How to fix neck pain in Pilates class

Pilates neck strength

Your neck hurts during Pilates

It’s literally a pain in the neck when you have neck pain in Pilates. You have to stop an exercise because your neck hurts. We’ve all been there.

You’re pumped and ready to go, get into position and start The Hundred. Just a few breaths in and your neck starts to hurt! You can’t ignore it. 

Your abs, legs and arms are all fine, but you just…have…to…stop.

So frustrating! How are you ever supposed to get stronger and reap the benefits of Pilates class if you can’t even do the exercises?

Friends, this doesn’t have to be a problem, there is a way forward!

Identify if you have a neck injury

Does your neck hurt outside of Pilates classes? 

Have you suffered an injury to your neck?

Have you been diagnosed with:

  • Spondylosis
  • Disc bulge
  • Disc degeneration
  • Stenosis
  • Radicular pain / radiculopathy
  • Whiplash
  • Text neck / forward head posture 

If you answered yes to any of these questions, read Pilates for Neck Injuries. If your neck only hurts when doing Pilates, read on!

Understand the muscles

When you lift your head for The Hundred there are quite a few muscles that are working. These are some: 

  • Sternocleidomastoid
  • Scalene anterior
  • Longus capitis
  • Rectus capitis. 

Like all other muscles in the body, these neck muscles can be strong or weak. 

If they are weak, when you ask them to work to lift your head, you will definitely feel it! 

Your head is actually pretty heavy. The muscles will shout out to you “Hey! Stop that! We don’t want to work because we’re too weak!”. 

That’s an unpleasant sensation, one that you will recognize as pain.

Think about it. When you hold a plank for a while and your abs start burning, that’s an unpleasant sensation. Your basic instinct is to stop immediately!

Understand sensation in the muscles

Do you experience immediate neck relief when you lower your head during The Hundred?

Do you experience immediate abdominal relief when you come down from a plank?

If you answered yes, you have nothing to fear!

By doing the exercise you aren’t hurting your neck, you are experiencing the sensation of your “neck abs”! Luckily for you, they are beginning to get stronger like all the other muscles in your body when you load them through exercise. 

Be weary of exercise “modifications”

If every time you feel your “neck abs” you modify the exercise by lowering your head, you will never give them a chance to get stronger. The unpleasant sensation will always be there when you try to use them. 

How to strengthen

Is it important to strengthen your “neck abs”? 


They are no different from other muscles, so why would we ignore them?

Every time you do the exercise which is bugging your neck, try your best to keep your head lifted for just a little longer. Through practice and time you will build strength.

You can also ask your teacher for specific neck strengthening exercises!

When you do The Hundred, does it matter what exact position your head is in when it’s lifted? 

Yes, and no …

Yes it matters because when you lift your head but also press it backward, you are strengthening all of the muscles. 

And no, because you aren’t going to injure yourself by doing it any other way. In the end, if you want the most bang for your buck, make sure your Pilates teacher knows the difference, and can cue you to have optimum alignment to maximize muscle strengthening.

I wish you all happy “neck ab” strengthening, and if you have any questions please let me know in the comments below.

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