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When working out, you keep your eyes on the prize. But note that it’s just as important to make sure you’re not doing anything that can hurt, strain, or injure your body while striving to meet your end goal. For instance, we spoke with Robbie Mann, PT, DPT, OCS, CMTPT, and Mideast Regional Director for FYZICAL’s Company Clinics, who shares the worst exercises for your neck that you should be aware of.
Being able to properly move your neck is crucial for most daily tasks. Unfortunately, in today’s day and age, many of us spend a good part of the workday hunched over a laptop or computer setup. And in our free time, it’s common to scroll through social media, play games on our phones, and read books on our tablets, all while practicing bad posture. So get up and move in order to reverse this bad habit! “Proper alignment of our neck and spine are not always at the top of our priority list,” Mann says. “Even worse, this improper alignment can stay with us when doing physical activities, like working out, golfing, or swimming.”
If you’re dealing with any sort of neck pain, it’s important to pinpoint the movement that’s behind your pain and stop doing it immediately. “Some rehabilitation techniques may counteract this statement, so please be sure to speak to your physical therapist who can help you learn which movements are best for you,” Mann adds.
Below, you’ll find a few of the worst exercises for your neck that can cause further pain or discomfort, along with much safer alternatives. Keep reading to learn more, and next, be sure to check out the 7 Fitness Habits That Are Destroying Your Body Before 60.
1. Neck Circles
You may be surprised to learn that neck circles can pose a threat to your thoracic spine. These circular movements are performed to stretch out your neck muscles, but Mann explains there’s a much safer alternative exercise to consider. “Neck stretches are best for loosening tight neck muscles,” he says. “Start by sitting upright and looking straight ahead; apply pressure from your hand to your left shoulder and slowly tilt your head to the right. Hold for five seconds, and repeat on your other side.”
2. Swimming Laps
When you head to the pool to swim laps, you may not realize you’re favoring one side when breathing, which can wreak havoc on your neck. “This can be problematic after a while because you’re building muscle on one side of the neck, and shortening the muscles on the other,” Mann explains. “Try to alternate breathing sides to build muscles on both sides of your neck. Out of the pool consider neck rotations; start by sitting upright with your shoulder down, looking straight ahead. Slowly turn your head toward your right shoulder as far as you can comfortably hold it for five seconds before returning to your starting position. Repeat on the left side.” That marks one full rotation. Mann instructs you to aim for three rotations in total.
3. Heavy Lifting
Last but not least, when your neck is already feeling sore, you should definitely decrease the amount of weight lifting you’re doing. This is especially true for exercises that call for you to press the weights overhead, as it can put excess strain on your neck muscles.
“Ask a friend for help and consider rearranging heavy items on lower shelves or at eye level,” Mann suggests. “It’s important to be careful and not over-stretch a muscle that is in pain. Instead, try a heating pad and gently massage the sore area.”