How To Work Your Abs Without Neck Pain

What’s up ya’ll.

Thank you to those who have left comments and feedback about what you’d like to see on the new site.

I already have some great questions on board to answer to help you create a leaner, fitter and healthier body.

To get right into today’s topic, I’m going to take the time to answer a question from one of our readers, Tiffany.

Tiffany asked:

“I have degeneration in my cervical spine so abdominal workouts tend to leave me in pain…I know my neck isn’t suppose to be invited to the party (as Jillian Michael’s says. haha) but I always end up with neck pain doing bicycles or crunches. Anywho, I was wondering if there is anything I can do to prevent the pain while still getting the work out in? Thank you for being awesome!”

Ok, so I could have left out the last sentence and should have left out mentioning Jillian Michaels on this blog.

But I wanted to keep Tiffany’s question as authentic as possible.

This is a great question, and as a pilates instructor one of the most frequent feedback I hear from clients is neck strain while performing abdominal exercises especially during thoracic flexion.

Thoracic flexion is just fancy lingo for moving the upper torso down and forward, or the movement that must of us would consider a “crunch”.

Well, the first thing I would do is try to understand more about Tiffany’s degeneration in her neck: When did it start, how does it feel, when does it hurt, etc.

Before I make a blanket statement to address this question (as I know many of you may have experienced this yourself), it is always wise to get a professional opinion first in person.

Whether that is from a physical therapist, doctor or chiropractor.

Once you’ve done that, we can proceed.

In my experience, I have found several reasons why you may be feel neck strain while performing abdominal exercises (specifically those involving flexion like crunches and bicycles):

1. Improper execution of the exercise. Meaning your form stinks.

2. Weak abdominal muscles. The internal and external obliques and rectus abdominis are responsible for thoracic flexion. When these muscles are weak, lifting the upper body off the ground to perform a “bicycle” or “crunch” can be very difficult. And in an attempt to do complete the exercise, we compensate by jutting the head forward from the body…thus creating strain.

3. Tight back extensors. Looking at the posterior or back side of the body, if the back extensors are tight then the abdominals have to work against this opposition to flex the body. Thus, leading to compensation and neck strain.

4. Weak neck flexors. When you do manage to perform thoracic flexion correctly, another limiting factor is the strength and endurance of the neck flexors (the muscles in the front of your neck) to hold the head up off the ground. Your poor neck flexors don’t want to lose the battle against gravity so they straaaain to keep the head up.

5. Unnecessarily pulling the head forward to make up for lack of movement. Again, in an attempt to lift the upper body higher off the ground during thoracic flexion, we can sometimes pull the head forward with the hands. This is a huge-no-no because you are placing unnecessary strain on the neck.

Since Tiffany mentioned she had degeneration in her cervical spine and since I cannot actually be there next to her to assess her condition, I figured I’d take the neck out of the equation and provide you with some awesome exercises you can do to strengthen your abdominals sans neck pain.

And here they are:

However, before you go on to watch these kick-ass videos, don’t forget to leave a comment below after you’re done watching. It helps me look more popular to Google.  And really, I just want to be one of the cool kids.

Toe Taps

Tummy Vacuums


(Ooops! The camera cut my head off. First time filming with this camera so I’ll adjust next time.)

Stability Ball Roll-out

(Another oops. Spielberg was off today or he would have been there to film.)

Palloff Press

These are all effective and smart exercises that you can do to strengthen your core without worrying about straining your neck.

I use these frequently with my clients and find that they are super effective if done correctly.

Do these, and you can wipe out your old crunches and bicycles from your training program.

Crunches and bicycles are sooo 1984.

We want smart, effective and innovative exercises because, well, that’s what you are.

And before you head out, I’d love to hear your feedback.

What are your favorite abdominal and core exercises?

Let us know in the comments section below.

Talk soon,


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