You have finally received the news that neck training is actually a thing and that all those “gym fail” videos were made by ignorant people. Now you wonder if you should try exercising the neck and if that will bring benefits to you. You definitely should, as the benefits are worth it, regardless of your goals.
Why Train the Neck
The first benefit of neck training is unrelated to the physique directly but can have a tremendous impact. Neck training can fix many of the postural problems you may have, especially for those who sit by the computer much and tend to shift their neck forwards in order to be closer to the screen. A strong neck will fix that issue.
A thick neck looks amazing. If you were to compare two photographs of the same person, one with a “regular” pencil-neck, and one with a thick neck, which one would look more jacked? The one with the thick neck, of course. Some people think that large traps and neck make you look narrower and smaller, but this is simply not true. Have you ever seen a skinny or small person with a large neck? If so, were you not amazed? A thick neck will make you look like you lift even with a jacket on.
A strong neck can do much more than look nice. It can also save your life, or be the deciding factor in a martial arts match. Why do you think martial artists put so much effort into strengthening their necks? This is so that they can protect themselves from concussions and other types of physical trauma. For the individual who does not train martial arts, neck training would still be useful in this regard. For example, having strong neck muscles can prevent you from breaking your neck when e.g. falling.
This may be anecdotal, but more people claim that it is true than that it is not: neck training helps other muscles recover and grow faster. It is not really a known fact why this occurs, and it may take a while before we find out. A possible explanation for the improved recovery of the trapezius is the fact that they are physically connected. Try doing some neck curls and check if your traps look larger as soon as you stand up.
How to Train the Neck
There are several exercises to choose from, and the best option would be to pick one and progress at it for as long as you can before switching. The neck is a small group of muscles and you cannot expect to lift much weight on it. However, you will be able to do so, given some time. Just look at Mike “The Machine” Bruce’s world-record neck extensions with 300 lb (136 kg).
- Neck Curl
This is quite possibly the most classic of the neck exercises. To perform it, simply lie down on a bench, on your back, with your head sticking out. Put a plate on your head and curl it. Try to refrain from using the abdominal musculature, as much as possible. It will probably hurt to have the plate on your forehead, a good idea is to put a towel or some yoga mats between your forehead and the plate. This exercise can also be performed with kettlebells, dumbbells or even a barbell, should you get to the level where holding plates is too hard for your hands but too easy for your neck. Optionally, you could purchase a neck harness and perform the exercise with it: standing, seated or while laying down.
- Neck Extension
Also quite popular, yet much more difficult to perform without equipment. For this exercise, lie down on your stomach and with your head sticking out, off the bench. Put a plate on your head and extend upwards. This will also probably hurt, so a towel is a good idea. Given that the rear side of the neck tends to be stronger, and given that the loading potential on this exact variation is not very optimal, the best solution would be to perform the exercise with a harness. With a harness, you can perform the exercise seated, standing or while laying down.
- Wrestler’s Bridge
A common sight within the martial arts circles. You have surely tried making “the bridge” with your hands behind your head, at least once. This exercise is quite similar to that. Instead of using your arms for holding the upper body above ground, you are using the neck. Extend the neck so that you are above the ground and either hold it for time or perform repetitions in the same manner. This exercise can easily be done weighted. While it is notorious for hypertrophy, it can also be risky to perform with very high weights.
- Side Raise
This exercise is pretty much the same as the neck curl, only with a twist. You are laying on your side instead, and must thus do a set for both sides. Out of all the named exercises, this one will allow you to lift the least weight and may thus be a great option for training at home if you do not have access to weights. Even holding a four-liter bottle on your head while doing it will give you some gains, when starting out.