Dear Wendy,

I often have a difficult time finding a comfortable position for my neck when doing ab crunches, bicycles and so on. Can you offer some pointers to help me?

– J.

Dear J.,

I used to get nagging neck pain when doing ab work too – in fact, I ended up in physical therapy twice as a result of neck pain. Ouch!

But after making some key changes in how I train and work, I’ve been pain free for years (knock wood!).

Before we get into form issues, I have a couple questions.

Things That Might Set You Up For Neck Pain

1. Have you ever had a neck injury? Does your neck hurt when doing other activities? If so, definitely get checked out by your doctor to make sure you don’t have anything serious going on.

2. Do you spend a lot of time sitting — in front of the computer,  at a desk, driving, playing video games, doing crafts or whatever? If so, your posture is likely playing a role in the pain.

Most of us slouch when we sit a lot, rolling our shoulders forward, which sets off an avalanche of muscle tightness and looseness which can equal neck issues, headaches and more.

Confession: poor posture caused my neck pain.

Mine occurred when I was an editor. I spent a lot of time behind a desk, either on the phone or at the computer. And even though I worked out daily, it wasn’t enough to overcome my posture issues until I rearranged my workspace so that it was more work- and body-friendly (better chair, appropriate height keyboard, etc.).

If you’re stuck sitting, check yourself regularly to see if you’re slouching.

Also, add these exercises to help improve your overall shoulder flexibility and mobility while strengthening your core:

And now – finally!!! – here’s how to stop your neck from hurting.

How To Avoid Neck Pain During Ab Crunches

One of the kickers when working abs: if you think about the posture we get into when we’re doing ab work, it can mimic the very posture that causes the neck pain in the first place. We round the shoulders, bring the chin forward, etc.

Below are the don’ts.

Basically, craning your neck forward is a no-no. Also, initiating the movement from the shoulders is a guaranteed ouch. (Thanks to my model Elisabeth Kilroy, who agreed to be my model after I wrangled her at the gym one afternoon.)

 

To get into the proper ab crunch form make sure:

  • You are bracing your lower abdominal muscles. Your lower back should pressing toward the floor so that the muscles between your hip bones feel taut.
  • Next, place your tongue on the roof of your mouth (yes, weird, but it helps to anchor your neck muscles) and then
  • Gently cradle the back of your head in your hands, elbows pointing straight out. It’s important not to actually hold or yank on your head during the movement.
  • Keep your neck long by only slightly tucking your chin, as if there is a big orange held between your chin and chest.
  • Next, perform the crunch by focusing on drawing your ribs toward your hips while lifting your shoulder blades from the floor. In other words, make the movement more about your torso than about lifting up your head/shoulders.

The same basic form goes for doing bicycles, except when you are doing the exercise think about rotating your shoulder toward your opposite knee rather than pulling your elbow across your body.

Have a question you’d like me to answer? Leave a comment or drop me a message. I’d love to hear from you!

Stay strong!

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