How To Stop Neck Pain During Ab Crunches

How To Stop Neck Pain During Ab Crunches

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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This 4-Minute Belly-Blaster Workout Will Make You Burn Fat for Hours

This 4-Minute Belly-Blaster Workout Will Make You Burn Fat for Hours

Some workouts fall into what I call the “interest-bearing” category.

That’s because with some workouts, you don’t just burn calories while you’re doing them. You also burn calories for hours (and sometimes days) after.

And that’s just one of the reasons weight training rocks. Doing an intense weight-training workout is like making a deposit in your calorie-burning account.

Now, it’s true you won’t burn thousands of extra calories as a result of an intense workout. But according to one study, women’s metabolisms were up 4.2 percent the day after their workout (1). 

Here’s the cool thing, though: you don’t need to spend an hour in the gym lifting weights. You can spend as little as four minutes and still get a great calorie-burning workout.

In fact, when you do cardio-based high-intensity interval training (HIIT), you burn 6 to 15 percent more more post-workout (2).

And HIIT appears to attack the most dangerous (and least loved) fat of all: belly fat (3).

Not bad, huh?

Tabata Workout Circuit

Here’s a fast and fun workout blast you can do on its own or as a finisher for another weight-training workout. That’s actually how I recommend doing this – as a little capper after another workout. That way, you’re already warmed up.

This type of exercise is called a Tabata, named after the coach that first came up with this format.

During Tabata workouts, you alternate periods of brief periods of hard work with even shorter rest periods, for a mere 4 minutes. This style of training improves both aerobic and anaerobic fitness, helps with body composition change, and is meant to be done with intensity (4) (5).

Because of the brevity of the workout, when I say “hard work,” I mean: HARD. This is relative, depending on your current fitness level as well as any health issues you might have. 

Tabata workouts – like all HIIT workouts – ramp up the burn using a process called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) (6).

That’s not as complicated as it sounds. Basically, because these workouts are so intense, your system has to ramp up its output. That means your muscles, heart, lungs, and more work have to work extra-hard.

Your body has to work hard to return your system back to its baseline, burning more energy (or calories). 

That’s the EPOC effect.

In fact, your body has to work so hard during these workouts – and during the recovery – that you shouldn’t do them more than 2 or 3 times a week, on non-consecutive days.

The Tabata Myth

Here’s something to keep in mind when it comes to doing Tabata workout circuits: they should be hard.

You know those 30- or 45-minute Tabata classes held at some fitness clubs? 

This might sound picky but they really aren’t Tabata workouts. Yes, they’re intense, but I prefer to call them Tabata-style training. Why? It’s impossible to sustain the amount of effort required by an actual Tabata workout for an entire group exercise class. They might follow the format of a Tabata workout, with built-in work and rest intervals, but without the crazy level of intensity required.

I’ve led my share of Tabata-style trainings, so I’m not knocking them, but that is just a reminder about the intensity required when you do the 4-minute “finisher” versions.

Fast and Furious Tabata Workout Circuit

Warm up for 5 to 10 minutes (or do this at the end of another workout, my preferred method)

  • 20 seconds box squats to overhead press (you can use a medicine ball, dumbbell, kettlebell – whatever works). Find a bench/box that is about knee height. Holding your weight at your chest, squat till you’re almost touching it then stand up, pressing the weight overhead. Work with intensity!
  • 10 second rest
  • 20 seconds jump rope (or jumping jacks), working with intensity. Feeling like more of a challenge? Do burpees – see how many you can do in the space of 20 seconds.
  • 10 seconds rest
  • Repeat for 4 total cycles (or 4 minutes)

Cool down completely by briskly walking.

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Tabata Circuit Workout