7 Smart Ways to Work Your abs Without Neck or Back Pain

Mistake #1: You’re Pulling From Your Neck, Not Your Abs

Even though ab exercises are supposed to be all about your core, many positions require your head and neck to lift up off of the ground. Jonathan Tylicki, director of education for AKT and certified personal trainer, says that the strain you may feel in your neck in this position is most likely related to your posture. “The continued neck flexion is associated with sitting, working at a computer, and texting. This reinforced improper alignment can creep up when you are doing ab work, making you pull your head forward and use your neck during exercises,” he says. When you’re in a supine position on your back, typically you’ll rest your head in your hands and then curl up, lifting your head and neck off the mat. This can cause discomfort, particularly if your posture muscles are tight and you’re not used to engaging your core correctly.

  • Fix #1: Work with your tongue. Try this simple hack from Phil Timmons, Blink Fitness program manager. “Press your tongue on the roof of your mouth and up against your front teeth.” He explains that placing your tongue on the roof of your mouth and just behind your front teeth applying some pressure with your tongue engages deeper neck muscles and increases muscular support.
  • Fix #2: Train from different angles. Tylicki suggests exercises like planks, oblique v-ups, c-curve holds, and prone back extensions, as well as other exercises from a standing, rotational and seated position. “You should incorporate core work that engages all aspects of your abdominal complex,” he says.

But what if you’re in a Pilates or core class and don’t want to be the odd one out doing your own routine?

  • Fix #3: Use a workout towel. Tylicki says to take a towel behind your head and grab each end with your hands. “When you lift to crunch, be sure to relax your head into the towel — don’t let any tightness creep into your neck. This is a great way to relax the muscles of your neck, and bring the focus of the exercise to your abs. You also get a burn in your arms from holding the weight of your head in the towel!”

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