Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Importance of Neck Training - Jim Duggan

One of the most beneficial things that any trainee can do would be to train his/her neck. Strengthening the neck is vitally important, especially if you participate in contact sports, or are a tactical athlete. Even if you don't play sports, there are numerous benefits to having a strong, well-developed neck. Falls, accidents, or simply the everyday hazards of certain occupations, can cause all sorts of damage to the cervical spine and head. By incorporating some neck work into your strength training program, you can strengthen those crucial areas and possible make them more resistant to injury. And while training your neck may not be as fun as pumping your arms, or blasting your pecs, or blitzing your lats, the gains you derive from neck training may actually save you from suffering whiplash, or serious head injury, or worse.

The good news is that a lot of time does not need to be devoted to developing your neck. The exercises themselves are safe and effective in developing size and strength. They are relatively easy to perform, and, aside from the 4-Way Neck Machine, expensive equipment is not required. In fact, you can develop a bigger more powerful neck with as little as some barbell plates and a neck harness.

A simple, but effective, way to exercise your neck is something that can be done anywhere, anytime, and does not require any equipment at all. Several sets of Chin Tucks are a good way to introduce yourself to neck training. To perform a Chin Tuck simply turn your head as far as possible to one side. Then raise it, then lower it down so that your chin touches your shoulder. I do this simple exercise every morning upon rising. A couple sets of twenty reps is an easy way to stimulate your neck muscles.
The next exercise requires only a barbell plate, and a flat bench. Lie supine (face up) on a bench. Your head should be hanging on the end of the bench. Hold a plate on your forehead and raise your head up and down. This movement, like all neck exercises, should be down slowly and under control. Allow your head to roll back as far as you can, then raise it up and hold it for a second. Of course, you can place a towel on your forehead as a cushion once the weights get heavier. Or else you might have the word YORK imprinted on your forehead. Provided, of course, that you're using York plates, which I hope you are.

Next up on the exercise list utilizes a Headstrap or Harness. There are numerous Headstraps on the market. You want to make sure you find one that is not only strong, but comfortable. I personally use Ironmind's Headstrap Fit For Hercules. I've had it for years, and I wouldn't think of using anything different. And while it might be a little on the costly side, I personally believe that we should spare no expense when it comes to quality training equipment. In neck training, as in life, you get what you pay for! I like to utilize loading pins and/or chains to secure plates to my harness. Like all neck exercises, I prefer to do higher reps than on other exercises. For the Headstrap, I will do several sets. On my first set, I like to do a set of twenty or thirty reps. I will add weight for my second set and do a set of twenty. For the last set or so, I will add more weight and do one or two sets of 10-15 reps. Do the reps under control. I can't emphasize this enough. This especially important when you're training the neck. Do not bounce, jerk, or cheat in an effort to use more weight. It's better to lower the poundage and do the exercise under control. 

The final direct neck exercise utilizes a 4-Way Neck Machine. There are several companies that manufacture Neck Machines. They are all pretty much the same. The allow you to exercise the neck in four directions: Extension, Flexion, and each side (left and right.) A couple of sets in each direction will provide stimulation to your entire neck. Again, high reps are best. The biggest mistake that can be made on this machine- or any machine for that matter- would be trying to use limit poundages for low reps. You're trying to build strength, not set any records. Unfortunately, many gyms do not carry this piece of equipment. What a shame. Every commercial gym, as well as every high school or firehouse weight room should have a quality 4-Way Neck Machine. Think of how many aches, pains, and injuries could be avoided if everybody trained their neck in a sensible fashion.

Another way to strengthen the neck would be to include various Shoulder Shrug variations. Utilizing a barbell, or dumbbells, shrugging will develop the trapezius which will aid in strengthening the neck. The key is to keep your arms straight, and pull your shoulders straight up. There is no need to rotate your shoulders at the top position. Just shrug straight up as high as you can. Again, don't bounce or cheat. At various times, when I've done shrugs, I've used high reps ( 20 or more), as well as low reps ( sets of six.)
You may have noticed that I have not included any type of Bridging exercises ( aka The Wrestler's Bridge.) Years ago, when I trained at Iron Island Gym, I remember Dr. Ken Leistner giving a seminar about training. He explained why he did not advocate doing the Wrestler's Bridge. While I don't quite recall exactly what he said, I do remember him saying bridging placed a lot of stress on the cervical spine. If a Doctor of Chiropractic- as well as one of the most respected exercise authorities- says not to do them, then that is good enough for me. And I can honestly say that I have never done them, nor have I had a desire to try them.

By devoting a small amount of time to developing your neck, you will reap big dividends. A bigger, more powerful neck not only looks impressive, but it can actually be helpful in minimizing injuries to a vulnerable area of the body. Get going and good luck!
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