Raise your hand if the last time you were taught to do a proper crunch was during your elementary school gym class.
If that's left you under the impression that crunches and neck pain go hand in hand, you're long overdue for a refresher on proper form.
The truth is, the pain you're experiencing boils down to poor alignment and excess tension, Eric Coles, an ACE-certified personal trainer with Orangetheory Fitness and Swerve and an MYXfitness coach, explains.
Practice a crunch as you usually would. Have you conditioned your head to extend forward? Is your chin forced down into your chest?
If the answers are yes, chances are you're straining the muscles in your neck and upper back, also known as the musculature of your cervical spine, Coles says.
Tense traps and shoulders are common sources of crunch-induced neck stress, too.
Now that we've gotten to the root of the problem, let's talk about good crunch technique.
Don't overthink your movements — Coles's rule of thumb is to establish a slow and deliberate execution. "Essentially, don't get on to the floor and try to crunch as fast as you can. You want to fight for quality over quantity," he stresses.
To ensure you've got the hang of things, follow along as Coles walks us through a crunch ahead.
If you're rolling your eyes over relearning such a staple ab exercise, remember that this technique can be a one-size-fits-all approach to crunch variations and other core-strengthening activities, too. Even if you have to make slight modifications (like when performing spinal rotations), you should always initiate movement from the core and keep excessive tension out of the body.
- As you lay on your back, establish a good base of support with your knees naturally bent and the soles of your feet planted on the floor.
- Make sure your shoulders are rolled back as you relax down your spine. There should be about a fist-size space between your chin and chest.
- As you begin the crunch, initiate the movement from your core. Use your breath to activate the abdominals at the deepest level.
- On an exhale, draw your navel toward your spine while simultaneously lifting the torso off the ground until your shoulder blades leave the floor.
- Keep your gaze about a foot above your knees. Letting your eyes track with your movement will help you maintain proper neck and shoulder alignment.
- At the top of the crunch, pause for a moment. On an inhale, control the descent back to the floor.