When I first got into fitness and began actively working out, I did the normal beginner exercises everyone has done, pushups, crunches, and squats. Early on I’d often notice my neck hurt when doing crunches. I began to wonder and ask myself, “why does my neck hurt when doing crunches?” After countless hours of research and training, I am happy to share with you the answer.
The reason your neck hurts when doing crunches is due to incorrect form. This can be pulling your head forward, not using the core enough, holding tension in the neck, sticking out the chin, letting the neck hang, or simply a weak core. All of these mistakes create pressure and tension in the neck, which then causes neck pain.
Reason 1: Pulling Your Head Forward
Issue: You’re using your arms to pull your head forward and to possibly help make the exercise easier. The problem with this is you’re pulling your neck into a position which puts pressure and tension on the neck. This is a common reason as to why many peoples neck hurt when doing crunches.
Fix: I suggest crossing the arms by making an ‘X’ with your arms and keeping it on your chest area. Do not use any leverage to get your upper body off the ground, rely only on the muscles from your core to help you do this workout. Relying on the core, more specifically your abs, will help you do this exercise in a much safer manner and will give you a better overall workout. You abs will become more activate and get worked much more if you focus on if you focus on using them for this exercise.
By keeping your arms in an ‘X’ position and on your chest, this will keep you from instinctively using your arms to help pull your upper body up and make the exercise easier. While doing this makes the exercise easier, it puts a lot of stress on the neck and can be the reason why your neck hurts when doing crunches. This was one of my main reasons as to why my neck hurt when doing crunches.
Reason 2: Not Using The Core Enough
Issue: If you’re relying on your upper body, neck or a combination of other muscles besides your abs to lift you up and do a crunch, you’re doing the exercise wrong. This is a common reason why many peoples neck hurt when doing crunches. An example of not using the core enough is when you use your arms to pull your neck and upper body up to do a crunch. Another example is trying to force your shoulders upwards to get your body up and do a crunch. These are all mistakes I made as a beginner and the reason why my neck hurt when doing crunches.
Fix: My life and all my workouts changed after learning this technique. Its called “bracing the core”. There are different ways to do this, there is bracing the core for heavy compound exercises such as deadlifts and squats. But there is another way, which I mainly use for my ab workouts.
I usually take a deep breath and fill my stomach, then I let all the air out of my stomach and squeeze my abs while holding my breath, as I am doing that, I do a crunch, then as I come back down I’ll begin to breathe in again, and as I release the air again I crunch up as the last amount of air is coming out.
This method taking a bit to get used to and there are many variations of bracing, I researching it more and practicing to fully understand the method, it will change your ab workouts forever. My ab workouts have never been as good as it is now due to this technique. This will not only give you a better ab workout to make your core stronger, but it will help you brace your core and prevent you from relying on the upper body and neck to do this exercise. Never again will your neck hurt when doing crunches.
Reason 3: Holding Tension In The Neck
Issue: One habit I’ve had when starting out and still sometimes have to this day is keeping too much pressure in my neck when doing crunches. This usually happens at the end of my workouts when I am burnt out. When I get burnt out my body tenses up, while doing crunches, my upper body, especially my neck will have a lot of tension because they’re trying to help support my core to do crunches because my core has became so tired from the workout. This is an issue because this tension causes you to instinctively use your neck to help with the workout.
This is a big reason why many peoples neck hurt when doing crunches, I still fall into this myself during some intense workouts, but I usually manage to catch myself making this mistake and quickly fix it before it becomes a problem.
Fix: One of the quickest fixes is to use the technique I mentioned above. Abdominal bracing, this technique will help put all your focus and tension where it belongs, in the abs. As you focus and activate the abs and core, the exercise will become much easier to perform.
Another recommendation is to stop the workout if you get to the point where your body is relying on other muscles besides your core to do the crunch exercise. Its better to stop than risk hurting yourself. As I said above, this used to be why my neck hurt when doing crunches for such a long time, and I still fall into this mistake today, but if you stay aware and fix this immediately during the workout you will be much safer.
Reason 4: Sticking Your Chin Out Or Letting Your Neck Hang Back
Issue: The main rule for any workout is to always keep good form. Form over everything, remember that rule and don’t break it if you want to keep yourself safe from injuries. The problem with sticking your chin out or letting your neck hang back is now your neck is in a position that isn’t aligned with your body, so now more tension is stress is being added to your neck. If you keep your neck in this position for an extended period of time and while working out, you will quickly notice the tension buildup in the neck.
Fix: Always try to keep your head and neck aligned with your body, do not let it hang or stick out because it will be out of position and tension will quickly start to build up. When the neck is aligned with the body, the muscles in the body will support the weight of the head and help support the neck.
Reason 5: Weak Core
Issue: This is huge and very common amongst many people new to fitness. Its completely normal when you’re still new to fitness to have a weak core, but its important to realize you have a weak core and even more important to strengthen it. Now I am sure many people are doing crunches to strengthen their core, but I honestly believe there are many better exercises besides crunches. I don’t do crunches nearly as often as the these other exercises I will soon mention. The reason is because these exercises have such a better effect on the overall body.
If you’re wondering why does your neck hurt when doing crunches, I highly suggest trying out some of the exercises I’m going to mention below!
Fix: The solution to a weak core is to do exercises that have a better overall effect on the core and exercises which work the core much more. Doing exercises that activate the core will teach you how to better brace the core and build overall strength that will help you in all other workouts and life. With a strong core, you will be less likely to have injuries and have a much better posture.
These are some exercises I believe are better than crunches, to build your core:
- Leg Raises
- Dead Bug
- Windshield Wipers
These are some of the top exercises to build your core and I highly recommend looking further into all of them to build a powerful core. I also recommend if you’re lifting weight to incorporate compound exercises into your workouts, such as squat and deadlift. I recommend compound lifts because usually they will activate the core and build great core strength while still building many other muscles.
These are all my personal recommendations and my experiences on how I found out why my neck hurt when doing crunches and how I fixed it. I suggest keeping them all in mind when doing your workouts and try to do all the fixes I mentioned. If there are too many fixes, just do one fix at a time, then the next workout do another fix, and keep building it up. After a while of doing this you’ll see that no longer will your neck hurt when doing crunches.
I also recommend gentle stretching if you’re experiencing neck pain, I have some great articles I recommend you check out below!