Question of the Month: Kayla, why does my head and neck hurt when doing crunches?
Crunches make my head hurt for so many reasons. As a trainer they hurt my head because I know that so many people think that doing more of them will get them the flat tummy they are after and also because so many people do them in a way that undermines those intentions. So many people complain when they hate situps and crunches because they hurt their necks or lower back.
The main form issues I see are folks tucking their chin to their chest and pulling down on the back of their head as they lift the shoulders off the floor. Instead, to reduce neck strain, allow your head to be cradled by your hands and focus on keeping the elbows open. Exhale as you find a place on the ceiling to look at and as you raise your shoulders off the mat place your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Also know that your neck strength is similar to other muscles- it gets stronger when you use it..but use it properly to avoid injury.
Another thing to think about is abdominal hollowing rather than bracing. When we brace sometimes we place pressure from the inside to the outside- in effect, poofing out the belly rather than pulling it in. This can exacerbate any weakness in the abdominal wall and even cause more major issues if there was a separation of the abdominal muscles during pregnancy. So instead, practice abdominal hollowing by exhaling your bellybutton to your spine. NPR did a wonderful guided abdominal hollowing routine you can download for free that is even safe for use during pregnancy and is very similar to what I do with clients to prepare them for proper crunch/situp form.
Speaking of situps, if you are doing old-school full situps you may be placing undue strain on your lower back. Consider instead the crunch with abdominal hollowing as described above or plank/modified plank which is like a girdle inside for your entire core not just the upper abs the way crunches focus.
If you have any questions about fitness or would like hands on help or coaching feel free to give me a call. I can even help with this via facetime/skype.