Having a bad neck doesn't have to mean you can't ever have a six-pack. Depending on the injury, there are still many abdominal exercises you can do that won't cause any further trauma to your neck area. Core strength is key in preventing neck pain, says Harvard Health Publishing. Just remember that, as it is with all abdominal exercises, it is very important that you keep your abs contracted and control each and every movement. This will not only lessen your chance of injury, but it will also ensure that you're strengthening the muscles that are actually supposed to be working.
Read more: How to Contract Your Abs When Exercising
1. Bent-Knee Reverse Crunch
A good starter abdominal exercise for someone with a neck injury is the bent-knee reverse crunch because it doesn't require any upper body work other than core contraction to stabilize the body. Lie supine on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Contract your abdominal muscles, flatten your lower back into the floor and rest your arms at your sides. Keep your knees bent and your core engaged as you draw your knees into your chest. Pause and return your feet to the floor without allowing your lower back to rise off the floor.
2. Raise Your Legs
Similar to the bent-knee reverse crunch, the leg raise doesn't require any work from the muscles above your stomach. However, it does require a lot of control from the lower abdominals and flexibility of the legs. Start by lying supine on the floor and draw your knees into your chest before extending your legs straight above your hips. Contract your abdominal muscles to flatten your back into the floor.
Place your arms on the floor next to your sides. Try to keep your legs straight as you lower your legs toward the floor by extending at your hips. Only lower your legs as far as you can go without your lower back lifting off the floor. Pause briefly and draw your legs back up to the starting position by flexing at your hips and contracting your lower abdominals. To decrease the intensity until your abs are strong enough, you can bend your knees as you lift your legs back to the start position, advises ExRx.net.
Read more: The Benefits of Leg Raise Exercises
3. Stand for Alternating Knee Raises
The standing alternating knee raise will allow you to attack the lower abdominals as well as the obliques without having to climb down onto the floor. It can also be considered a cardiovascular exercise because your heart rate will increase after only a few repetitions. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
Draw your arms up and position them as if you were about to perform a shoulder press; with elbows out wide and flexed at 90-degree bends. Contract your core and balance on your right leg as you simultaneously draw your left knee up toward your right shoulder and your right elbow toward your left knee. Quickly return to the starting position and balance on your left leg as you draw your right knee and left elbow toward each other.
4. Do the Plank
The plank is considered a total body exercise but is a great example of an overall abdominal exercise that will not strain your neck if performed properly. Start by kneeling on the floor and leaning forward to place both hands on the floor slightly wider than shoulder-width but at shoulder height. Contract your core muscles and extend your legs behind you.
Create a neutral spine by keeping the abs engaged and, if necessary, lowering your hips so they are in line with the angle being created between your shoulder and feet. It is also very important that you keep your face toward the floor to prevent you from arching your neck. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and lower your body back to the floor. Stop the exercise immediately if you experience any pain in your lower back, recommends the American Council on Exercise.
5. Perform the Abdominal Crunch
If performed correctly, the basic abdominal crunch should not cause any further damage to an injured neck. Start by lying on your back on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Flatten your spine into the floor by contracting your abs and interlock your fingers behind your head with your elbows wide. Position your head so that your neck is aligned with the rest of your spine.
Slowly crunch upward by lifting your head, neck and shoulder blades off the floor and driving them straight up toward the ceiling. Pause briefly and return to the starting position by lowering your shoulder blades, neck and head, respectively, back to the floor.