Fitness / Strength Training

How to Relieve Back and Neck Pain During Ab Workouts

Don't let your neck pain keep you from a solid core workout.

If you’ve ever had to tap out of your Aaptiv core workout because of back or neck pain: Listen up!

Neither back nor neck pain are particularly uncommon. In fact, both are triggered by any number of causes—from how you sit to how you lift weights to how you perform your ab routines.

Don’t let your back and neck quit on you before your core does. We asked trainers to share their best tips for alleviating back and neck pain during ab workouts.

Work your abs from low to high.

If you often find yourself dealing with a tired neck before you even reach the halfway point of your core routine, consider changing up the order of your moves.

According to Exercise Physiologist and Author Jerry Snider, how you set up your workout defines how effectively your body moves and resists injury. To prevent back and neck pain during ab workouts, he says to work from the lower abs to the upper abs.

“Begin with exercises like leg raises, then end with crunches while holding your legs in the air to work the upper abs,” he says. This will help reserve too much neck and back action until your final sets when you’re almost done with your workout.

When you do reach those moves that engage your back and neck, be cautious not to strain them unnecessarily. “Remember to never [yank] on your neck as you do any exercises and always have your back firm on the floor when doing ab exercises on the floor,” he says.

We have a wide range of core workouts in the Aaptiv app from top fitness trainers. Download the app today!

Try a plank progression.

Planks are a part of just about every core routine and that’s because they work just about every core muscle. That said, they’re tough. According to  Jill McKay, CPT, many people struggle to properly engage their abdominal muscles during a plank.

Instead they bear down, hold their breath, and hope to make it 30 seconds. This puts stress on other parts of your body, including your neck and back. So, McKay suggests a slower progression into a plank.

To begin, start on your hands and knees in a table top position. Then, McKay says to arch your back up to a rounded back so that you feel the neutral bend in your spine.

Arch it down to feel that bend from a different direction. After a few cat and cow-like movements, McKay says to raise one arm at a time, shifting your weight to gain control.

To finish, take turns lifting each opposite arm and leg (looks like a bird dog yoga). This will help you  learn how to engage your abs so you can better hold a plank without any neck or back pain.

Master hip raises.

Physical Therapist Lauren Lobert, DPT, OMPT, CSCS agrees that many people struggle with effectively engaging their core. Hip raises require concentration and slow, controlled movement so they’re ideal for improving abdominal engagement.

To begin, lay on the ground with your knees bent up and your feet flat on the ground. Then, Lobert says to pretend that you have a glass of water on your pubic bone. Now, try to spill that water between your legs by arching your back.

Next, try to spill the water onto your stomach, which will flatten your back. Between these two positions you’ll find your neutral pelvis, which Lobert says is imperative to abdominal exercises that strengthen your neck and back.

Try band or cable rotations.

Nope, you don’t have to be on the ground to engage those abs. According to Rocky Snyder, CPT, sometimes standing upright can trigger them to work even harder—and it’s an easy way to alleviate back and neck pain during ab workouts. Fortunately there are plenty of core-based standing exercises. Grab a band or cable and try rotations.

Stand tall with your knees slightly bent with each hand holding the handle of a cable system or resistance band. Stand so that your right side is facing the cable machine or wall. With straight arms, pull the handle across your body and gradually return.

This movement forces you to focus on slight, intense movements in your abs. This will also help teach you where they connect along the line of your spine. Switch to the left side to target your abs from the other side.

Incorporate this advice and these core moves into your next strength routine to help alleviate back and neck pain during ab workouts. We have those kinds of workouts in the Aaptiv app!

Fitness Strength Training


Welcome to the guidebook to your healthiest life. Aaptiv delivers the highest quality fitness and health information from personal trainers and industry experts. Subscribe now for a weekly dose of inspiration and education.

I would like to receive weekly fitness articles and inspiration from Aaptiv Magazine.

Please click the checkbox to subscribe.