Crunches work your core by lifting your upper torso and challenging the muscles of your abdomen. Performing crunches incorrectly may cause neck pain and discomfort either during the exercise or as the day goes on. The pain is typically due to pulling your neck forward with your clasped hands when you perform the exercise. Focus on proper crunching form to reduce the stress on your neck.
How Your Neck Is Involved
If you use your neck or upper back muscles to initiate the crunch movement, you may experience neck pain. Especially in the beginning, you may pull your neck forward when crunching because it feels like you are lifting higher and making the exercise more successful with this level of movement. Focus instead on targeting your abdominal muscles. You may also find that you're tugging on your neck when your abdominal muscles are fatigued after a strenuous workout. If this is the case, either move your ab exercises to a different phase of your workout, or select an alternative movement.
The Impact On Your Abs
Improper crunching form not only causes neck discomfort, but it also decreases the effectiveness of the crunch. The pain in your neck signals that you are using your neck and upper back muscles to curl your torso forward, not your abs. This reduces the work of your abdominal muscles, the target muscle group. Relax your neck and focus on using your abdominal muscles to curl your torso to remove neck discomfort and increase the workload for your abs.
Keeping The Proper Technique
To perform a crunch properly, relax your neck and keep your cervical spine, or the vertebra in your neck, in line with your thoracic spine, or the vertebra in your upper back. When you pull your neck forward, you are creating a curve in your cervical spine. Either cup your hands behind your neck to act as a support or place your fingertips on either side of your head. This keeps the weight you're lifting more challenging, but removes the potential to clasp your hands behind your head and pull your head forward. If you find this position too challenging, either fold your arms over your chest and crunch, or place your arms on the floor. Continue to target your abs with the exercise, pulling your abs in as you complete the movement of lifting your shoulder blades off the floor.
Alternatives To Crunching
If you are unable to relax your neck and upper back, perform alternative styles of crunches. A seated crunch does not place any stress on your neck or upper back because you do not curl your torso off the floor. You crunch forward against resistance from a seated position. Reverse crunches allow you to keep your torso on the floor and curl your hips toward your ribs. Hanging crunches also do not place any stress on your neck, though they are a more difficult abdominal exercise.