Why do I get neck pain when I do sit-ups?

In the clinic yesterday I was asked this question “why does my neck hurt when I do sit-ups?” My answer to my client astounded him.

I didn’t want to take the wind out of his sails, I felt it necessary to let him down gently, you know, to put him on the right track without disillusioning him so I said to him as delicately as I possibly could “You are screwing up your back, your neck and you haven’t got a hope in hell of getting a six pack eating the crap that you eat.”

In hindsight I may have been able to sugar coat my words a little more.

Before I could continue however, he told me that he didn’t keep his hands behind his head because he knew that when his stomach muscles get tired he will then start using his hands on his head to pull rather than using his stomach muscles to initiate the movement which could hurt his neck, so that’s not it’.

He then told me before I could get a breath in that he ‘doesn’t push his head forward when doing the sit-ups thus keeping good alignment between his shoulders and neck, so that can’t be it’.

He then went on to tell me that he keeps his legs bent to protect his spine and lower back (which is absolutely false by the way) and that he was doing sit-ups to get a ‘ripped stomach’ and ‘six pack’ he said. (which also won’t work unless..)

Firstly, I said, the studies show that it doesn’t matter whether your legs are straight, bent or tucked neatly behind your ears you are doing damage to your back with each and every sit-up that you do. Also, there is an old saying that says that ‘a six pack is made in the kitchen not in the gym’. What this means is that you could do 300 sit-ups (but of course you are not going to because you now know that it damages your back and there are much better ways to strengthen your stomach and core) but unless you have a good diet to keep your fat to a minimum, you will perhaps have the best hidden six pack.

Now, whilst you got me talking about doing sit-ups and fat loss lets remove another myth when it comes to these. I see people doing sit-ups or crunches to get fat off their stomachs. This is a myth! You know all of those infomercials where you see those super fit models using ‘ab cruncher’ and other stomach fat removing exercise machines? Well, let me tell you, they aren’t getting those super fit, super cut bodies doing ‘just 5 minutes a day on their wonder machines’ and spending the other 23 hours 55 minutes tucking into the fridge watching cable TV all day and night. The commercials will want you to believe that of course.

Doing sit-ups does not take fat off your stomach! Just like doing bicep curls does not take fat off your biceps. Exercising like this builds muscle AND takes fat off your whole body-it is not area specific. In other words, doing a heap of sit-ups will remove fat off your waist, butt, legs arms ears and stomach. It is the burning of calories that removes the fat. The good news is that the more you increase your muscle, the higher your resting metabolic rate is and that means that faster you will burn fat just resting. Now that’s good news indeed.

So, those of you who want to strengthen your stomachs and get a six pack or would just like to have a stronger core-do crunches and things like the plank exercise but not sit-ups.

Keep a check on your diet, in other words don’t eat highly processed highly refined foods, cut out (or if you absolutely can’t help yourself – cut down) on junk foods, sodas and alcohol consumption. If you eat white rice-change to brown, cut out potatoes and pasta and stop drinking beer, do some regular cardio and just you watch the weight fall off.

For those die hard who still feel that they must do some sit-ups against all of the documented research against doing them and have neck pain when they do them, here is what you need to do.

Put your hand on your forehead and press your head against your hand without letting any movement take place. Hold for a few seconds and do 5 reps of these. The place your hand on the back of your head and do the same. Then put your hand on the sides of your head doing the same exercise. This isometric exercise will strengthen your intrinsic neck muscles and help strengthen your neck.

Another thing to do whether you are doing crunches (recommended) or sit-ups (not recommended for all of the above reasons) place your tongue to the roof of your mouth when you do them which also engage your intrinsic neck muscles.