Neck strain is a common problem for beginning and experienced exercisers who perform abdominal exercises using improper techniques. To perform them correctly so as to avoid injury, you need to properly place your fingers and do fewer, more intense repetitions. Paul Check of the Corrective High-Performance Exercise Kinesiology Institute says that abdominal muscle strength and endurance are essential for improving posture, decreasing lower limb injuries and reducing incontinence.
Perform an abdominal crunch by lying down and supporting your head with your fingers, not your hands. Place your fingertips gently on the vertical midline between the center of the back half of your skull and either ear. Look upward as if you have a tennis ball under your chin to refrain from pulling your neck toward your chest. Keep your shoulder blades together by leaving your elbows out toward the side. Make the mind-to-muscle connection by mentally picturing your rib cage and pelvis flexing toward each other. Your crunch movement starts between these two sites, not from you pulling your head to get your shoulders off the floor.
Perform bicycle crunches. Lie with your back flat on the floor, bending your hips and knees to keep your feet in the air. Bring your opposite elbow and knee toward each other as you extend the other leg. Your joints do not need to touch each other. Focus on driving the upper right end of your rib cage toward the lower left end of your pelvis, your joints simply pointing toward each other.
Do sit-ups with your arms folded across your chest. Sit on the floor with your knees bent to nearly 90 degrees, anchoring your toes under the edge of a bed or couch. Fold your arms across your chest and lift your elbows as you lift your trunk off the floor toward your thighs. Alternatively, hold your arms straight out in front of you to make sit-ups slightly easier.
Increase the resistance and decrease the number of reps to reduce neck strain. Do crunches on an exercise ball using a weight plate. Hold a 10-lb. weight plate across your chest, sit on the ball and walk your feet out till your mid-back is on the ball. Flex your rib cage and pelvis toward each other. Perform only 10 reps instead of the typical 20 to 30, then sit up straight. Use a heavier weight plate to increasingly challenge your abs, again doing only 10 reps.
Include vertical abdominal exercise. Perform standing leg raises and side bends to avoid holding your head with your hands. Use the Roman chair abdominal machine and place your forearms on the resting pads. Move your knees toward your chest, starting the movement between your rib cage and your pelvis. Perform side bends holding a 10-lb. dumbbell in your hands, feet shoulder width apart. Bend both knees and move only from your waist to alternately lower each dumbbell just under the knees.
Incorporate seated abdominal exercises like crunches using a pulley cable or ball throws against a rebounder to further reduce neck strain.
Stand up slowly when you change positions, especially from a decline bench, to avoid dizziness.