I have tried a variety of sit-up/crunch exercises over the years: standard, stability ball, reverse crunch, side, raised leg, and so on, and have never finished a set thinking: “Well, that was shameful. And painful.” Until, that is, my editor suggested I try the V-sit-up or V-up. She did this by email, but I swear I heard her chuckling darkly.
What is a V-sit-up?
As the name suggests, it’s a variation on the sit-up, one that develops overall core strength, as well as balance and coordination — and, in my case, a sense of humility. The V refers to the shape you make with your whole body when you perform the move correctly, and that’s where the problem arises because this is, by some measure, the toughest core exercise I have ever attempted.
The V sit-up works the rectus abdominis (the top layer of your abdominal muscles – the ‘six-pack’), and the external and internal obliques, which sit on the sides of the torso, running from the lower ribs down to the pelvis. They’re often neglected because many of us (still!) think only of working the more obvious rectus abdominis in our core workouts.
Because the move requires you to raise your legs as well as your torso, you also work your hip flexors and quadriceps. But you’ll mostly feel it in your core and, I assure you, it burns like hellfire, in a good way.
How to do a V-sit-up
Here's how to master the move:
- Begin by lying on your back, legs together and straight out, arms extended overhead. You don’t have to pretend you’re strapped to a medieval torture rack, so don’t stretch out your arms to the point you’re putting a strain on your neck or shoulders.
- Point your toes and raise your legs slightly off the floor.
- Next, flatten your lower back into the floor, engage your core, and breathe in. As you breathe out, smoothly raise your torso and legs at the same time to create — if you can — a V shape with your upper and lower body.
- Keep your arms and legs straight as you reach for your toes. Inhale as you lower your body and legs back to the floor in a controlled manner, keeping your core engaged.
- Try to keep your legs a few inches off the floor at the end of the move. That’s one rep.
With such a challenging move, the number of reps you’ll be able to perform will depend on your fitness, flexibility, and existing core strength. If you’re new to the move — and this should not be the first core exercise you attempt — aim for three sets of five reps. A little more advanced? Try three sets of 10 reps. Whatever your level, concentrate on form and control. It’s easy to fall into the trap of allowing momentum and your lower back to do most of the work, but that’s a sure way to injure yourself. Do it correctly, however, and you will help to prevent lower back injury.
I did V-sit-ups every day for a week and this is what happened
The first day was humbling
The first day was (not to be dramatic) a disaster. An exhausting, humbling, painful disaster. I found I was wrenching my body upright by using my back, core, and any other muscles I could convince to join in with the insanity. At no stage did I create a V shape. I did make the letter L and I think I did a convincing 7. My legs would not come up as far as I thought they would — my flexibility remains a source of shame — so I noticed I was bending my raised upper body to get closer to them, which is not the point at all.
At the end of the move, my upper back was hitting the floor with a thump, so I was not controlling this phase of the exercise. After the first 10 reps I was sweating and needed time to get my breath back.
I struggled on and by the end of the final set, I could feel the effort throughout my core, from the bottom of my ribcage all the way down to my hips. This was both encouraging and disappointing: I was glad I was giving my core such an intense workout, but I doubted I’d be able to attain the V shape by the end of a week.
My abs hurt, a lot
Day two was much better, but I’d set the bar so low I could have tripped over it. For the first 10 I felt I was controlling the move — I made a U — but the effort involved meant my form fell apart during the second 10. More than once I raised my torso only to find my legs were still hovering a few inches off the floor, as if they’d forgotten they had a part to play. Nonetheless, I was encouraged because I finished the set even though my abdominals were extremely sore from day one.
I had to take a rest day
The following day was hard. My core muscles were tender to the touch, which didn’t worry me so much as make me question the usefulness of every sit-up and Russian twist I’d ever done. Several hours after I’d finished the set I went for a run and my body didn’t hesitate to remind me I’d been putting my core through the wringer. I decided to take a break the following day, to rest the muscles and give them time to begin to repair and strengthen.
On revised day four I was amazed how smoothly I completed the first set. Sets two and three were rough, but I felt no soreness in my muscles and thought I was approaching a wobbly V every now and then. If you watch videos of this move, don’t be disheartened if you can’t emulate those show-offs who seem to be able to almost fold themselves in half while still carrying out a conversation.
But will be adding this to future ab workouts
On day five I did three sets with a consistency I could not have imagined possible on day one. The third set remained a battle with muscle fatigue but I waited five minutes and did a fourth that was as good as my first of the day. I finished the week by adding two more reps to each set, which doesn’t sound like much of an improvement, but, considering where I had started, it made me feel like I’d won an Oscar a week after being slammed for my unconvincing performance as spear-carrier three in the school play.
This is an exceptionally effective all-core exercise and if you can do it, you should. You’ll feel the effort almost instantly, but if you persist for even a few days, you will improve. You may never achieve a perfect V shape, but you will at least win a small Victory.