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Build an MMA Fighter's Neck

MMA neck training that will turn your pencil neck into a tree trunk.

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When it comes to building an impressive physique, perhaps the most overlooked muscle group is your neck. Think about it: when was the last time you heard someone say that Monday was their chest, tricep and neck day? Probably not often, but for many ectomorphs, neglecting to strengthen your neck can leave you looking like a lollipop despite adding muscle to your frame.

As for Mixed Martial Artists, strengthening their neck is less about aesthetics and more about avoiding getting knocked out. Undefeated as a professional fighter, Aljamain “The Funk Master” Sterling attributes his ability to withstand blows to the head to his regular neck training; that and a tough as nails disposition.

The Neck On Fight Night

“In the Octagon, if you have a weak neck you will be controlled in the clinch and will probably take a knee to the face,” says Sterling. “It’ll also be much harder for you to fight off submissions.” In the fight game, someone who is known for having an iron jaw is someone who can take punches or kicks to the head and shake it off. A more accurate expression could be that the fighter has an "iron neck." Many knockouts occur when your head jerks in a direction quickly—like it does when punched—and your brain slams into your skull. Knowing this is what drives Sterling to train his neck almost every day. “The stronger your neck is, the more punishment you will be able to withstand,” he says.

Fighter's Neck Exercises - Front and Back Bridge

As a two-time college wrestling All-American, Sterling uses a technique popular in the wrestling world called bridging. Starting in a push-up position, you put your head down onto some sort of padding (a yoga mat works well) and rock your head back and forth. As you get stronger, you can get into a tripod position with just your head and feet on the ground.

You can also flip over and do the tripod technique known as a back bridge. “Bridging puts a lot of weight on your neck which is how you get it stronger,” says Sterling. “I do bridging every day.”

Another exercise Sterling uses is neck isometrics—wrapping a towel around his head and keeping his neck straight while he pulls the towel in various directions. This is a good exercise for beginners looking to build up to the bridge exercise.

Whether you are looking to survive five rounds inside the Octagon or just looking to ditch the pencil neck, these exercises will prove invaluable. Now, be prepared for confused looks when you tell your friend you're training back-bis-and neck today.

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