Neck Training Advice?

Dr. Darden,

Any advice on building a big strong neck? I wish I had access to a Nautilus neck machine but I don’t.


Get a neck harness.

On the old site, I recall something you said about research indicating that you really only need to do extensions and flexing in a forward/backward movement to hit all the neck muscles? Am I remembering that correctly?

If so, maybe you could provide some more details. Also, with a neck harness, what kind of protocol do you recommend.

Arthur Jones determined that only doing the back extension on the 4-Way Neck worked 70% of the neck muscles. Add the front flexion and you involved 85%.

With a neck harness, the same findings probably apply. And don’t forget to do the shoulder shrug, which also involves some of the neck muscles.

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I’m finding once weekly static holds, using a neck strap, does wonders! :sunglasses:

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I utilize a heavy leather carrying strap from a shoulder bag, complete with shoulder pad to implement neck isometrics.

The shoulder pad is subsequently used as a cushioning pad during neck isometrics.
The strap also has heavy metal straps to attach resistance bands.

I only train neck extension or flexion, never simultaneously during a session. There is a slight degree of rotation during these isometrics. I like 30 seconds duration, but, ymmv.

Dr Darden and you neck trainees,

In all politeness, I wonder if there is a specific purpose for direct training of the neck?

The cervical spine is a sensitive area, meaning heavy (in any case false) training of the neck may provoke injury. I guess one standpoint is that this training prevents injury, performed correctly? I do understand if certain sports may meet special requirements. Though a disproportinate neck is not aesthetically looking.

I have yet to train my neck, as it seem to grow along with other muscles (overall training).

Please widen my horizon in this field of training. Am I missing out on something?

A big strong neck will always be more awesome than a small and weak neck.

Headbanging worked well for this guy.

I have a big neck. I think heavy deadlifts have done a lot for the neck for me. Just correlation, but every big deadlifter I know has a big neck / traps.

I believe in training the Neck. Trained my high school football players necks since 1982. Have trained my own neck for 40+ years. I think there are benefits to doing so. Aside from injury prevention for athletes, both competitive and weekend warriors, I believe a well developed neck and trap area projects strength from an aesthetic point of view. A well built upper body with a scrawny neck looks silly to me.

That being said, I believe a good 4-way neck machine is a must. Manual resistance applied by someone who really knows what they are doing can also be effective. I understand that not everyone can afford or have access to a 4-way neck machine.
Harnesses, bands, and some other methods can be effective, but they fail in comparison to the machine in terms of safety and results IMO. I have one in my basement gym. You can find a used Hammer Strength plate-loaded neck at a reasonable price. Nautilus made the original 4-way neck and they are great, both in selectorized and plate-loaded models.

The Rogers “Get Strong” blog has a lot of information on Neck training. It is written by Mike Gittleson, former football Strength coach for the Michigan Wolverines for 30 years.

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Thanks all for informative replies and for taking my question seriously!

You have given me many reasons for building (or at least preserving) a great neck.

Perhaps the lack of good machines have stalled the insight re neck training? None of my gyms for the past 30 years have had such equipment - wait - I can recall a harness at one garage gym!


Given the typical gym goer, and lack of good supervision there, I think most gyms are
afraid of the liability of having a neck machine. The few gyms I have been in that had one, it wasn’t getting used anyway. The typical gym goer has no idea of how to use it, or the benefits in using it. I believe most of the HIT personal training studios have one and they use it.

Aesthetically speaking, a well developed neck and trap region gives a masculine vitality appearance. The nonsensical bodybuilding viewpoint that development of the neck detracts from shoulder width is simply nonsense.

Likewise, women benefit aesthetically speaking more from neck/trap area than men. A well dressed woman can show her neck in many of the more glamorous dresses they may employ.

Training the neck/traps/jawline can take years off your appearance.


I couldn’t agree more. Well said. The most neglected area that few people train. Especially women.

IF you have access to a well designed machine and IF you know how to use it properly, then I can accept that training on that kind of machine might be a great way to build up neck strength. However, the two IF’s are big ones. I’ve heard very experienced and reputable trainers express concerns about putting people through loaded full range movements with the neck, especially if training to failure. If something does go wrong with setup or execution, you could produce a debilitating injury. Putting a 4-way neck machine into a big box gym and letting anyone walk up and use it seems like it could be an invitation to trouble. For reasons of risk and liability, training of the neck via static loading with a neutral position seems a safer alternative.

Personally, I train my neck with static exercise, using bands attached to a neck harness, and I think it helps reduce issues I’ve had with neck pain. I keep the loads light, with a relatively long time under tension (60 seconds). I will note that when I have tried including dynamic movement against the bands, I sometimes feel things in my neck that warn me against using too much range of motion.

The last gym that I trained at had what looked like a hammer 4 way neck machine. I never tried using it myself, and I never saw anyone else use it either.

Aesthetics aside, having strong neck muscles might reduce injury risk in some kinds of accidents (e.g., car crash that creates wipe lash). Many S&C coaches think it also reduces the risk of concussions.

Neck Machine recommendations I’ve taken from a number of very reputable NFL and Division 1 strength coaches: (Not muscle-heads, guys with Masters degrees in exercise science and years of experience)

  1. Don’t train the Neck to failure: Set a rep target number, (Example-12) and get it 2 consecutive workouts before adding weight.
  2. Smooth Controlled Rep Tempo: 2-4 positive, 2 second pause, 4-5 sec negative.
  3. Flexion (Neck Front): Start the movement from Neutral (eyes looking directly forward) and stop each rep on the return at the Neutral position. DO NOT do a full range movement. Should be a pause at each end of the Rep.
  4. Extension (Neck Back) You can do the same Neutral starting position if there is concern . We usually do full range Neck Back with the athletes. As do I, at age 62.
  5. Lateral Flexion (Neck Side) Same Neutral start and stop position. It becomes a short range movement.
  6. You don’t have to train all 4 directions every workout. Front/Back one workout, Left/Right and back the next. 2 times a week with a 1 or 2 arm Shrug added in.

Yes, you should know how to use any piece of equipment properly and safely and the Neck machine is probably the most important tool to know how to use properly. I have no problem with using other tools. IF you have access to a 4-way Neck: LEARN how to use it Properly and Safely Please. If you don’t have access, be resourceful.

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I would love to have a Rogers Athletic neck machine.
My 11 plus Nautilus machines own my basement
My wife said NO more machines many years ago.
I will make do with resistance bands and my strap.
22 inch shirts say enough is enough!

But RA is king of neck exercise
Their gripper ain’t bad either!

11 Nautilus machines in your basement? Wow! Maybe you should open a gym, just so you can justify buying more machines?

Dr. Darden,

In Ken Hutchins’ publication Ideal and Recommended Joint Positions for TImed Static Contractions (available in pdf at his website) he makes the following claim: “TSC shoulder shrug is the all round best and safest approach. It addresses the entire neck musculature.”

The picture demonstrating the exercise is of a person sitting down shrugging his shoulders as far upward as possible with no resistance. This is similar to his approach for working the lumbar area. In both cases it appears that the idea is to put the muscle in a position at the end of the range of motion in which all of the muscle fibers are contracting.

I would be interested in your opinion on this exercise.

Ken’s material on timed static contractions is interesting. I’ve tried some of them and I certainly feel them.

What’s your opinion?