Experts say these are the best ways to avoid straining your neck during exercise

wWhen it comes to working out, I get confused. Depending on the day, it could be boxing, cycling, weight lifting, yoga or pilates. However, there is one constant: My workouts are often a real pain in the neck, which is to say I tend to develop neck tension after a workout. Despite my best efforts, I often experience uncomfortable tension and tension in my neck, sometimes extending to my upper back and shoulders, a few hours to a day after exercising.

Neck strain after a workout is fairly common, and while bad form does play a part (more on that later), it\’s not so much what you\’re doing in the gym, as what you\’re doing in your day-to-day life that\’s at the root. of your pain, he says Sherry McLaughlinphysical therapist and founder of the Michigan Institute for Human Performance (MIHP) in Troy, Michigan.

McLaughlin says that to understand neck tension, you first need to understand the concept of short, tight muscles versus long, weak muscles. Every muscle in the body has an antagonist, a muscle that does the opposite action. If one muscle is short and tight, the antagonist becomes long and weak, he says. He thinks of the typical sitting posture in which someone is slouched. In this position, your head tilts forward, and to face the world with level eyeballs, your neck will naturally extend.

Eventually, that type of posture makes the muscles in the back of the neck short and tight, and the muscles in the front of the neck long and weak. If you do a crunch or other exercise that requires you to lie on your back, those muscles in the front of your neck are the ones that need to work to support your neck. If they\’re in this weakened position, the neck will tend to feel strained and susceptible to injury, says McLaughlin.

Not taking time to rest your muscles and improper form can also lead to neck strain, says Janine Trembicki, ACE-certified personal trainer and owner of J Ashley Fitness, in Westport, Connecticut. From my training, the neck tightness I see the most comes from overusing the muscles in my neck and shoulders, she says. Other reasons could be tension in the shoulders while performing the exercises and not keeping the head in a neutral position with respect to the spine.

Fix that tension in your neck

To decrease neck strain after a workout (or in general), you have to go beyond the neck itself, says McLaughlin. The best way to correct neck strain is to correct the posture of the underlying spine, he says. The straighter your mid-back is, the more naturally your head will sit on your shoulders without the anterior neck muscles being in a long, weak position. This is accomplished by stretching the chest muscles and strengthening the upper back muscles with exercises such as rows and reverse flies.

Depending on your workout, there are certain techniques that help reduce neck strain. For example, McLaughlin recommends tucking in your chin gently and resting your head on top of your shoulders before doing any heavy weight lifting. If you\’re doing core work, Trembicki says to avoid neck pulling, which reduces muscle load in your core and increases it in your neck.

It\’s also important in Pilates, yoga, and core exercises to protect your neck, take breaks, and make sure your neck is in line with your spine, says Trembicki. When you lift weights, you want to make sure you don\’t hold tension in your shoulders or neck as you perform the movements. In cardio exercises, such as spin, you must maintain alignment of the neck and spine to prevent these injuries.

And don\’t forget that warming up before a workout reduces the risk of muscle fatigue throughout the body. A solid warm-up is so important before any form of exercise, says Trembicki. Prepare your muscles so they are ready for the work ahead.

If you experience neck tension, McLaughlin says active interventions involving pectoral stretching and the thoracic spine [i.e. mid-back] mobility can provide relief, as well as prevent neck strain when done regularly. And whether you\’re a newbie or a fitness enthusiast, if you just can\’t kick neck pain, consider working with a trainer, coach, or physical therapist.

My biggest tip for reducing neck strain, in whatever form of exercise you prefer, would be to have someone guide you through your workout to make sure you\’re performing the exercises with proper form, says Trembicki. Once you have the form down, you can do it yourself.

3 moves to help with neck strain after a workout, courtesy of MIHP Wipe Out Pain Series

1. Wall wash

Stand six inches from a wall, facing it, with feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing forward. Put your hands on the wall. Slide your right hand up the wall directly overhead as you shift your weight onto your right leg. You should feel a stretch on your right side. Return to starting position and repeat on left side. Alternate right and left for two sets of 12 reps.

2. Lateral angel

Lie on your right side and bend your hips and knees to a 90 degree angle. Keep your knees together with your right hand and drop your left shoulder blade towards the floor with your arm straight. Slowly move your left arm in an upward arc toward your head and then down along your side. Repeat several times on each side.


Begin by sitting on the front edge of a chair with your back straight and chest up. He crosses his arms slightly in front grabbing the opposite elbow, then do the following six times each: Raise your arms above your head and then lower them back. Raise your arms above your head and lean from side to side. Raise your arms above your head and rotate your torso to the right and then to the left.

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