Crunches can be a real pain in the neck. Although this popular exercise strengthens your rectus abdominis at the front of your waistline, if you're a newbie to exercise with weak abdominals, or if your form is poor, it can do more harm than good. Gradually building up your abdominal strength and mastering proper form is essential to getting the most out of crunches without straining your neck.
About Abdominal Crunches
Although crunches can't spot reduce fat from your tummy, they do strengthen your abs. As part of your core, strong abs can alleviate lower back pain and improve your athletic performance, balance and stability. Traditional crunches are done by lying face up on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat, or with your knees directly above your hips and your lower legs parallel to the floor. You then cradle your hands behind your head for support and raise your head and shoulder blades off the floor to bring your rib cage toward your pelvis.
Mistakes Made During Crunches
There are many common mistakes that can put excessive strain on your neck while performing crunches. Tugging and pulling on your head in order to create the range of motion is one of the most common problems. This is known as cheating and takes the emphasis off your abs, which are really supposed to do all the work. Placing your chin on your chest, pointing your elbows forward and rounding your upper back are similar issues that go with the tugging motion. You might also be under the impression that you have to come up to a full, vertical sit-up position. This can also trigger you to pull on your head and strain your neck in an effort to complete the motion.
Proper Crunch Form
Instead of lacing your fingers behind your head, cross your arms over your chest, or extend them along your body so you can't pull your head forward and strain your posterior neck muscles. To avoid placing your chin on your chest and rounding your upper back, look up at the ceiling and pretend there's an orange tucked under your chin. Pushing your tongue to the roof of your mouth and relaxing the front of your neck can also help. As for the range of motion, keep it small; avoid rising more than 30 to 45 degrees. Len Kravitz, Ph.D., an exercise scientist at the University of New Mexico, states that this also prevents the hip flexors from taking over the exercise.
Proper Exercise Preparation
Before engaging in crunches, warm up your body by engaging in five to 10 minutes of low-intensity cardio. This gets your blood flowing and reduces your chances of strain injuries. Some light stretching and flexibility movements, such as looking from side to side, and neck circles, might also help keep your neck relaxed. If you're new to crunches, avoid overdoing it. Working too hard can fatigue your neck and trigger post-exercise soreness. Work your abs two or three times a week, beginning with eight controlled repetitions of five different abdominal exercises. Include exercises, such as front and side planks, hanging knee raises and reverse crunches to take the strain off your neck.