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Avoid neck and shoulder pain by performing abdominal crunches with correct form.
While the crunch and its variations are effective exercises to condition your abs, pulling on your head and rounding your shoulders to help lift your upper body off the ground and complete the crunching motion can lead to neck and shoulder strain. If you cross your hands over your chest or place your hands by your ears, you can increase the safety of a crunch. However, you can perform abs exercises - pull-downs, leg lifts, planks or isometric contractions - that don't put pressure on the neck or shoulders.
Curl with Pull-Downs
Performing pull-downs with a cable machine is a way to do crunches for your front abdominal wall without straining to pull your neck off the floor. Begin by attaching a rope handle to the upper pulley of a cable machine. Grab the handle with palms facing each other and then kneel in front of the machine. Place your hands next to your ears or below your chin. Maintaining the position of your hands, exhale and slowly curl your torso forward and down as far as possible. Exhale and return to starting position. Perform 10 to 15 reps for two or three sets. To work your obliques, perform the first rep curling straight down and then do a rep in which you simultaneously twist to your right, drawing the rope handle to your right side. Continue this pattern but alternate sides on the twisting curls.
Lie and Lift
Leg raises from a supine position on a bench or the floor will work your lower abdominals and hip flexors. Begin by lying on the floor with your legs fully extended and together. Place your arms by your sides with palms facing down. Exhale and slowly lift your legs until they're perpendicular to the floor. Hold the peak position for a second, inhale and then slowly lower your legs back to starting position. Perform 15 reps for three sets, resting for 45 seconds between each set. To boost the intensity of the exercise, hold a dumbbell between your feet.
Plank with An Exercise Ball
By holding your abdominal muscles in an isometric contraction in the plank, you can condition your abs without neck or shoulder strain. For example, lie facedown across two exercise balls of the same size. While positioning your chest on one exercise ball, rest your knees and shins on the other. Envision yourself as a tabletop, keeping your back straight and feet about 12 to 18 inches apart. Put your hands on the floor to maintain balance. Hold the plank for 60 seconds and then release. If you narrow the distance between your feet, you'll boost the difficulty of the exercise. Extending your arms out to your sides as if you're an airplane will also increase the intensity.
Scoop the Navel
Abdominal hollowing exercises in which you scoop or draw your navel in toward your spine strengthen the transversus abdominis, or the muscle buried beneath your front abdominal wall. Corseting your midsection, this muscle helps to stabilize your spine and prevent lower back pain. Because hollowing involves only the contraction of your inner abs, movement of your neck or shoulders is not required. Also, you can do hollowing exercises from a variety of positions - sitting, standing, all fours or side-lying. For example, begin by lying supine with your knees bent at 90 degrees and arms by your sides. Exhale and slowly pull your abdomen in as if you have a vacuum in the middle of your back. Inhale and return to starting position. Repeat the exercise three or four times.