“Ya best protect ya neck.” -Wu Tang Clan
In the past I’ve always recommended neck training but said that it was optional.
That was a mistake.
It’s not optional.
You look infinitely cooler and more badass with a bigger neck and it’s a life insurance policy.
No one can argue either of those two facts.
Countless athletes and lifters have sustained injuries that, based on their own accounts, could have been life threatening or left them paralyzed, had their necks not been as strong as they were.
I was genetically cursed with a pencil neck so I will never be mistaken for Kurt Angle, but I couldn’t allow myself to be seen in public without training my neck. Like Kurt, I am also a bald headed white dude.
For me, that means I’m always one missed-neck-training-session away from being mistaken for Moby or Michael Stipe.
The first time someone tells me I resemble either of those cats I’ll know my days are numbered. So you’ve gotta train your neck at least once per week. Twice is better.
Wrestlers have huge necks from all the bridging they do and because of the fact that they use their necks constantly to move or resist their opponents.
If you apply that logic you’d think that training your neck every single day would be the best option.
But you’ve gotta remember that wrestlers build up to that volume and frequency from the time they’re little kids.
If you’re 32 and have never done a set of neck you don’t want to immediately start doing what guys with tens of thousands of hours of the mat do. That’s how you get injured. Be smart and ease into it with two short workouts per week. You can always add more down the road if you find you can tolerate it.
Here’s a good beginner neck workout:
1) Rear Neck Extension with Neck Harness– 2 x 20 x 60 seconds rest
1) Forward Neck Flexion with Plate on Forehead– 2 x 20 x 60 seconds rest
After a month of that, build up to three sets and then four. Eventually if you want to experiment with a third day where you add side flexion in that’s also a great option.
For the forward flexion you should lay down on a bench with your head hanging off the end. Fold up a towel and put it over your forehead with a plate on top of it. A five-pound plate would be fine to start with, then jump up to a ten in a few workouts. Hold the weight in place and nod your head up and down slowly.
If you have a partner this can be done with manual resistance by letting him hold a towel or t-shirt over your head while you nod “yes.”
Bridging is also a great option, however, I prefer isometric holds as your first step. Don’t start doing reps until you’re experienced and comfortable with simply supporting your bodyweight on your head with the strength of your neck. If you have access to one of those blue Airex pads you can use that as a cushion. If not fold up a towel a few times.
Below is a more advanced, higher volume, neck-training workout, incorporating iso hold bridges.
1a) Iso Hold Rear Neck Bridge– 2-3 x 30 seconds rest
1b) Iso Hold Front Neck Bridge- 2-3 x 30 seconds rest
1c) Iso Hold Side Neck Bridge- 2-3 x 30 seconds rest
1a) Neck Harness Extension- 2-3 x 15-20 x 45 seconds rest
1b) Lateral Neck Flexion- 2-3 x 15-20 x 45 seconds rest
1c) Front Plate Raise- 2-3 x 15-20 x 45 seconds rest
The lateral neck flexion can be done by lying sideways on a bench and putting a towel and weight on the side of your head the slowly bring your head up and down. You can also do this with manual resistance from a partner.
A third option is to use a low incline bench and run weights through only one side of the neck harness then hold the other side with your hand so it doesn’t fall off while you do your set.
Six to nine sets of total neck work will be a lot if you are starting from zero. So do one set each if you choose to start with this workout. Then assess your tolerance and work up over time.
Assist yourself when you first start on the bridges by using your arms to support a portion of your bodyweight. The front and rear bridges can be done on the floor.
The side bridge should be done by placing your pad or towel against a wall and leaning sideways into it. You get the added benefit of some extra oblique work there as well.
Iso hold bridges can also be done by placing your head on a stability ball and doing them in each direction that way, either on the floor or against the wall. Just make sure the ball is blown up fully.
These neck workouts can be done at the end of either an upper or lower body day or you can even train neck on off days. If you choose the latter option you won’t be as warmed up so take your time to get loose and warm and slowly ease into it.
Neck work is essential for preventing injuries but it is also risky and can get you injured if you’re stupid. Don’t go too heavy, don’t use extreme ranges of motion, get a good pump, and always stretch your neck in all directions after you’re done.
Combine that with some serious trap and upper back work and you’ll be on your way to possessing the “Tom-Hardy-in-Warrior” badass look every man should strive for.