If you have neck pain, there are a few exercises you'll definitely want to avoid. In addition to the short list of weight-training moves you should never do, there are also warm-up exercises, cool-down stretches and form modifications to other exercises that also present risks.
Read more: Neck & Muscle Pain After Exercise
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Stop Doing These Four Exercises
There are four exercises, or specific versions of exercises, actually, that you should never do if you have a bad neck. The first is sit-ups or crunches with your hands laced behind your head. This move places a lot of strain on the discs between the vertebrae in your neck and can cause disc herniation. The second exercise to skip is the lat pull-down with the bar behind your neck. Bending the head forward during this move causes excessive flexion in the cervical vertebrae.
The same is true of the military press, with the bar dipping behind the head. Finally, you should avoid such extreme exercises as the front and rear neck bridge, which place tremendous amounts of pressure on the cervical spine.
Warm-Up and Cool-Down
The warm-up and cool-down are important parts of a weight-training workout, and while it's important to include neck exercises for strength, there are a couple of high-risk movements you should avoid. First is the full neck roll, often done during warm-up, which moves your head in a circular pattern. This motion can compress the nerves in your neck and cause damage to the discs there.
During the cool-down, you should never stretch the neck by pressing the hand against your head. Instead, slowly and gently move your head from side to side, holding for about five seconds in each position.
Avoid These Exercise Mistakes
Not only are certain exercises not recommended if you have a bad neck, but specific ways of exercising should be avoided in order to reduce the risk of injury. Failing to warm up before weight training, moving too quickly through your workout, and performing the same exercises week in and week out should all be avoided. Using safe equipment and proper form are essential to safety, and it's also very important to progress slowly with weight training. Training volume — weight lifted and/or number of repetitions performed — should only be increased by 5 percent to 10 percent when you feel ready to progress.
Read more: What Are the Causes of Burning Neck Pain?
Try These Alternative Exercises
Even with a bad neck, there are ways to safely work every muscle group. Modify sit-ups by performing crunches with your hands tucked under your lumbar spine. Work your lats and shoulders by performing lat pull-downs and military barbell presses with the bar coming down in front of your chin rather than behind your head.
You can even perform safe neck exercises for strength by performing front/back and lateral neck flexion against gentle resistance. Place your palm flat against the back of your head, forehead or side of the head. Slowly and gently push against your hand with your neck — not moving your hand, but your neck only. Hold for five to 10 seconds for each repetition.