I implore you, how many times have you seen a weightlifter or bodybuilder with a pencil-thin neck? Neck training is largely unpopular compared to arm, abs, and legs which get enough exposure to develop a photo album. In fact, a lot of gyms don't even have traditional apparatus for training your neck, even if it has machines for everything else from your inner thighs to your lower back or calves. (Traditional apparatus would be something like a neck harness, pictured below, that you could strap to your head for neck resistance training.)
If you look through a magazine on fitness or building muscle, you can always find a guy with huge arms or a bulging six-pack, but you really have to hunt to find someone with a thick, powerful looking neck. It's not recommended that you do neck exercises at the gym; it's imperative that you take the time to train your neck to do what it does best – strengthen you, support you, and protect you from harm.
Why Is Neck Training So Important?
Your strength lies in your foundation. People may train core or lower back, but the neck is also a vital part of your body's foundation because it supports your head. As Mike “The Machine” Bruce puts it, “...where the head goes the body follows, and if my neck is not strong enough to keep my head looking up then how am I supposed to move forward with my goals and my life?”
And that's really true; a weak neck means that as you age, your head starts drooping. To compensate for the strain, your spine will start curving, and that'll begin to misalign your whole body. A stronger neck means better support, better posture, and prevents many health problems associated with aging.
The effects of accidents that cause whiplash or concussions can range from mildly inconveniencing to damaging to the brain, or even fatal.
Neck training is critical because, with a stronger neck, you can significantly lower your risk of injury if an accident happened to you. Your neck doesn't only support your head; it acts as a shock absorber to lessen the impact of blows to the head. So in a car accident, you'll have a better chance of reducing your chance of head trauma with a strong neck. Boxers train their necks often, knowing the extra endurance a strong neck can give them against strong blows to the head. A weak neck won't be able to handle even a mildly forceful blow to the head, and you'll have a greater chance of getting a concussion.
Even more dangerous than concussions are spinal injuries, which almost always result in some kind of paralysis or debilitating pain. Spinal injuries happen in sports, in swimming pools, in many places daily and almost always cause career ending or lasting damage. Studies are still being done on the best ways to rehabilitate patients after spinal injuries, but having a strong neck is a great preventative measure. Some of the muscles that run along your spine connect to the back of your neck, such as the semispinalis dorsi and the longissimus. More strength in your back neck muscles means more strength in these spinal muscles, which would not only improve overall mobility but also reduce chances of spinal injuries. For the time and energy, sweat and tears that you put in for neck training, you might be eliminating the cost of years of physical therapy, painkillers, or other things that often follow a spinal injury.
With enough training, even in serious accidents, a strong neck can mean the difference between head trauma and life in a wheelchair. Anyone is susceptible to these injuries, so everyone, male or female, should consider neck training a critical part of their workouts. After all, a strong neck is often the mark of a strong person and strong health altogether.
Strongmen With Strong Necks
Many strongmen in history were noted and appraised for their incredible neck strength. In fact, Earl Liederman, strength mentor to Charles Atlas, George Jowett, and others, said this about neck strength:
“You can talk as you please, but I as an athlete judge a man's development more by the size and contour of his neck than by any other way.” Again, ladies, don't let this be discouragement for you to train your necks; neck exercises can help you prevent injuries, maintain the elasticity of your neck skin, help combat neck pain, and simply make you stronger.
And neck training will definitely make you much stronger. In fact, Eugen Sandow had such a strong neck that he could break chains across it. Joseph "The Mighty Atom" Greenstein trained his jaws and neck to the point that he could bite through steel.
Now, while you might not wanna add grandma's silverware to your diet, you can surely admire the absolute strength that these men had from their neck training. Even in old age, the Mighty Atom had a high level of neck strength.
Neck Training Exercises
If you have access to a neck harness, this can be a great ally in terms of developing your neck strength. You can buy them online, but as I said, most gyms don't have neck training apparatus. So what you'll want to do is grab a weight plate that you're comfortable with, and do some neck raises. To strengthen the back neck, lie stomach down on a bench and place the plate on the back of your head, holding it with both hands. Proceed to lower and raise your head with the weight until you've fatigued the muscles thoroughly. Turn onto your back, place the plate of your forehead, and repeat the same movements to work the front of your neck. There are pictures of Mike Bruce, the man with the "World's Strongest Neck" doing this below.
For the bodyweight training enthusiasts, there are some other excellent neck exercises to try. These are a bit more advanced, so proceed with caution if not confidence. The front neck bridge is an exercise in which you lie on the ground, stomach down, and place your forehead onto the ground, or on a mat to protect your head. Then, you can raise onto your toes so that the only things supporting your body are your toes and your neck, as demonstrated by Logan Christopher, the physical culture Renaissance man, below.
One of the most advanced neck exercises to do, and one of my favorite exercises period, is the rear neck bridge, or commonly known as the wrestler's bridge. With this exercise, you'll start by lying on your back with your feet flat on the floor. Place your palms onto the floor over your head, so that your body almost resembles a table. You can then walk your body until your neck can support your weight, and then remove your hands so that only your head and feet care supporting your weight. Not only is this a great neck exercise, but it works the spine, back, buttocks and legs, improving overall strength and mobility. Paul "Batman" O' Brien, creator of 7 Seconds to a Perfect Body, which also has some great neck exercises, demonstrates the wrestler's bridge below.
Neck Training Tips
If the front neck bridge is too difficult to do with your body nearly parallel to the ground, you can walk your feet forward a bit to take some of the strain off your neck.
Also, your neck muscles are used to supporting the weight of your head all day every day, so they can handle some intense resistance. Don't be afraid to really do an intense neck workout, because your neck will be strong enough to handle it. However, if you're feeling light-headed, dizzy, or pain, then stop the exercise and take a bit of rest. You shouldn't risk injuring yourself in an attempt to make yourself injury resistant.
Know the difference between pain and discomfort; the road to strength is often uncomfortable, but you can have comfort in the satisfaction that you are making yourself stronger and more injury resistant. If the exercise is uncomfortable, that might just mean that it's working.
Also breathe deeply while doing these exercises; if not, it's very easy for blood to rush rapidly to the head and risk a detrimental spike in blood pressure.