As a ringside physician for the
Pennsylvania Athletic Commission, Iím particularly
aware of the importance of the prevention, diagnosis
and treatment of neck injuries. Thatís what
prompted me to write this article.
Before you can train your neck
effectively, you must understand its anatomy, for
that will enable you to work the correct muscle
The main muscles of the neck
- The sternocleidomastoid.
Originating at the back of the skull behind each
ear and inserting onto the sternum and clavicle,
it accounts for the thickness of the neck.
The trapezius. It
originates at the back of the skull and the
seventh cervical vertebrae through the 12th
thoracic vertebrae, and inserts onto the
clavicle, shoulder and scapula. It creates a
sculpted transition zone from the upper back to
the shoulders and neck.
- The platysma. Itís a
superficial muscle that spreads like a sheet
from the mandible to the upper chest and
With the anatomy lesson out of
the way, itís time to get down to business. Neck
training consists of two phases: the pre-workout
stretching and warm-up, and the exercises. Along the
way, range of motion and poundage play a vital role.
The Warm Up
As with any training routine,
itís important to warm up your muscles and stretch
before starting any form of exercise. Begin by
rotating your head in its full range of motion, both
clockwise and counterclockwise. Do 10 repetitions in
Next, laterally move your head
so your ear approaches your shoulder. Do 10
repetitions to the right and 10 to the left.
Remember that thereís no rule regarding the number
of sets and repetitions. Most athletes find that
doing one to three sets of eight to 20 reps for each
exercise is efficient and effective.
Self-resistance exercises are
perhaps the safest way to train the neck because you
control the exact amount of stress, or load, that
you put on your body. No external weights or
machines are involved. Five recommended exercises
are as follows:
- Downward Neck Flexion While
looking forward, place your hands on your forehead.
Apply pressure as you slowly move your head in a
direction that would put your chin on your chest.
Return to the starting position.
- Upward Neck Extension Clasp
your hands behind your head while looking forward.
Apply pressure against the back of your head as you
slowly angle it backward (so youíre looking up).
Return to the starting position.
- Neck Lateral Place one hand
just above your ear on the same side of your body.
While applying pressure, slowly move your head so
that your ear comes close to touching your shoulder.
Return to the starting position. Do several
repetitions to one Bide, then switch to the other.
This exercise targets each sternocleidomastoid
(Note that the three
aforementioned exercises can be performed by
substituting a towel for your hands. Wrap it around
your head and hold the ends with one hand, then
begin. Alternatively, you can have a partner supply
Wrestlerís Bridge. Lie
on the floor with your head on a pad or pillow. Arch
your back and bridge upward until youíre supporting
your body weight on your head and feet. Try to keep
your hands off the floor. Your goal is to increase
the time you can remain in this position every time
you assume it.
Athletes often perform two
variations of the wrestlerís bridge: The first
involves raising and lowering your hips while you
ďwalkĒ a few inches toward your head and back again.
This works your neck muscles from different angles
The second entails starting the
wrestlerís bridge from the prone positionó that is,
on your stomach. Raising your abdomen off the ground
and balancing on your head and feet creates a
tripod- like shape.
kneeling, place your hands on the floor in front of
you, then put your head a comfortable distance in
front of them to form a triangle. Rest your knees on
your elbows, then extend your legs upward. The
exercise builds balance while strengthening your
To develop your muscles, the
following exercises use equipment rather than your
own body. Done properly, they can add variety and
resistance to your workouts.
Dumbbell Shrug. This
exercise can be performed standing or sitting. Grasp
a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing inward. Raise
your shoulders toward your ears, then lower them in
a controlled manner. To work your muscles at a
slightly different angle, lean forward. Both
versions target the trapezius.
Barbell Shrug. Grasp a barbell in front of your
body or behind it. Both palms can be facing your
body, or one can face forward while the other points
backward. Raise your shoulders toward your ears,
then lower them slowly. Like the dumbbell shrug,
this exercise targets the trapezius.
Upright Barbell Row.
Once youíve lifted the barbell, stand with your
back straight and your knees slightly bent. Your
palms should be facing your body. Lift the barbell
until itís just below your chin, then lower it
Upright Dumbbell Row.
Perform the same movement as described for the
upright barbell row, but use two dumbbells. Slow,
controlled movements are the key to muscle
development and injury prevention.
Weight Harness. For
this exercise, you need a piece of equipment thatís
basically a head strap with a chain attached. Load a
light weight onto the chain, then slowly move your
head in a nodding motion.
Plate Lift. Get access
to a weight bench. Lie on your back with your head
hanging over the edge. Place a towel across your
forehead, then rest a weight plate on it while
steadying it with your hands. (Do not let go of the
weight.) Lift your head until your chin is close to
your chest, then lower it to the starting position.
Neck Machine. You can
also employ a specialized exercise machine designed
to provide resistance while you execute forward,
backward and side-to-side movements. Most health
clubs have several models.
Customize Your Routine
Which of the above-mentioned
exercises you do on any given day is up to you.
Thereís no need to perform them all. You may want
to combine some of the self-resistance exercises
with the weight- loaded ones. Vary your choices to
avoid stagnation in your gains.
Perform each exercise in a
slow, steady fashion. Avoid jerking, which can
strain your neck and injure your muscles. Experiment
to determine the number of sets and reps, as well as
the poundage, that fit your body and give you
You can do your neck workout on
days when youíre training other body parts or on
your off days. As your fitness level rises, you can
work the exercises as supersets, which entails doing
one set immediately after a previous set of a
different exercise without resting.
Before beginning this or any
exercise program, consult a doctor or other health-
care professional. Injuries can and do occur, even
if you follow the exact form of the exercise.
About the author: Jeffrey
Lee Rosenblum, M.D., is a board-certified urologic
surgeon. He is a fellow of the American College of
Surgeons and ringside physician for the Pennsylvania
Athletic Commission. A student of the martial arts
and boxing, heís also an avid weightlifter. For more
click on Community.