First and foremost, if you are truly injured or have chronic pain, please see a doctor first!   

There are a lot of reasons crunches could cause neck pain, but a lot of them can be corrected with good form. One of my favorite fitness instructors, Colleen Palomaa, used to say, “Remember, we aren’t working out our neck, we are working out our ABS.  Don’t pull on your neck.”

And she was absolutely right.  Many times, in our attempt to do a move, we compensate for lack of strength by using other muscles to “get there”, and then we aren’t using abs at all, we are pulling on our neck.  This is not only a waste of our time because we aren’t really working any muscles, but you can also potentially injure yourself and DEFINITELY cause yourself unneeded pain.

But we need to do core work.  Our core is our power center! 

Our core helps us stay strong and stabilized as we move throughout our day and our workouts.  A strong core protects the back and the rest of the body and we need it as part of our workout routine.  Crunches are one of the most effective ways to strengthen the core, along with planks but we have to make sure we are doing them with proper form.  And while we may or may not want a six-pack, keeping fat away from our midsection reduces visceral fat, which surrounds the organs and can lead to serious health problems and disease.

So let’s do some crunches with GREAT form and stop ab work from being a pain in the neck.

  1. Lie on the floor with your feet flat and hip-distance apart. Your knees up.
  2. Tuck your pelvis slightly under so your lower spine is pressed firmly into the ground.
  3. Place your fingertips lightly behind your head. Keep the elbows flat on the ground
  4. Keep the chin off the chest, about a fist distance away from our chest and aim the chin for the ceiling when you lift up.
  5. Curling the spine, lift one vertebra at a time WITH the abs and lead with the shoulders, keeping the arms flat. You should never be able to see your elbows, keep the arms flat.
  6. Contract the abs
  7. Lower down one vertebra at a time until you are completely flat on the floor.

Do these slowly at first so you can really begin to feel the abs contracting (and getting fatigued) and once you’ve got great form, you can speed up in class or in your own workout.

I tell my clients to think about pressing the belly button down into the floor and securing the lower spine and pelvis like it is glued there.  Like someone has “nailed” you into the floor.  Keeping that active press will really help activate the core.

There is some debate about this, however, and some trainers and physical therapists feel that a “neutral” spine is better.  A neutral spine does engage the entire core and is likely preferred for people who already have enough core strength and can stabilize while they crunch keeping that neutrality.

However, if you are just starting out and are having trouble “engaging” or activating your core, the flat lower back method is a great place to start.  If you feel like you are able to keep a neutral spine while doing crunches without wiggling around or moving during the exercise, AWESOME!  You are strong!

Everyone agrees, however, that you should never arch your back.  Rocking the pelvis back and forth is not the way you want to be doing this exercise.  This puts too much pressure on the spine, disengages the abs, and can lead to a ton of lower back pain later.

If you still feel like crunches are difficult, here are a couple more tips to help you combat neck pain when doing crunches.

  1. Cross your arms over your chest. This will keep you from pulling on your neck
  2. Lift your feet off the ground and hold your legs at 90 degrees. This forces your lower back to stay completely on the floor.
  3. Lower your range of motion. This is an easy modification, just lift 4-6 inches off of the floor instead of 8-10
  4. Flip it! Do a plank instead.  Done correctly Plank is one of the most effective core exercises you can do.

If you have questions or need more tips, book a free call with me!  I would love to chat with you about your health and fitness goals and am happy to help you any way I can.  You can find my schedule here:

And if you’re not a member yet, sign up for a FREE TWO WEEK TRIAL with us at  We can’t wait to help you become your most awesome self!

Happy Crunching!

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