During my time as a personal trainer at Bally Total Fitness, my favorite method of working my abs was to get one of the other trainers on the staff to follow me over to the decline sit-up bench and hit me twice in the stomach during the eccentric phase of the exercise, just like one of the trainers in the Rocky 2 training montage. (It’s very difficult to overstate how important those training montages were to me back then.)
Were those direct blows to my stomach beneficial in any way? No way. Not only were they superfluous, they probably did more harm than good. Did they make me look like a badass? Also no. They made me look like the biggest bozo in the gym (which is saying something). But was I at least using the right sit-up bench? Again, probably not. Because whether or not sit-ups are even safe, let alone helpful, is heavily dependent upon the angle at which your tailbone engages with the hard training surface, the curvature of your spine and if you initiate the pull of the exercise from your legs.
In addition, relatively recent research has revealed that sit-ups are pretty useless outside of the initial abdominal-contracting motion, so the better question would be how helpful sit-up benches are in the first place. To that end, let’s take a look at a few different ones to determine if they’re as ineffectual as my Rocky II inspired ab routine, or if they’ll result in such washboard abs that you’ll no longer require a washing machine.
Commercial Sit-Up Bench: Finer Form Semi-Commercial Sit-Up Bench
Why You Should Sit Up and Take Notice: This is the type of sit-up bench that you’re most likely to find in a commercial gym. The leg placement adjusts into arrangements that approximate the position you’d find yourself and your legs in if you were performing your crunches on the floor, and the angle of the decline is able to be adjusted through four variable levels of elevation. Not to mention, the heavy-duty nature of this bench makes it suitable for all of your decline lifts as well, including decline bench presses and decline tricep extensions. It further offers a support handle for leg raises, and wheels that make it easy to transport around your house or apartment.
Why You Should Just Opt for the Floor: Despite its ability to have its angles adjusted, none of those potential angles permits this bench to be arranged parallel to the floor. Also, despite its hefty price tag of $249.99, it lacks a Roman-chair, hyperextension option, which therefore shifts it toward the expensive side of the category, especially if you’re in the market for a flat bench to do other exercises with as well.
Dedicated Home Abdominal Bench: GYMAX Adjustable Sit-Up Bench
Why You Should Sit Up and Take Notice: For only $69.99, this isn’t a bad second bench option to have around your home if you feel your midsection could benefit from having its own bench devoted to its improvement. Its curvature provides some ergonomic advantages, specifically at the opening stages of the crunch movement, inviting you to start from a relaxed position and bring the abdominals through a fuller range of motion than a flat bench would. That curvature also comes in handy during lying leg raises, offering you a smidgen of additional room to lower your legs into. Finally, this bench provides you with the ability to perform back hyperextensions, effectively targeting the backside of your midsection and balancing out your development.
Why You Should Just Opt for the Floor: For some, the position of the dual handles intended for leg raises may be an improvement over the vertical-handle variety offered by different benches, but others will be required to reach further back than their bodies will allow and potentially orient their shoulders in too vulnerable of a posture. Along those lines, the curvature of the bench may offer advantageous angles for some midsection-strengthening exercises, but it would place the back in a suboptimal position for other workouts you might have wanted to do, including the decline bench press and lying tricep extensions. And even if the bench was as flat as a board, it still lacks the option of being adjusted into a parallel position, negating many of the most popular standard exercises, like flat bench press.
All-Purpose Weight Bench: Finer Form Multi-Functional Weight Bench
Why You Should Sit Up and Take Notice: This bench is truly multifunctional in one of the purest senses. It has the ability to flatten itself out so that you can engage in the bulk of the most popular bench-based exercises, or decline into three different depths for crunches, leg raises and several declined weightlifting movements.
Why You Should Just Opt for the Floor: It’s nice to have the theoretical option of being able to perform all of your favorite lifts, but it’s nearly impossible to optimally situate yourself to begin a grueling set of dumbbell bench presses when you have a Roman chair pad staring you directly in the face, blocking you from getting the dumbbells arranged on top of your knees first before you descend into the proper position. Also, benches with this many moving parts tend to skew toward the unstable, which may result in you sacrificing some of the assurance of a rigid platform in order to acquire all of that functionality and exercise variability.