How to strengthen your abdominals without straining your neck

If you are the kind of person that after a couple of Pilates exercises has to take a break because of too much discomfort in her/his neck, this post is for you.

I have been suffering with an herniated disk in my cervical spine for years, plus I tend to accumulate stress right on top of my shoulders and neck, so I often have to support my head in Classical Pilates exercises such as The One Hundreds, The Double Leg Stretch or Scissors.

Yes, keeping our head up when we work our abdominals can get easier once we improve our spine mobility (so we learn how to lift higher) and we strengthen our deep neck muscles, but in the mean time here are my favourite alternatives to traditional crunches to make sure your core is targeted in a balanced way without big efforts from your neck.

1. Flatback abdominals for your TVA

How: Keeping your spine neutral, create a diamond shape with your legs.

Gently wrap your abdominals in and lower your toes forward and down without moving your pelvis or spine. You can add an extension of the legs in a high diagonal if you wish.

Keep everything small and slow until you feel strong enough to lower more without touching the floor (and eventually extend the legs forward instead of diagonally up).

Keep your shoulderblades anchoring on the floor and the front and back of your neck equally long.

Alternative: To modify you can move one leg at the time maintaining your hips level and square.

2. Curl with towel for your rectus abdominis (aka six pack)

I love this variation because my neck is fully supported and I take the work deep in my abdominals.

How: Keep your feet on the floor and rest the back of your skull on the towel. Lengthen your neck and point your elbows forward. Inhale to prepare, exhale move your elbows and ribs towards your hips gradually peeling the spine off the mat.

Try and release the weight of your neck on the towel and hold a moment of stillness at the top.

Alternative: For a challenge you can move one leg towards you as you curl up and away from you as you lower your head, always checking that your lower back doesn't arch excessively when you reach the leg away from your centre.

3. Corkscrew preparation for your obliques

How: Bring your knees at table top. Move your knees slightly to one side, without popping the belly out, then come back to centre gently pressing the hips back on your mat. Keep your shoulders always grounding on the mat and your movements smooth and controlled.

Alternative: For an extra challenge you can extend the legs to a high diagonal and/or increase the range of the twist.

You can start with 10 repetitions for each exercise (remember to do both sides) and if you wish you can perform the sequence one more time after a short break making sure you don’t feel any pain but only a healthy muscular activation.

Any questions please get in touch at, hope you enjoy this!


Don't miss The secret to a healthy and happy spine, 2 hours packed of tips and recommendations to perform some of the most common Pilates exercises in safety and efficiency, so you will know exactly what to do to maintain a optimal posture and to modify or progress your practice based on how you feel.

This is the perfect opportunity to ask questions and clarify all your doubts once and for all!


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Ph. Jacopo Landi, Trent McMinn.