Question: I have been experiencing neck pain during abdominal exercises. What am I doing wrong, and can I fix it?
If you are experiencing a sore neck during abdominal exercises, the first thing to do is determine whether the feeling you are describing is actual pain (in which case, consult your doctor), or simply fatigue of your neck muscles as a result of the exercise.
The seated or semi-inclined position that is typical of sit-up or crunch exercises means you’re holding the weight of your head up against gravity. In order to resist the weight of your head to keep it from falling, you must flex your neck muscles for the duration of the exercise set.
This is often the weakest link in your chosen crunch movement because your neck muscles will fatigue before your abdominal muscles reach the desired training effect.
The fix is to place your tongue on the roof of your mouth and apply light pressure. This is the same position your tongue assumes when you swallow. This subtle adjustment will allow you to recruit the deep cervical muscles that assist in flexing the neck.
Another solution, which may have several benefits to your targeted abdominal muscles, is to train your abs in a face-down position such as plank. Holding a plank position for up to a minute provides the benefits of stabilizing your core and saves you from the neck pain that is inevitably caused by repeated crunch movements.
More advanced trainees can perform an abdominal rollout on a stability ball or wheel device. These exercises tend to be a better way to train the abs and low back. They are more challenging and never cause neck fatigue.
If you do choose to do any manner of crunch movement, make sure that you do not support your head or pull your head forward with your hands. This will only make your neck muscles weaker and do a disservice to your posture.
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Nichelle Laus is the owner of Optimum Training Centre (otctoronto.com) in Toronto, Ontario. A fitness and cover model, figure competitor, competition and transformation coach for Team Laus (nichellelaus.com), and a certified personal trainer. Nichelle is also a proud mom of four boys under the age of ten.