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An exercise ball may make crunches easier on your back.
The crunch is a classic exercise that seems very simple but leaves a lot of room for error. Even if you don't have existing back or neck problems, it's easy to strain those areas when performing a crunch. Keeping some form tips in mind and using modifications can help you improve your alignment and get the most out of the exercise. There are many amazing core exercises, though, so if you ever feel pain while doing crunches, stop and seek an alternative.
One common cause of neck pain during crunches is letting the neck jut out in front of the rest of the body, which puts strain on the neck muscles. Many people also put their hands behind their head and pull upward during crunches, exacerbating that pressure on the neck. Ideally, the head should be in line with the rest of the spine during a crunch, with the chin slightly tucked. Rather than thinking about sitting up as far as you can, which may encourage you to push your neck forward, think about driving the movement from your lower abdominal muscles.
Do crunches bother your lower back? One potential cause may be tight hip flexors, which run from your thighs to your lower back. Crunches actually work those hip flexor muscles more than they work your abs, and if the hip flexors are tight, it may feel as if your lower back muscles are being uncomfortably pulled or strained. The surface you're on can also make a difference, as doing crunches on a hard floor pushes the spine against that hard surface and can feel like a grind on the lower back. You may be able to relieve some of the pressure by focusing on keeping your pelvis neutral during crunches. At the top of the crunch, exhale, push your lower back into the floor and tuck your belly button toward your spine to make sure your lower back isn't collapsing.
Just shifting your hand position during a crunch can go a long way toward relieving neck or back pain. In a study published in 2016 in the "Journal of Physical Therapy Science," subjects who performed crunches with their hands pressing lightly into their jaws to prevent their necks from jutting too far forward experienced less neck pain as well as greater engagement in abdominal and oblique muscles. Alternately, you could try placing your hands lightly behind your ears, with fingers spread, or resting them on your chest or at your sides on the floor. If your back is the problem, try performing crunches while resting on a stability ball, which better supports the curve of your spine and relieves pressure on the lower back.