7 Ways to Strengthen & Protect Your Neck
Written by Nick Hawkes

When I was a young sailor, I broke my neck while deployed to the Middle East. It was a compression injury that immediately took out my peripheral vision, caused stars in the small window of vision that remained, and radiated numbness down both my arms. The symptoms continued for a few days and then subsided enough for me to get back to work but would plague me years later. 

Because of the situation at the time I was not able to do imaging and continued on with my duties for the full deployment. I didn’t actually realize that I had a break until years later when I saw a specialist because of how much pain I was in and he asked, “When did you break your neck?” and then pointed out the fracture that the medical professionals in the VA missed. From that point on I made neck function and strength a priority which helped me get out of the chronic pain that I was in. 

The average adult human head weighs 11 pounds that sits upon 7 vertebrae in the cervical column and is supported by a mere 20 muscles. That is a lot of weight for a system that most people neglect. If you talk to anyone who has had neck pain in the past they will 100% agree that it was one of the worst things they have had to deal with and would do anything to alleviate the discomfort. So here are a few things that you can do to strengthen your head holder. 

How to Strengthen Your Neck

When you work with your spine you want to avoid pushing into pain. If you find that you are experiencing severe symptoms go see a medical professional. 

Puppy Dog Stretch 

I know this does not directly address the cervical spine, but you really have to look at the spine as a whole to fix imbalances and improve function. When you are lacking movement in portions of your spine, the rest of the spine has to pick up the slack. When the thoracic spine doesn’t move the cervical and lumbar spine have to work overtime to accommodate for missing degrees of function. The puppy dog stretch addresses the T-spine issue. Hold the position for at least two minutes and try to accumulate 6-10 minutes a day.

Sphinx Nods 

These are a great way to work on flexion and extension of your neck. Think about making your neck as long as possible and getting as much range of motion as possible through each joint in your neck. Most people hinge on a single vertebrae and don’t get much movement through the rest of the C-spine. Perform 3 sets of 10.

Cervical CARs 

Movement is medicine! Learning to control your neck and identifying where the restricted spots are is important for joint health and maintenance. People do better when they have reps and sets to go by, but the only way you know if you have moved enough is to do it and see what feels right. You should move your joints in their full range of motion at least 100 times a day, so do a few of these every hour when you take a break from your desk and you will be well on your way to hitting your numbers for the day. 

Advanced Cervical CARs 

See above

Translations

Most people forget or don’t even realize that their neck moves/translates laterally as well as front and back. This move can be confusing and hard to do in the beginning. You may find that you have a ton of compensations. Stick with it and the more you practice the faster that range of motion will come back. Perform 3 sets of 30 every other day till you get the movement down.

Banded Rotations 

This is a poor man’s Iron Neck set-up. But it is simple to set up, easily accessible, and cheap which makes it a winning solution! This is a great post-training exercise and one that lets you explore a bit. I like to work all the ranges of motion; flexion, extension, rotation, lateral flexion, and translations when I do these. Everyone will be at a little different rep range so start off with a couple sets of 10 and adjust from there.

C6/C7 ELDOA

The ELDOA will help you create length in your neck by putting your entire facial system under tension. These can get pretty intense so you want to start with short duration holds. Start with 3 sets of 15-30 second holds with the goal being able to hold the posture for 3 sets of 60 seconds. 

People will often prioritize their booty gainz and emphasize how they blasted their biceps, yet not many will gloat about having a juicy 24-inch neck strap that supports their head…unless they are in pain. Don’t wait until you are in pain. Use these 7 exercises to protect your neck before it’s a nagging pain.


Check out more “Mind Muscle Mobility” ideas from Coaches Nick Hawkes & TJ O’Brien.

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