Why Planks Are Hurting Your Neck

Despite its apparent simplicity, the plank is considered one of the most effective core exercises around. This exercise targets the rectus abdominis and obliques, as well as the deep core muscles that support your spine, notes the Cleveland Clinic. When practiced every day, it can build core strength, prevent or reduce back pain, and protect against injury. On top of that, it requires no equipment and can be adjusted to your fitness level.

The problem is that it takes just one small mistake to ruin your form. In the worst-case scenario, you may end up with back or neck pain and other aches. For example, many gym-goers round their backs or look ahead while in plank position, which can put stress on the spine. Some raise their hips too high or drop them too low, said Peloton instructor Selena Samuela in an interview with Byrdie. "Your body should resemble a straight line from head to toe," she explains.

If your neck hurts when you perform this movement, you're probably doing something wrong. "It's not about how long you can hold a plank, but how long you can hold the proper plank," ChaiseFitness co-founder Rachel Piskin told Cosmopolitan. Common mistakes, such as tilting your head forward, shrugging your shoulders, or lifting your buttocks, can throw your spine out of alignment and cause injury. Ideally, try to record yourself while in a plank position or ask a personal trainer for help. 

Common plank mistakes that can lead to neck pain

Poor posture is often the main cause of neck pain during exercise. Rachel Piskin, the co-founder of ChaiseFitness, warns that lifting your head and neck when doing planks can stress the cervical spine and compromise your form (via Cosmopolitan). The same happens when you round your shoulders. Another common mistake is to touch your chin to your chest, says Ask Men. By doing so, you're straining your neck muscles, which can lead to pain and stiffness.

Resist the temptation to look in the mirror while in plank position. Your head and neck should form a strain line with your back. Keep your gaze down and brace your core to prevent your spine from bending. "Instead of pulling the chin down for a neutral posture, some people keep the chin forward and shoulders slouched. That makes the chin stick out and creates tension in the neck and surrounding muscles," physical therapist Emily Roy told Harvard Medical School. The same goes for side planks and other plank variations — make sure your neck is in line with your torso. 

If you already have neck pain, try some gentle stretches to relieve the tension, suggests Roy. From a sitting or standing position, slowly bend your head to the right side. Continue until you feel a stretch in your neck. Hold for a few seconds and then repeat on the left side. Complete 10 repetitions on each side to fully reap the benefits (via Harvard Medical School).