My favorite workout for neck strengthening involves a series of exercises that hit all areas of the neck. It’s important to address all of the movements including flexion, extension, lateral flexion, shoulder girdle elevation, scapular retraction and tucking & raising the chin. A complete workout for neck strengthening will include all of these.
While I prefer multiple sets of some exercises, in a group setting, a good workout for neck strengthening does not have to take a lot of time. Especially with a group, most coaches don’t want to spend a ton of time, so efficiency is a priority. If you are in the weight room, a great place to begin is the shrug and shoulder elevation.
Shrugs are done with the arms extended holding a trap bar, straight bar or dumbbells. Shoulder elevation is done with a bar on your back like a squat, then you raise your entire shoulder girdle. This is an especially good option to do while you’re performing your warm-up sets of squats. This allows you to begin your workout for neck strengthening without spending excess time setting things up and getting in and out of equipment. Efficiency is always a priority when training athletes, so think about how you can use the least amount of time and still get maximum benefit.
I like to have athletes do a couple sets of either shrugs or shoulder elevation before they begin the direct neck work. Research has shown that direct neck work increases neck strength and size to a much greater extent than non-direct work. In other words, if you want a strong neck, you have to train it. It’s not going to get bigger or stronger by doing exercises like shoulder presses or cleans. You may hit the traps with other exercises, but the neck needs direct work.
If you have quality neck machines available, you’re in luck. Unfortunately, most people (especially working with groups) don’t have this luxury, but you can get it all done with manual resistance. Fortunately, manual resistance is a fantastic workout for neck strengthening that allows large numbers of athletes to train together anywhere. Just make sure that everyone involved knows how to properly perform all of the exercises or you could be setting people up for injury. This site has more information on manual resistance training for the neck, so make sure to thoroughly educate yourself before you implement this kind of exercise.
The most common mistakes I see with MR neck strengthening workouts are using an excessive range of motion and excessive force. The neck is capable of large movements, but that does not mean it should be resisted through the entire motion. While the neck has plenty of motion, it is also relatively delicate. Excessive force in the extreme motions can cause damage to the intervertebral disks and can even damage bony structure and connective tissue. Too much resistance also changes the performance of each rep, leading to technique breakdown. Take your time with MR neck exercises so they are done correctly.
MR lateral flexion is often the cause of problems because spotters mistakenly think they should push the head all the way to the shoulder. This is very dangerous. Remember, this is a workout for neck strengthening, not an attempt to increase range of motion (ROM) or cause damage. The ROM can be greater on the concentric, but should not go far past neutral on the eccentric portion of the exercise.
Use slow, controlled reps and get at least one set done of:
Right & left lateral flexion (side)
This can all be done with partners rotating back and forth. In a group setting, you can do this just about anywhere, so there are no excuses for lack of equipment. In fact, if this is all the neck work you get done, you’re probably ahead of 90% of the people in America. Add in the shrugs and perform scapular retraction properly during your rows and you’re even farther ahead.
Scapular retraction and depression can be worked through individual exercises, but these movements can also be addressed through a properly performed row. Chin tucking and lifting can also be done separately, but they require detail oriented coaching and/or specialized equipment. We’ll cover these movements in future articles.
In conclusion, the quality workout for neck strengthening will include a shrug and/or shoulder elevation, flexion, extension and lateral flexion. Other movements can be added, but this list will work most of the involved musculature in a very efficient manner.
As always, keep coming back to NeckTraining.com for the best Neck Training information on the net.