Neck strengthening exercises
A general rule for training the neck is very straightforward and intuitively. You should perform head movements without weights (or with a very light load), slowly and within a safe range of motion. Neck strengthening exercises you can perform using machine equipment are extremely rare. Furthermore, equipment of this kind is very unusual and hard to find.
In this article you’ll find detailed descriptions for all neck strengthening exercises you’ll ever need. They will help you to build a strong neck muscles. Having a strong neck is a must in many high contact sports. For example, having a strong neck is vital for a fighter because his head is connected to it. The neck absorbs the impact when a punch or kick lands anywhere on a fighter’s head, whether in point fighting or full contact.
Here are the top 10 neck strengthening exercises:
- Neck harness (standing or sitting)
- Neck machine extension, flexion, lateral flexion
- Lying neck extension
- Lateral neck flexion (lying)
- Lying neck flexion (“neck curls”)
- Neck rotation (lying)
- Cable neck extension
- Front & back neck bridge (wrestler bridge)
- Bench neck bridge (prone bench neck bridge)
- Cable neck flexion
Neck harness (standing or sitting)
STARTING POSITION (SETUP): Connect a weight plate, kettlebell, or dumbbell to a standard neck harness. Place the harness on your head and position yourself so that you can brace your hands against your knees. You can perform this great neck strengthening exercise either standing or sitting on the exercise bench. If you decide to do this exercise while standing then slowly move your torso forward while bending at the knees until it is almost parallel with the floor. Place both hands on top of your knees with the weights hanging in front of you.
MOVEMENT (ACTION): Lower and raise the weight with your neck. Do the movement slowly to keep the weight from swinging excessively. Try to lower your neck down until your chin touches the upper part of your chest. Avoid doing any sudden jerk or movement. Practice without any weights to get used to the movements required for this exercise or use very light weight plate.
Many gyms have a neck machine of some type, and there are many variations. In our opinion, the Nautilus brand is the best. If you haven’t used one before, get someone at your gym to show you how. The most important aspect of using a neck machine is adjusting the seat to exactly the right height for your use. You’ll need to figure this out through trial and error. You can perform a variety of exercises on this machines: side, forward and backward neck extensions. The image below shows Nautilus 4-way neck machine. It is a safe and effective training of anterior, posterior and lateral flexion. These 4 neck strengthening exercises are simple and easy to perform.
STARTING POSITION FOR ALL 4 EXERCISES: Squeeze seat adjustment lever so that forehead is pressed firmly against movement pad and nose is even with crossbar. This is proper seat height for all four neck exercises.
MOVEMENT (ACTION) – depending on the chosen exercise variation:
- Neck Extension: Sit with rear of head against movement pad. Grasp handles loosely. Push movement pad backward as far as possible. Return slowly to starting position and repeat.
- Neck Flexion: Sit with face against movement pad. Grasp handles loosely. Push movement pad forward as far as possible. Return slowly to starting position and repeat.
- Neck Lateral Flexion: Sit with side of head against movement pad. Grasp handles loosely. Push movement pad sideways as far as possible. Return slowly to starting position and repeat. Place other side of head against movement pad and perform same procedures.
Maintain erect posture and keep torso in contact with restraining pad at all times. Furthermore, make sure that you’re only moving your neck, not your body, to “curl” the weight.
Lying neck extension
STARTING POSITION (SETUP): Lie with your chest and stomach on a flat bench. Your breastbone should rest on the edge and your head over the edge. You can hug the bench to keep your balance or put your hands behind your back.
MOVEMENT (ACTION): Raise your head as if looking up and slowly lower it again in a controlled movement until you are looking underneath the bench. Once you are familiar with the movement, you can do this exercise with your eyes closed. Breathe naturally.
Highly trained athletes can place a weight at the base of the head to increase the resistance or use elastic belts attached to weights. This is not recommended, however, because the neck is very delicate.
Lying lateral neck flexion
STARTING POSITION FOR THIS EXERCISE: Lie on your side on a flat exercise bench supported by your shoulder. Let your head drop gently onto your shoulder.
MOVEMENT (ACTION): Lift your head back up (maximum range of motion: 90º). It may be more comfortable to do this with your eyes closed. As always, breathe naturally.
As in other neck strengthening exercises, only highly trained athletes can place a disc on the side of the head or use elastic belts to increase the resistance. Take a small dumbbell and position it on the side of your upper head. Move your head up and to the side by laterally flexing the neck. Lower your head to the opposite side and repeat. Finish a set, then switch sides.
Lying neck flexion (“neck curls”)
This is a good neck movement to do when you’re in a gym. It works the muscles of the neck that bring the chin toward the chest (neck flexors).
STARTING POSITION (SETUP): Lie face up on a flat exercise bench with your head over the edge. You can, if you want, hold on to the sides of the bench to keep your balance.
MOVEMENT (ACTION): Flex the head and neck, bringing them up and forward so that you are looking at your toes. Lower your head back slightly farther than the horizontal position. You can keep your eyes closed. Breathe naturally, but preferably inhaling as you lower your head.
EXERCISE VARIATION (DO IT HARDER): Highly trained athletes can balance a weight (weight plate) on the forehead or use an elastic belt to increase the resistance. You can also do this with a kettlebell /dumbbell. However, be very careful since the neck is so delicate and prone to injury. Also, no jerking movements. Make your movements slow and controlled. Again, your main goal is to move your head up by flexing the neck until your chin touches the upper chest.
Fold a towel and place it on the plate where it’ll make contact with your forehead. Lie on a bench with your head over the side. Rest the weight on your forehead and, using your hands to balance the weight, slowly lower the weight up and down. Make sure that you’re only moving your neck, not your body, to “curl” the weight.
Lying neck rotation
STARTING POSITION (SETUP): In order to perform this neck exercise you have to lie on your side on a flat exercise bench supported by your shoulder. Then look to one side (toward the floor), as shown on the image below.
MOVEMENT (ACTION): Now turn your head on its axis to look in the opposite direction (toward the ceiling). Maximum range of motion should be around 170º. It may be more comfortable to do the exercise with your eyes closed. As always, breathe naturally.
Cable neck extension
STARTING POSITION (SETUP): Sit on a bench facing a pulley. Place your neck in the harness cable attachment and grip the edge of the bench with both hands.
MOVEMENT (ACTION): Move your head away from the pulley by hyper-extending your neck. Return by bending the neck forward until your chin touches your upper chest.
Front & back neck bridge (wrestler bridge)
This is a great exercise (and our all-time-favorite neck movement) but one that you have to build up to.
FRONT NECK BRIDGE: Lie on your stomach and raise up on your forehead and toes. If you haven’t done this before, keep your knees on the ground first to take some weight off your neck and get a fee! for the movement. You can also place your hands on the ground near your head to provide some support. Slowly roll on your forehead in all possible directions.
BACK NECK BRIDGE: After about a minute or so, flip over on your back and reverse the movement. The best place to do this is on an exercise or wrestling mat. GO SLOW!
Bench neck bridge (prone bench neck bridge)
This neck exercise is much easier and safer variation of the above exercise. It’s a static isometric contraction. Aim to hold this position for about twenty to thirty seconds. If you’re just starting out with this exercise you may want to start with a shorter hold.
You can also perform this exercise so that it involves some movement.
STARTING POSITION (SETUP): Put the back of your head on the middle of an exercise bench. Push up through your hips to get your spine in a nice straight line. Shift weight to the head. Your body should be in a perfect straight line from head to the knees in the top position.
MOVEMENT (ACTION): Lower your body slowly and under control until you reach the bottom position as shown on the image.
Cable neck flexion exercise
This great neck strengthening exercise involves the use of a head-strap attachment or rope handle. It works all the muscles of the neck that bring the chin toward the chest (neck flexors).
STARTING POSITION (SETUP): Sit on a weight bench facing away from the pulley on the weight suck. Place your neck in the harness cable attachment. Hold on to the bench for support.
MOVEMENT (ACTION): Move your head away from the pulley by bending your neck forward until your chin touches the upper chest. Return your head to the initial position by hyperexlending the neck.
You can also make this exercise easier by using tubing. Simply loop tubing securely around head so that it does not slide off and hold other end of tubing in hands behind back. Adjust tension by pulling down more or less on tubing.
Anatomy of the neck
The neck is one of the body’s most complex regions and includes various “hyoid” muscles (i.e. thyrohyoid, sternocleidomastoid, mylohyoid) that interact to move the head forward, backward and sideways. They also allow you to twist the head upward of 200 degrees. Besides moving the skull, the neck muscles form a strong support network for protecting the head. This is why wrestlers and football players usually have such great neck development.
Closing thoughts: Neck strengthening exercise
Some bodybuilders will develop large, powerful neck muscles simply by doing shoulder and
back training. Others will need to hit the muscles directly if they want that no-neck look made
famous by football players.
Using too much weight and performing movements too fast are the two biggest mistakes when doing neck strengthening exercises. The risk of injury to the vertebrae and small muscles is extremely high.