My neck always aches when I lift my head off the floor when I am doing Pilates. What am I doing wrong?

When curling the neck and head of the floor in Pilates, the correct positioning of the head is crucial and will prevent the neck ache you mentioned.

Too often we see people leave their head behind causing undue stress on the neck (see photo 1), or alternatively crunching the chin into the neck and compressing and overworking muscles in the jaw and neck (see photo 2).

Correct alignment of the head and neck will have the neck long with a natural curve, head above the sternum, and eyes focused on your belly button while your spine remains in neutral (see photo 3).

The correct positioning allows the powerhouse muscles to engage and do the work they are supposed to, instead of the neck taking over!

Exercise to practice:

Cervical nod, cervical curl.

I will break this exercise down into two parts.

Firstly the cervical nod is the initiating movement of the curl through the neck. So to start lie on your back, feet flat on the floor, knees up towards the ceiling. Looking straight up towards the ceiling, imagine you have a very long pencil on your nose!

Slowly nod your head moving your nose towards your body and imagine you are drawing a straight line with your pencil on the ceiling. Be careful that you don't go so far that your chin compresses into the neck. As you nod your head back make sure you bring your pencil line right above you, rather than past your eye line.

This should be a very gentle nod of the head with no tension in the neck and shoulders. Practice this until you feel the head moving without tightening muscles.

The second part of this exercise is the cervical curl, but this should always be preceded by the cervical nod to make sure the skull is in the right position before lifting it off the floor.

Start in the same position as before, lying on your back, knees up towards the ceiling, feet flat on the floor. Take a breath in to the back and side of your rib cage (posterior lateral breath) while keeping the belly button pulled in and up towards the spine.

As you exhale, soften the chest away from the chin and slowly nod the head down, then curl through the neck, lifting the head off the floor into the position as mentioned before. As you do this you want to make sure your spine remains in neutral and the belly button pulls in and up towards the spine. Hold it there while you inhale. Then exhale down, reversing the movement i.e. curling the neck down towards the floor with the head coming down after AND NOT dropping the head back. Repeat.

Posted by Christina on: Thursday, March 31, 2011