The question: I always strain my neck when I do weights at the gym. What gives?
The answer: I empathize with you. Almost nothing is more annoying than trying to do something healthy, only to injure yourself in the process.
I have three suggestions:
1. Always meticulously monitor the position of your head and the muscle tone in your neck, especially when doing exercises like planks, crunches, squats and overhead presses. Your head should always be in line with your spine. Don't let it jut forward or tip down, and make sure the superficial muscles in your neck don't tense or pop out as you lift. Breathe!
2. Make sure the weights you lift are appropriate. Yes, challenge yourself, but do it safely. Be especially careful when pressing weights over your head.
3. You should work to strengthen your neck. When one part of the body is proportionally stronger than another, the weaker muscles become strained when you use weights that are appropriate for the majority of the body, but too heavy for the weak link. We are all only as strong as that weakest link, and it sounds like your neck is it. Try the following two exercises to help build up your neck strength:
- Moving posture-work: Stand with a book on your head, with your shoulders back. Then, pull your head backward until your ears are roughly above your shoulders. Don’t force anything. This position is your long-term goal, but it might take you a while to get there. Walk around your house while keeping your head in this position. Look forward, not down. Once you have mastered walking, try doing lunges.
- Band neck-work: Lie on your stomach with your forehead on the floor and a resistance band lying on the back of your head. Your hands should rest on the floor, on either side of your head, so they can anchor the band. Now, keep your chin tucked as you lift your head slightly off the ground. Think about elongating through the crown of your neck. Keep your eyes looking down. Hold for five seconds, then release. Repeat five to 10 times.
Trainer's tip: If you have fallen recently, don't follow the above advice just yet. Instead, go see a physiotherapist. Your neck pain may have more to do with your fall than you strength-training routine. You may need some deep-tissue massage or rehab exercises to help your body recover properly.
Kathleen Trotter has been a personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist for over 10 years. Her website is kathleentrotter.com.