Feb 21, 2013

Neck training has to be one of the most overlooked and underutilized facets of programming. Strengthening the neck through its ability to stabilize and resist movement is extremely important not just for athletes, but for the everday gym-goer as well.

Why Train Your Neck?

First and foremost, a strong neck will help you to avoid serious injury in a collision. This doesn't mean you should become a bull-necked behemoth and go get yourself into a car accident to test your metal, but in case you were in a car accident, having a strong neck would help you evade some serious damage.

Take a look at sports like football, MMA, and wrestling. Have you seen many pencil-necked lineman, fighters, or D1 wrestlers? I think not. There's a reason for this. In their given sports the amount of collision they get into during gameplay is huge. Lineman get smashed on every play, fighters get punched, kicked, and kneed to the head, and wrestlers get slammed and pinned to the mat. Constant impact on the neck, cervical vertebrae, and the surrounding structures. Having a weak neck in these situations isn't an option, it's a necessity.

The other two reasons for having a strong neck are more easily recognized by the average gym-goer:
  1. Better posture
  2. Safer positioning during exercises
By reawakening those long and weak muscles and reteaching them to function properly you WILL see improvements in posture. Who doesn't want better posture? On the other end, as your posture improves your neck positioning during exercise will improve. Take a pushup for example. How many people have you seen that let their head protrude forward and almost touch the ground before they even get halfway down into their pushup? Probably many. Simple corrections in position will become second nature after strengthening the neck. You'll find yourself correcting the movement as you perform it because something won't feel right. This, in turn, will make exercises safer and leave you with less of a chance to injure yourself

Now that we have the why, let's get into the what and how.

What Exercises You Should Use

Neck training is progressive and needs to be treated like a program unto itself. What I mean by this is don't think you're advanced and that the exercises are too easy and you should start with the hardest ones first. Start from the beginning and build up to the hard stuff OVER TIME. Rome wasn't built in a day and if you can lift any considerable amount of weight you know how long it took for you to get to where you are now. Don't be naive, you will get hurt.

That being said, we will break down our neck training into 4 phases:
  1. Bodyweight Chin Tucks
  2. Perturbations
  3. Manual Resistance
  4. Weight, Band, or Swiss Ball Resistance

PHASE 1: Bodyweight Chin Tucks

This is the baseline movement for starting your neck training regiment. It will allow you to understand how to get into proper alignment and statically hold the position. You can perform these supinated (laying on the floor), quadruped (on hands and knees), or in a pushup position.

My boy BT doing supinated chin tucks

PHASE 2: Perturbations

After gaining solid ability in maintaining the static chin tuck position we move to resisting movement. Perturbations include holding the chin tuck in any of the 3 ways described above and having a partner apply light pressure by way of fingertip pushing in 3 movement patterns. These patterns include flexion, extension, and lateral flexion. Just make sure your partner isn't smacking your head when performing this type of exercise. Light pressure means light pressure.

PHASE 3: Manual Resistance

Once you've built the capacity to resist movement it's time to make it a little harder. Manual resistance is provided again, by a partner, and this time in the form of constant pressure in a given movement pattern. The easiest way to do these exercises is to use a towel but if you have no other choice you can just use hands.

PHASE 4: Weight, Band, or Swiss Ball Resistance

After utilizing manual resistance it's time to progress and make things harder once again. This is where more weight and more movement come into play. The most challenging of these methods would have to be the use of a Swiss ball. The instability of the ball paried with the resistance from your bodyweight make it one of the best neck training methods once you've conquered the easier progressions.

Using plates

Using the Swiss ball

How To Add Neck Training Into Your Program

The easiest way to incorporate neck training into your current program is to hit it at the end of a training session. I don't like placing it before or during the workout as a fatigued neck will have a detrimental effect on the rest of your training and could lead to an injury.

Here are my guidelines for frequency:
  • Perform your neck training anywhere from 2-3 times per week
  • Phases last 3-6 weeks depending on progress

Now as for reps, I like to go for time and I use 10 seconds as a baseline number. This means each set's total volume would be 10 seconds of time under tension. You can break this up however you like but for the sake of this article we'll do it like this:

3-6 sets of 10 second holds
3-6 sets of 10 repetitions

This is pretty self explanatory. If it's a movement that requires an isometric hold, follow the first example. If it's a movement that requires repetitions, follow the second example. You don't need to get much more complicated than that. Gauge your progress and make sure you're always maintaining proper positioning. Don't move from phase to phase too soon as inadequate strength in the foundational positions will transfer over to even worse positioning in the more difficult variations. Take your time and do things right. I promise you will be better for it.

Now that you have a grasp on why you should be training your neck, get to it and PROTECT YA NECK!!

In Strength,
Franco Crincoli


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Franco Crincoli
I am a personal trainer, strength coach, and all around iron addict, with a philosophy deeply rooted in old school methods. My training has been influenced by strongmen, powerlifters, Olympic lifters, gymnasts, and the Golden Era bodybuilders. I believe in reaping the greatest rewards the simplest (not easiest) way possible and having fun doing it.
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