Doing crunches is often synonymous with neck pain, but it doesn't have to be that way. Keeping your neck safe and pain-free during -- and after -- crunches is just a question of adjusting your position. Keeping your neck safe gets easier as your abdominal muscles become stronger, as you won't feel the need to pull in to perform a crunch.
Why Your Neck Hurts
A common problem when doing crunches is neck pulling, which happens when you pull on your neck and head to help you get up during the crunch. This is common if you have trouble performing the crunches because you're not strong enough and need help lifting your upper body off the floor. Pulling on your neck can lead to a sore neck, stiffness and shoulder pain.
The proper position for a crunch requires you to squeeze your shoulder blades together and place your fingers behind the base of your skull. Keep your fingers spread open and do not interlock them. Then relax your head on your hands. Concentrate on relaxing your neck and keep your head back -- with eyes looking up towards the ceiling -- before you push up to perform the crunch. Use your abdominal muscles to help you get up.
If you can't help but pull on your head, remove your hands from behind your head. Instead, place them on your stomach or cross your arms over your chest. If the position is uncomfortable, push your head forward so your chin is bent towards your chest. If your neck still hurts, take more frequent breaks between repetitions so you can give your neck some time to relax.
If you're not able to perform crunches without holding your head with your hands, your neck might be weak. You can try doing neck exercises and stretches on a daily basis to help strengthen the area. A simple exercise is the neck tuck. To try this, either sit with your back straight or stand up. Then push your chin towards your chest and hold the position for 15 to 20 seconds. Then push your head back as far as you can without causing pain and hold. Repeat on each side.
Tammy Dray has been writing since 1996. She specializes in health, wellness and travel topics and has credits in various publications including Woman's Day, Marie Claire, Adirondack Life and Self. She is also a seasoned independent traveler and a certified personal trainer and nutrition consultant. Dray is pursuing a criminal justice degree at Penn Foster College.