Check out any fitness website or print out a fitness magazine, there will be plenty of articles on fat loss, muscle gain, 6 pack abs, even glutes these days, but it would be hard to find an article on neck training. I wonder why this is so, especially when one in two people seem to suffer from neck pain these days. Even among the fitness aficionados in any gym, no one seems to train their necks! I see a lot of people training their trapezius muscles, aka Traps, with different types of shrugs, but direct neck training is usually missed.
Most people don’t understand how important it is to have a strong, muscular neck. A strong neck is especially helpful in preventing or lessening the effect of whiplash and concussions. Thus, most athletes should train their necks, especially those who play contact sports like rugby, boxing, wrestling and even football. Neck training should not be limited to contact sports, but should also be part of a well-designed program for those training for overall fitness and health.
Cervical spondylosis… speak English please!
Cervical spondylosis is a general term for age-related wear and tear on the neck. This condition causes a stiff neck, neck pain, and sometimes pain that travels down one or both arms (radiculopathy). It gets worse with age and that’s why we see some seniors walking around with a big necklace around their neck. The treatment is usually physiotherapy – where they are made to do neck strengthening exercises!
Like any other part of the body, if we strengthen the muscles, the wear and tear on the joints decreases. Also, the head is the heaviest part of the human body, the neck muscles must be strong to support its weight.
So why wait for the pain to develop and then start working on the neck? I am of the opinion that cervical osteoarthritis is no longer related to age, but to posture as well as lack of physical form. This is why we are seeing an increase in neck pain, stiffness, etc. in young sedentary people.
A Simple Neck Strengthening Routine
The human neck mainly moves in 4 directions – up, down, left and right. If we strengthen the neck in these 4 movement patterns, we should be able to take care of all the muscles around the neck.
Neck flexion: Lie face up on a bench or bed with your head hanging over the edge. Hold your head parallel to the floor with your chin tucked in towards your chest. Hold this position for 15 to 20 seconds.
Neck extension: Lie face down on a bed or bench with your head hanging over the edge. Hold your head parallel to the floor with your chin tucked in towards your chest. Hold this position for 15 to 20 seconds.
Lateral flexion of the neck: Lie on your side on a bed or bench with your head hanging over the edge. Hold your head parallel to the floor with your chin tucked in towards your chest. Hold this position for 15 to 20 seconds. Now repeat on the other side of the body.
Do these 4 exercises 2-3 sets at the end of your workout. The goal is to increase the takes from 15-20 seconds to 60 seconds.
Once you can easily hold for 60 seconds, add weight using a 10 pound plate and repeat the process.
Neck strength increases quite rapidly, as does the musculature around the neck. Once you can handle 25 pounds for 60 seconds, the frequency of workouts can be reduced to once a week. This is basically to maintain muscle mass and gain strength. Now go ahead and do it.
Kamal Singh is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who has been coaching for 15 years
From HT Brunch, November 12, 2022
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