Not only does a strong neck help to support/protect the head/spine and enhance posture, but it also looks freakin’ cool when your noggin is resting on what appears to be a tree trunk. And when you think about it, almost no matter what you’re wearing the neck is always on display, so if you want people to know you are an avid iron pusher (and puller) when fully clothed, you better make sure your head is not sitting upon a pencil.
The anatomy of the neck is actually quite extensive, which allows for it’s many patterns of movement such as flexion, extension, rotation and bending side to side. A complete training program for the neck will effectively target each of its muscles: the sternocleidomastoid, trapezius, semispinalis, longissimus, and splenius capitis.
If you wish to venture into direct neck training I highly recommend you always begin with a brief neck warm-up to stretch the many muscles involved and to get some blood flowing into the area. The following warm-up would suffice:
- Shrug your shoulders up, back and down with no weight 15-20 times.
- Tuck your chin into your chest and hold this position for 15-20 seconds.
- Bend your head back, looking straight up to the sky or ceiling and hold this position for 15-20 seconds.
- Turn your head as far as you can to the left and hold this position for 15-20 seconds. Repeat again on opposite side.
- Drop your ear down toward your left shoulder (you can pull on it slightly with your hand for a better stretch) and hold this position for 15-20 seconds. Repeat again on opposite side.
Next Up: The Neck Workout
While there are many excellent exercises for the neck that require cables, a harness or specific machines, I am going to focus on those that can be done simply with weight plates, a barbell and/or DB’s. Here is a good neck routine to start with:
Lying Neck Flexion
Lie supine on a bench with knees bent and neck/head hanging off the end. Place a weight plate on a towel and rest it on your forehead, holding with both hands. Start by leaning your head back as far as comfortable and then raise head until chin contacts the upper chest.
Seated Neck Extension
Sit at the end of a bench with stomach resting on thighs. Place a weight plate in a towel and rest it on the back of your head, holding with both hands. Stretch neck forward until the chin contacts the upper chest, and then raise head backward (without moving your torso) as far as you can comfortably.
Lateral Neck Flexion
Lie sideways on a bench with bend at hip/knees, neck/head hanging off and arm/hand on same side of body supporting you on the floor. Place a weight plate in a towel and rest it on the side of your head, holding it in place with free hand. Lower head to the side toward the floor as far as comfortable, and then laterally flex head back to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.
While standing, grab a pair of moderately weighted DB’s and hold them at your sides with a slight bend at the elbows. Raise your shoulder up as high as possible and hold this position for one full second. Lower down until you feel a stretch in your upper trapezius and repeat.
-A beginner should only do 1 set of each movement for about 15-20 repetitions. More advanced athletes can perform up to three sets of each exercise and go as low as 10 reps with greater resistance.
-As the neck can be easily strained or injured it is best to do every movement under full control, with a slow, steady tempo and no momentum or jerking.
-If your neck is particularly weak you may want to do these exercises without weight and simply put a small amount of pressure on your head with one of your hands.
-The neck can be trained up to twice per week, but always with at least 2 days off between sessions.
-Once you complete the routine it is a good idea to repeat the stretches from the beginning to help the neck muscles to relax and recover.