Neck exercises are somewhat overlooked in sports training but they are absolutely vital for preventing concussions and other types of injuries. The neck muscles support the cervical spine and the head (and therefore the brain). Concussions (mild traumatic brain injury) occur when the brain - the most fragile organ in the body - receives a sudden jolt and subsequently bounces in opposite directions.
By strengthening neck muscles, you prevent the movement of the brain because of the increased stability afforded to the head. In sports such as football, boxing and MMA where the head received sudden and powerful jolts frequently, it is crucial to have strong neck muscles.
In football, players are tackling and blocking all the time. The powerful shocks to the body and even directly to head cause a notorious amount of concussions in the sport. The neck muscles help stabilize the head so that in such collisions the brain’s movement is restricted, thus decreasing the likelihood of a concussion.
In boxing and MMA, fighters receive blows to the head frequently and get concussions as a result of the impact of the blow which sends a powerful jolt inside the skull, causing the brain to bounce in opposite directions. A strong neck, especially when combined with the correct defensive technique of keeping the neck slightly tucked in, can greatly reduce the chances of a concussion.
There are two main ways of strengthening the neck: a) bodyweight exercises and b) weighted exercises.
Neck Bodyweight Exercises
A very effective set of bodyweight exercises for the neck are bridges. This is when you put your weight on your neck – either from the front or the back – and roll on your head. The great thing about this exercise is that it works more than just your neck – it also targets your core, abs and more. You can start doing these exercises with your hands on the ground to give you support and move on to taking them off the ground to add more pressure to your neck as you gradually build neck strength. I’ve provided some videos below of how to do neck drills which include basic to more advanced exercises.
Neck Weighted Exercises
The best way to strengthening your neck with weights is using a neck harness. This allows you to add any amount of weights and move your neck to build a considerable amount of mass and strength. It’s a great way of training your neck because you have full control of how much weight you’re using. Below of some videos of how to use a neck harness to strengthen your neck. You can do them in various ways; standing, sitting or even lying down.