Exercises to Strengthen Your Neck

Just about everyone who works out trains their chest, shoulders, arms, and legs. However, very few exercisers train their necks. This wasn’t always the case, and the neck was once a popular muscle group. After all, nobody wanted to be called a “pencil neck!”

In fact, in the golden era of bodybuilding, you were considered to be lacking if your neck wasn’t at least the same circumference as your arms and calves. So, if you had 17” arms, that’s how big your neck and lower legs should be too. Interestingly, many ancient Greek and Roman statues were sculpted to these proportional ideals.

Exercises to Strengthen Neck

neck painNeck training is essential in sports and for better posture too. After all, these muscles need to support your head, and the head is a heavy body part. The average head weighs five kilograms or 11 pounds. It requires constant muscular tension to keep it up.

The good news is that the neck muscles are very trainable, and a little exercise goes a long way. You don’t even need to go to the gym to build and strengthen your neck; many neck exercises can be done at home and even while sitting at your desk.

In this article, we discuss why you need to train these muscles and the best exercises to strengthen your neck.

Why Strengthen Your Neck?

neck musclesYour neck is made up of seven bones – the cervical vertebrae. It’s capable of several movements, namely flexion, extension, rotation, and lateral flexion. These movements are controlled by several different muscles, including the trapezius, scalenes, splenius, levator scapulae, and sternocleidomastoid muscles.

Because of its length and mobility, the neck is inherently weak and unstable. That means it’s prone to injury. Poor posture also puts a lot of extra stress on the neck, both the muscles and the vertebrae.

Rapid acceleration and declaration can cause severe neck injuries, which is why even minor car crashes can result in things like painful whiplash. Falls are another cause of neck injury. Sports such as boxing, wrestling, football, and rugby also expose the neck to potentially traumatic forces.

In short, if you want to improve your posture, protect your neck from injury, or absorb the punishment associated with contact sports, you really need to strengthen your neck. Also, a thick, muscular neck makes you look powerful, so if that’s a look you appreciate, it’s time to start training your neck.

How Do You Strengthen Your Neck Muscles?

The best way to strengthen your neck is with progressive overload. That means you start off with relatively easy workouts, and then increase the difficulty gradually over the coming weeks and months. Your muscles will respond by getting progressively bigger and stronger.

However, when it comes to neck strengthening, you must use a conservative approach and resist the temptation to do too much too soon.

Not only is the neck a relatively fragile body part that’s easily injured, but severe muscle soreness can also cause intense and unrelenting headaches. If you are new to neck training, start light and easy, leaving lots of gas in the tank for your next workout. Also, do not force any of the exercises as you could end up hurting rather than strengthen your neck.

What Are The Best Neck Strengthening Exercises?

When it comes to neck strengthening, you’ve got lots of exercises to choose from. Because your neck is capable of four movements (flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation) you should train each of these functions if you want to develop all-round neck strength.

Neck flexion exercises

neck flexionNeck flexion involves pulling your chin down toward your chest. This movement uses the muscles on the front of your neck. One way to strengthen your neck flexors is to lie on an exercise bench or the floor and then lift your head up as you tuck your chin into your chest. Lower your head and repeat.

Too easy? Place your hands against your forehead and resist the movement with your arms or wrap a weight plate in a towel and hold it on your forehead.

Neck extension exercises

neck extensionNeck extension is the opposite of flexion. Looking up at the ceiling is an example of neck extension. This movement involves the muscles on the back of your neck. Strengthening your neck extensors can help improve your posture, and stop you craning your head toward your computer screen, as you are probably doing right now!

One of the best ways to strengthen your neck extensors is to use a head harness. These simple devices allow you to attach weights to your neck.

Put on your neck harness and hang the loading straps in front of you. Add a little weight. Sit down and lean forward, resting your arms on your knees. Lift your head and look upward and then lower your head again. Keep “nodding” until you can feel your posterior neck muscles working.

No head harness? No problem! Just loop a broad towel over the back of your head, grip the ends, and then use your arms for resistance.

Lateral flexion exercises

lateral flexion neckLateral flexion involves tilting your head to the side. The muscles on the side of your neck are responsible for this movement. If you want a thicker neck, this is the exercise for you. The easiest way to strengthen these muscles is with manual resistance.

Place one hand flat against the side of your head. Press your head into your hand and push your ear down toward your shoulder. Resist the movement with your arm, but still allow your head to move. Push your head back to the central position and repeat. Remember to swap sides and do the same amount of work on the other side of your neck.

Rotation exercises

neck rotationRotation means turning your head to look behind you. This movement involves several neck muscles working together. The easiest and really the only way to train these muscles is with manual resistance.

Place the palm of one hand against the side of your face. Turn your head toward your hand while resisting with your arm. You can hold your head stationary or allow your head to move as preferred. Remember to swap sides and train left and right rotation.

Bottom Line

Not everyone needs to train their neck. Some people have naturally thick necks, and if you don’t play contract sports, a thicker, stronger neck may not be all that useful. That said, if it’s a part of your body you want to train, the good news is that there are plenty of exercises you can use, many of which require little or no equipment.

Some gyms DO have neck training machines, but these are becoming increasingly rare. However, neck training head harnesses are cheap, and there are plenty of manual and bodyweight resistance exercises you can use to make your neck stronger.

You could also try wrestler’s bridges to build your neck, which is an exercise where you support your weight on your head and feet only. However, as traditional as the wrestler’s bridge is for neck training, it’s also quite dangerous. It’s definitely not recommended for neck training neophytes.

Instead, use the exercises in this article to strengthen your neck gently and safely. After all, the aim is to train your neck for fewer injuries, and not to cause them!


Patrick Dale is an ex-British Royal Marine and owner and lecturer for a fitness qualifications company. In addition to training prospective personal trainers, Patrick has also authored three fitness and exercise books, dozens of e-books, thousands of articles, and several fitness videos.

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