Sit-ups, crunches and other ab exercises promise to flatten out that troublesome belly area. Whether you are looking to get a stronger core or to hone your six-pack, neck pain during sit-ups can seriously derail your efforts. It's important to know what causes the pain and how you can avoid it.
Why Do Sit-Ups?
Sit-ups, and their sister exercise, crunches, effectively strengthen and tone the abdominal muscles. A strong abdomen improves your posture, balance and overall sports performance. A strong abdomen means a strong center of your body which helps to prevent back pain and enhances everyday activities, like lifting children, moving furniture and boxes, sitting with better form at the computer or even carrying your groceries.
Causes of Pain
Poor form causes most neck pain during sit-ups or crunches. The exercise requires you to lie in a supine position with your knees bent and hands laced behind your head. You are then expected to curl the shoulder blades (for a crunch) or the spine (for a full sit-up) off the floor. The feet, tailbone (base of the spine) and lower back should all press into the mat throughout the exercise. Your neck should be slightly curled, with your elbows pulled back. If you tug on your neck in an effort to get more range of motion, you'll usually start to feel pain in the neck after a few repetitions. Your hands ought to only tickle the back of your head, which should help you resist the urge to pull.
When new to abdominal exercises and lacking in appropriate strength to complete sit-ups, people fail to contract their abs fully and lift only their neck off the floor in an effort to crunch. This also puts pressure on the muscles and tendons of the neck, leading to fatigue.
If you believe your neck pain during sit-ups is caused by poor form, you can continue to work on strengthening your belly with attention to form. However, if you are pregnant or recovering from a neck injury, find alternative abdominal strengthening exercises. Pain that shoots, stabs or radiates down the spine or feelings of numbness and tingling all indicate that your neck pain could be caused by something more severe than simple muscle fatigue and issues of form.
To help reduce the urge to pull on the neck during your crunch or sit-up, try crossing your arms in front of your chest or resting your hands at your thighs as you contract your abs and lift your shoulders off the floor. If you still find your neck hurts, try an alternative abdominal exercise. Plank holds, hanging leg raises, captain chair leg lifts, crunches on an exercise balls or abdominal machines that support your neck are all options.
Lose Belly Fat
Remember, no abdominal exercise will peel away the layers of fat hiding the muscle underneath. If you are performing sit-ups to achieve a flat belly, include a lot of cardiovascular exercise to burn extra calories and body fat and to keep your diet healthy. It would be a shame to suffer through neck pain and defeat your goals through poor diet choices.
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