If you're suffering from a sore neck, or just looking to avoid a forward head posture when you're sitting or standing, Pilates offers an ideal solution. A 2016 study published in Physiotherapy found that practicing Pilates can help to resolve neck pain and to improve your ability to function throughout the day. This is partially because it strengthens the muscles in your cervical spine and upper back. Several different Pilates exercises specifically target your neck region.
This exercise helps to stretch out your pectoral muscles. These muscles become tight when you sit in a slumped posture and can put undue strain on your neck.
How To: Lie on your side with your head resting on a pillow and your knees slightly bent and stacked on top of each other. Begin with your arms extended in front of you at shoulder height and resting together. Slowly lift the top arm up towards the ceiling as your inhale and down to the floor on the other side of your body as you exhale again. Your chest and neck should move along with this arm. Then, reverse the motion as you slowly return the arm to the starting position. After completing the exercise 10 times on one side, flip over and repeat it using the other arm.
The breast stroke focuses on strengthening the muscles in your shoulder blades that support your cervical region.
How To: Lie on your stomach with your feet hip-width apart and your hands resting just outside your shoulders. Take a deep breath and as you exhale, reach your hands over your head as you lift your head off the ground slightly. Then, inhale and circle your arms around to your side like you are doing a swimming stroke. As you do this, lift your shoulders and chest off the floor and hold them here for 1 to 2 seconds. Repeat this movement cycle 10 times as you inhale and exhale before taking a break.
Leg Pull Down
The leg pull down activates your glutes and abs while challenging your shoulder blade and neck muscles to maintain this challenging pose.
How To: Get into a plank position on your forearms and toes. Your abdominals should be contracted and your neck should be in line with your body. Exhale and lift one leg in the air as you point that toe downwards. Then slowly rock back and forth on the toes of the foot that is still in contact with the ground. After rocking 10 times, lower your leg to the ground and repeat this motion with the other leg. Do not allow your pelvis to tilt or your neck to extend back as you do this.
This exercise challenges your deep cervical flexion muscles that help to prevent the forward head position.
How To: Lie on your back and raise your arms over your head. Squeeze your abdominal muscles and make sure your lower back stays flat against the floor while in this position. Then, inhale and tuck your chin as you slowly roll your spine up to a sitting position and reach your arms towards your toes. Exhale and lower yourself back down to the starting position. Repeat this exercise 10 times before you take a breather.
To progress this exercise and add a stretch to your cervical region, perform the same technique with your hands interlaced behind your head and your elbows wide. As you inhale and roll up, tuck your chin and bring your elbows in towards your knees until a stretch is felt in the back of your neck. After holding this for a few seconds, exhale as you slowly return to the initial position.
The swan exercise activates the cervical paraspinals as well as several different muscles in the scapular region.
How To: Begin this exercise on your stomach with your hands beside your shoulders. Inhale and press your upper body and neck off the ground and into the air. Then exhale and bend your elbows as you let your upper body roll back down to the ground. Continue to to inhale and exhale as you slowly rock up and down, making sure the motion is smooth instead of jerky. After 10 repetitions, stop and rest.
To properly target the neck region, it's recommended you perform a 20-minute exercise session at least three times per week. Pilates is a progressive exercise program, so you're best off starting with an introductory class and to attempt the progressions as the exercises become easier. Be sure to consult with a certified Pilates instructor if you have any questions or are experiencing any pain while working out.