When you think of sit-ups, you probably think about burning abs, six packs, a strong core, and a defined upper body.
However, most people won’t have considered whether sit-ups work your legs as well as the more obvious upper body muscle groups.
At first thought, this might sound a bit strange, but in this article, we explore whether sit-ups actually work your legs in some way.
We also discuss why your legs might hurt during some sit-up variations, why some people might feel sit-ups in their legs, as well as other useful points such as if sit-ups can help tone your legs too.
Do Sit-Ups Work Your Legs?
Obviously, sit-ups will primarily target your ab and core muscles. However, that doesn’t mean your lower body muscles don’t come into play too.
Your quads and hip flexors will likely be involved in the sit-up movement. This becomes even more true if you hook your feet under a bench or a barbell to keep them on the ground while doing sit-ups.
While your legs are unlikely to work enough to build large amounts of muscle during sit-ups, the exercise certainly works your legs, even if it’s just in a small way.
Why Do You Feel Sit-Ups In Your Legs?
Leg Muscle Activation
When you do sit-ups, it’s not just your ab muscles that activate to make the movement happen.
There are actually many leg muscles that are needed to assist in the movement too.
Your quadriceps, your hip flexors, and other similar lower body muscles have to activate in order for sit-ups to be possible.
While some of the lower body muscles will only play a small part in the overall movement, any time a muscle activates, you could very well feel it working (like in sit-ups).
Incorrect Body Position Or Technique
As with any exercise, if you try to do it with incorrect body position or poor technique, you could quite easily end up feeling the exercise in places that you shouldn’t be.
Not only that, but incorrect body position and/or technique can result in an injury occurring.
This is particularly relevant to exercises like sit-ups where your back and spine are placed under quite a lot of unnatural stress and pressure.
Weak Leg Muscles
Most of the lower body muscles that are used in sit-ups aren’t big leg muscles that are used for lifting heavy weights.
So, there’s a real chance that the leg muscles that activate during sit-ups could be weaker than most of the other muscles being used in the movement.
Any weaker areas of the body tend to be the ones where the pain is felt the most when exercising.
Why Do Your Legs Hurt After Doing Sit-Ups?
Normal Muscle Soreness
Even though your legs aren’t the primary focus of sit-ups, they’re still involved in the movement.
Any muscles that have to activate during exercise should be expected to have some level of discomfort for a few days after.
(This is called DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness.)
As long as any discomfort felt in your legs after sit-ups is mild, it’ll likely be completely normal and an expected result of the exercise.
If your legs are particularly painful after sit-ups, then it might be worth considering that you could have picked up an injury during your training.
Even a minor leg injury can cause quite a bit of pain and discomfort.
If you’re worried that you may have an injury, it’s always a good idea to get a medical professional to assess and advise the best course of action.
Why Do Decline Sit-Ups Hurt Your Legs?
The main reason for decline sit-ups hurting your legs is usually because you incorrectly rely on your leg muscles more than your abs to make the movement happen.
As you’re in a position where your legs are pretty much holding your body weight in position, many people engage their leg muscles to help lift their upper body up to the highest part of the movement.
What you should be doing is relying on your abs to do most of the work and move your upper body.
Try to focus more on your abs than your legs and you might be surprised at how much of a difference it can make.
Do Sit-Ups Tone Your Legs?
Probably not, but your legs will get some benefit from sit-ups.
Sit-ups can be used as part of a full-body training program.
With that in mind, you could say that they assist in toning all areas of your body, including your legs.
However, they won’t be directly responsible for any kind of muscle tone in your lower body as the primary target of sit-ups is your core.
Other Leg Building Exercises
One of my favorite leg exercise is the humble front squat.
Front squats are better for quads than back squats, which are the muscles on the front of your legs.
Those wanting to build a peachy booty will benefit too, as front squats work your glutes very effectively.
This squat variation is done on a hack squat machine.
Hack squats work your hamstrings effectively, which are the muscles on the back of your legs.
And like front squats, this variation is great for a monkey butt as hack squats work your glutes too.
Lunges are great as you can do them from the comfort of your own home.
These are great at the end of your leg session when your legs are fatigued.
I’ve been in the fitness and strength training industry for nearly a decade. In that time, I’ve gained 30 pounds of muscle, written hundreds of articles, and reviewed dozens of fitness supplements. As for my educational background, I’m a currently studying for my Active IQ Level 3 Diploma in Personal Training.