Loading up the iron to set a new personal record is a lofty (and hefty) goal, but your neck might not be so impressed, especially if you're waking up to tightness and pain in this area the next day. It might actually be a red flag that you're lifting with improper form — or lifting too much for your body to handle.
As you increase your load, consider these five common workout mistakes to avoid hurting your neck during your workouts. Plus, we offer simple fixes to help you work out more effectively and safely.
1. You're Straining During Bench Presses
When you're lifting a heavy load, as with a bench press, proper form is key. You want to keep your entire head on the bench at all times, and your shoulder blades squeezed back and tight, Chan explains.
But if you're trying to press a weight that's too heavy, you may notice your neck straining up toward the ceiling, which can cause your neck to feel achy or sore after your workout.
Keep your entire neck on the bench at all times. As you press the weight directly over your chest, bring your shoulders back and down to activate your back muscles. Keep your core braced, too. If you still struggle to maintain proper form, you should lighten the weight you're lifting.
2. You're Squatting With the Barbell Too High
When you perform a back squat, you may feel the need to hike the bar up toward the back of your head to prevent the weight from falling back. But placing the bar on the boney bump on the back of your neck/top of the vertebrae can cause your neck to strain under the weight, according to Chan. As a result, you may feel pain and even develop a bruise on the bone.
Place the barbell on your upper trap muscles, right below (not on top of) the bony vertebrae on the back of your neck. These muscles provide a cushion for the bar without adding pressure on your neck.
We rated the best barbells for your home gym.
3. You Bend Your Neck When You Deadlift
Maintaining a neutral spine when doing deadlifts is crucial for keeping your neck and back safe. But when you're exercising in front of a mirror, it can be tempting to lift your head to check your form, which is a common error Chan sees.
While you definitely want to be mindful of your form, you should avoid lifting your head when you deadlift. This can cause your neck to strain as you pull up the weight.
"Try looking down at the ground, roughly three feet forward. This will place your neck in a neutral position," Chan says. "Once you lift the weight up, look straight ahead toward the mirror." Think about keeping a straight line from the top of your head to your tailbone at all times.
4. Your Head Pushes Forward Doing an Overhead Press
Notice your head pushing forward as you overhead press? This can definitely be the cause of some unwanted neck pain, Chan says.
A little neck movement during your overhead press is OK, but too much can be problematic. To protect your neck, you want to focus on good posture, which means keeping your head in line with your spine and stacked over your ribcage, he explains.
"Pushing out reps with bad form, especially when fatigued or using weights that are too heavy leads to a loss of form," Chan says.
When you do an overhead press, keep your upper body as stable as possible, initiating movement from your shoulders and arms. You also want to keep your neck in line with your spine, just as when you deadlift. Avoid pressing your chin toward the wall in front of you. If this is too challenging, you should lower the weight you're trying to lift.
5. You're Setting Up Your Bike Improperly
When you sit on your bike, keep your shoulders down and away from your ears, not hunched up, Chan suggests. You also want your arms to be relaxed in front of your body to absorb shock while you're riding.
Whether you're indoor cycling at home or gearing up for an outdoor ride, make sure your bike is properly adjusted. If you're not sure how to do so yourself, ask a professional at a bike shop or an indoor cycling instructor for help.
If you're using an indoor cycling bike, adjust the height on your bike seat so that you're able to keep your shoulders down and away from your ears, and your arms relaxed to absorb the shock of the bike.
Check out these indoor bikes for your at-home cycling workouts.