of each exercise will help you decide which one is the best for you.
A curlup is also known as an abdominal crunch. This half-situp exercise is used as a test for abdominal strength during The President's Challenge Adult Fitness Test, but is also used as an exercise to tone your stomach. Perform the curlup from a face-up position on the floor. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Position your straight arms at your sides or bend your elbows and place your hands behind your head. Exhale and curl your trunk as you aim to lift your shoulder blades off the floor. Inhale and lower your upper back to the floor.
The situp is a full movement from a face-up to an upright-torso position. The situp is performed with the legs straight out onto the floor or with the knees bent. The leg position is different from the curlup which always has the knees bent. Place your hands behind your head with the elbows pointing out to the sides. Exhale and tilt your hips to straighten your spine as you sit up and bring your torso toward your legs. Inhale and slowly lower your torso to start position.
The rectus abdominis is the main muscle used in both the curlup and situp exercises. The rectus abdominis begins on the lower portion of your ribs, travels down the center of your stomach and attaches to your pelvis. When this muscle contracts, the distance between your ribs and hips shortens, as in the curlup and the situp. Researchers A. Rutkowska-Kucharska and A. Szpala studied how different arm positions affected the curlups use of the rectus abdominis. The results, presented in the November 2010 issue of "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research," show that curlups with arms extended above the head activate the greatest contraction in the rectus abdominis. The obliques contract throughout the situp and the curlup exercise. The hip flexors at the tops of your thighs contract during the full situp.
The abdominal situp places more of a risk on your back than a curlup. If your hip flexors are weak and unable to hold your pelvis in a position that keeps your spine straight, a situp places your back in a hyperextended position. When you lift your torso with your back in an overextended position, you may experience back pain. If your back already hurts, perform the curlup instead of the situp to strengthen your stomach and protect your back.