Whether you're an experienced lifter or gym newbie, your neck isn't the first body part you want to attack in the gym. But, a thick neck balances out a beefed up physique. Aesthetics aside, there are even more important reasons you shouldn't be neglecting your neck.
The Side Effects of a Weak Neck
Headaches. Research, published in SAGE journals, found men and women who experience tension headaches were 26 percent weaker than control subjects in regards to their neck extension capabilities and had a 12 percent smaller extension/flexion ratio.
Muscle weakness in the gym. Subjects with weak neck muscles were also at a disadvantage in the weight room; their ability to generate muscle force over the shoulder joint was diminished. Your body compensates when weakness or injury is present; so, like dominos, any strain in your neck will travel to the surrounding muscle groups, namely your shoulders and traps.
Chronic pain and stiffness. Weak neck muscles likely point to poor posture. When you don't hold your head upright (a.k.a. cranial tilting), you take your spine out of proper alignment, which can cause painful flare ups, inflammation, and a chain reaction of pain stemming from your neck down to the base of your spine can be the result.
Minimized protection from concussions. In the event you suffer a blow to the head, whether in a game of football, soccer (or worse, a car wreck), a strong neck can reduce the amount of damage your noggin undergoes, a 2014 study published in the Journal of Primary Prevention found.
What's Causing Your Neck Weakness
If we were to bet money, we'd say your day job is severely weakening your muscles. At your office, where’s your monitor located? How much back support does your seat give you? Is your desk low? Anything that encourages poor posture and cranial tilting is going to wreak havoc on your strength; and it'll only get worse the more you slouch and crane forward. Get a good setup at your second home, and make sure you’re encouraging the right posture.
Solution 1: Work Out
Prescription: For both of these exercises, perform slow and controlled reps. Focus on 3 sets to start, and progress to 4 sets after a few weeks. Rest as long as needed between sets.
1) Neck Bridges – 10 reps
How to do it: For beginners, start by lying down on the ground with your head on a pillow or folded towel, feet flat on the ground, and palms face-down. Draw your hips straight up (as if you’re doing a glute bridge), and rise your shoulders off the ground, rolling onto your head.
A2) Back Extensions – 15 reps
How to do it: With your belly on an incline bench or Swiss ball, balance your weight on your toes. Make sure your spine is aligned—the top of your neck to the base of your tailbone. Lift your chest upward a few inches, pause, then slowly lower back down. Though these are designed for your posterior chain, making sure the alignment is held true can encourage the deep neck muscles to work against gravity.
Exercises like shrugs, neck rotations with resistance bands (with or without a partner), and overhead movements can also help make your neck stronger. You'll also benefit from proper stretching and mobility drills before a workout. Turn your head left to right, up and down, then around, trying to go a little further each repetition.
Solution 2: Get Soft Tissue Work Done
It’s not an easy task to foam roll the neck. It gets tricky (okay, nearly impossible). That’s why a good chiropractor who practices techniques like A.R.T (active release techniques) is key. Massage is also an excellent modality for keeping your neck muscles relaxed.
Solution 3: Stretch
You can also incorporate the Upper Trapezius Stretch whenever you’re experiencing back or neck stiffness during your commute or at work. Do this every hour:
Sit with good posture: spine, head, and neck tall and straight. Use your left hand to gently bend your head so your left ear comes toward your left shoulder; slowly go until you feel a stretch in the right side of your neck. For a deeper stretch, rest your right hand on the floor, and walk those fingers away from your body. Or, place your entire left hand on the right side of your face (fingers right below your earlobe) and let gravity pull your neck further into the stretch. Hold at a comfortable range for 15-20 seconds and repeat to the right. Repeat 3 times per side.
Take the time to incorporate these practices in your everyday regimen. It won't be a pain in the neck, promise.