The sit-up is the grandfather of all ab exercises, but it might be hurting your spine. If you neck hurts after sit-ups or crunches is a good indicator that it's time to change your ab workout routine.
A modified sit-up can help address your neck pain, while a few alternative exercises can get you the results you want in your core without risking your spine.
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Sit-Ups and Neck Pain
It's no wonder many people report that their neck hurts after sit-ups — when you perform a sit-up, your spine undergoes compression, putting pressure on the discs between your vertebrae.
Over many repetitions, this compression can result in swollen or herniated discs, which can lead to neck strain with sit-ups. Any pain experienced while exercising can be a warning sign that something is wrong, and the neck pain associated with the movement should not be ignored.
Modified Sit-ups (in Moderation)
If the sit-up is a big part of your workout routine, slight modifications to the exercise can protect your neck and keep your pain at bay. You're likely performing your sit-ups in an incorrect way, which could be the root of your neck pain.
Stuart McGill, professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, recommends placing both hands beneath your lower back, with palms pressed into the floor, to support and cradle the spine.
Keep a soft carpet or exercise mat underneath you for more protection. Finally, when performing the sit-up, McGill recommends only lifting your head a few inches off the ground — that's enough to engage your abs.
Read more: Are Sit-Ups and Crunches Bad For the Spine?
Any pain experienced while exercising can be a warning sign that something is wrong, and the neck pain associated with the movement should not be ignored.
Ab Exercises Without Neck Pain
Try the plank as one of your ab exercises without neck pain. A plank engages more of your core muscles, making it a suitable alternative for the sit-up. Harvard Health Publishing recommends the plank as a full replacement for the sit-up.
- Lie flat on your stomach, and lift your entire body up in a push-up position. Keep your body in a straight line from your feet to the top of your head
- Hold the position for one minute, or as long as you can manage without shaking or letting your hips sag.
Variations of the plank, such as the side plank and bird dog, can add variety to your workout and engage every muscle in your core — making you stronger overall.
Read more: 5 Benefits of Abdominal Strength & Endurance
If your neck pain persists or worsens, discontinue all exercise immediately. Consult your doctor or physical therapist to make sure you've properly recovered from your injury before attempting any kind of ab exercise, including a modified sit-up.