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Do You Train Your Neck?

Weird question I know, but a lot of athletes in high-impact sports like football and wrestling do specific neck work to protect them from injury. Is specific neck training part of your plan to survive ugly encounters without getting seriously injured?

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I do it just because I don’t see a reason to let a muscle be small and weak if I can make it big and strong instead.

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I remember when in regular high school physical education class when we were doing wrestling units they had us bridging our torsos up with weight on the feet and crown of the head. We would use our neck muscles to role our heads around in a circle.

I have some vague memory from posting somewhere that that was frowned upon as a cervical injury risk.

Maybe someone can clarify.

I have started doing it, after years of recurring neck/trap tweaks that would cause pain for days afterwards, plus I’m doing more boxing now. Can’t see any downside. I do sets to failure with a 10lb plate held behind my head, with my chest on a 15 degree incline Bench and my head hanging over the edge, flexing and extension. I just make sure to only use my hand to hold the plate against my head, not to lift the plate (using no thumbs means I can just use my fingers to press the plate onto the back of my head, and there’s nothing I can do with my hands to assist the extension). Has ended up being around 100 reps or more, usually. Feels great, but will have to report back in a few months time, which will be when I can safely say that I have avoided a neck/trap tweak for longer than usual.

If you watch the current UFC 252 Countdown video (www.ufc.com) there is a brief video segment showing Daniel Cormier using a neck exercise device.

It is an elastic cord attached to a metal ring that he put around his head. There is an internal swivelling ring that allows him to turn his head side to side. Damn, I need one myself.

I’ve done neck training for jiu-jitsu for 15+ years now. Nothing fancy. We just lie on our backs and do 10-20 motions per exercise: chin to chest in a “nodding yes” gesture; chin to alternating shoulder in a “shaking no” gesture, and ear to alternating shoulder in an “I don’t know” gesture.

No weight but, again, I’ve been doing these a couple times a week for a decade and a half and think I’ve got a pretty decently muscled neck for my size because of it (15 1/2" on a 5’ 5" 150-155 lb, 33" waist, 6.5" wrist frame.)

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Wrestlers have been doing that for probably centuries.

I’m about the same height as burientt. My neck is close to 19 inches but I am also heavier. It was probably around 15 when I started BJJ. My neck grew mostly from deadlifts, shrugs, powercleans, using a neck harness and doing bridges. Having bigger guys try and squeeze my head off also may have contributed. Prior to BJJ I didn’t do any of those exercises except deadlifts. I noticed that my neck grew rather quickly once I added in the other exercises. That’s something I have heard about the neck; it responds quickly to direct work. It sucks trying to find shirts that fit.

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Yeah, that must really limit your choice of off-the-rack dress shirts! Mine is only 18 and I still find the selection is very limited. Fashion was not made for big guys unfortunately. Anyway, thanks for the post.

I’m not a big guy, that’s the problem.

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You’re 5’5 with a 19” neck and you’re not a big guy?

Got any pictures

I’m not proportionate. But that’s how a lot of wrestlers look. I think the neck just responds better to training than most body parts. According to Steve Reeves, your neck, calves and arms should be the same size. That’s not true for me.

Kurt Angle is a bigger guy, but not a big guy (under six feet tall and less than 220 pounds) but his neck is/was 21 inches. His arms are not close to that size. Farmer Burns had a 20 inch neck at under 175 pounds.


This has been one of my BB guidelines this year.

Ive trained my neck for years recently during this pandemic I bought an IRONNECK while they where on sale- it still was’nt cheap.

I started doing neck work for wrestling in HS.
we did ALLOT . bridges , bridges with a body laying on you -
bridges while benching
we did them in circles like this

a more aggressive version - did these too.

I used neck harnesses at home and did a ton of “yes” “nos” off of benches and many times those where loaded too.

I done work with plates towels and people offering resistance.

after 20 plus years of judo wrestling bjj etc I will admit to have some real neck issues - I dont compete and dont roll just conditioning work and weights.
My injuries are accumulative to years and years of competing.
and work repetitive movements- I spend a good bit of time looking up at work - I work in the entertainment industry - like the trades - think of spending a few hours a day looking at the ceiling while standing.

Im 48 almost 49 yo. my neck is just over 18" its been bigger close to 20" - Im 5’6 and weigh 180-190 ish with some abs for reference when I competed in college i was under 135 lbs and had a 17" plus neck. Im sure if I wanted to train it with more frequency - I could blow it up pretty big quite easily even in my age.
for reference Im still built like a wrestler
my forearms are larger then my upper arms

if you grapple or play football or mma or box etc you have to train neck.
You have too.

football helmet weighs what ? couple lbs 5-6 lbs.
And the impact.
you need to protect your self from the impact.

I bought the basic IRONNECK

for me its really for rehab and gaining some mobility as I have some fused discs.

I use it twice per week more then that is tricky for me.

I would advice not doing some of the neck training Ive done.
bench press from the bridge - not a great idea.

these are NOT a good idea

these are decent things to practice and train.
bridges- while supported with hands- more of skill work and some strengthening mobility work for grappling.
neck harness - just straight up hypertrophy.
resistance work - against a towel a band or partner - with moderation

iron neck if you have access or can afford one- they are amazing for rehab and mobility- and yes hypertrophy…

if you want an equipment less safe way to train this video is excellent.

from Josh Bryant

Yes as mentioned earlier - straight up shrugs cleans deadlifts can build up both the neck and the yoke.
between my neck and fore arms dress shirts dont fit and are not easy to find those that do - Im not a big guy - by any stretch

so YES train your neck - the Josh Bryant video is a great start.

Thanks! Very helpful. From the expression on his face, I can’t help but get the feeling that the Iowa wrestler guy really wants to destroy someone. He’s probably disappointed that all he gets to do today is demonstrate neck exercises.

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Training the neck is useful. However in boxing or kickboxing one absorbs hits with the back muscles, not the neck. It is a bad positioning if you are absorbing punches with the neck. Usually if the hit is absorbed by the neck it results in KO or in receiving a pretty bad hit. One should train their stance and head, hand, body positioning in order to absorb hits with his back.

Watch Mike McCallum he is a text book positioning guy. His stance and body positioning are excellent and he can take a hit without backing up.

I will tell you first hand that is exactly what he wants to do.
Its what all of Iowa wants to do.
Tom and Terry Brands the Iowa coaches are only concerned about winning

Im gonna bring back an old tradition we used to have here on the combat sports forum. Im going to very politely tell you - you are full of shit. See - no malice- all good.

Mike McCallum was an amazing defensive boxer - tremendous.
he was a master of not getting hit at all and used all the slips shoulder work shucking , jives etc.

Neck is much bigger part of not getting concussed -
helping you absorb damage. If you train enough and hard enough - your gonna take some damage - and get hit with some random ass crazy shot cleanly or not cleanly thats gonna really not feel good.

Worst case someone hitting you on the top of the head from behind with something heavy -neck training is gonna help.

Training neck if you wear a helmet for sports or to drive a motorcycle is important there too.
Posture- we use so many portable devices, that many many younger people have poor posture and are hunched over.

neck is as important and more important for combat athletes then lets say chest.

I can actually quote an ex student of his and now a young coach in a pretty famous boxing gym on that. He is very successful as well, training lots of top NA and Scandinavian amateurs.

So following the old tradition, I guess, I would say you have no idea what you are talking about. Mike also was not really evasive. He was hard to hit due to his posture, subtle footwork and parry skills. He is famous for his body work and murdering people with body shots.

I can explain the science behind. If yo absorb hits with the neck your brain will snap and hit itself on the back of the skull, thus concusing. If you absorb with the back muscles you are avoiding such scenario and you are absorbing with a larger muscle group. This is why it is very important to have the chest up and the chin down.

See when you put your chest up and chin down you lock the neck and the head weight falls into the upper back. If you move the chin up, hits will fall on the neck. So are you still suggesting I am full of shit?

I can talk about elevation levels and how having a lower elevation that your opponent helps in absorbing hits better as well. But I think there is no point, as you are not that experienced and just would not get it.

A large portion of the work done by the cervical musculature in wrestling is theorized to be eccentric or isometric types of contractions.
Strengthening of these cervical muscles is clinically considered to play a vital role in being
competitive on the wrestling mat. The cervical stability provided by strengthening these muscles
may also play a part in injury prevention among wrestlers and it’s not far fetched to assume the same applies for other contact sports as well. There is however poor evidence to support that there is a relationship between cervical strength and injury risk in wrestling at this point but this
is largely because there aren’t enough studies to support it at present time.