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How to strengthen the neck to help prevent injury

How to strengthen the neck to help prevent injury

"As a strength coach, I've noticed the neck area is overlooked in the weight room. The neck is comprised of a small group of muscles that have a limited range of motion. Training your neck is not glamorous, but it is absolutely necessary for football players."

More coaches are searching for techniques that could potentially help reduce the likelihood of serious injury. With appropriate training, one can increase strength and muscle mass around the neck, thereby reducing the risk of getting hurt.

Properly supervised training of the neck can start as early as middle school and continue on through every level of competition. As with any strength-training program, a scientific based approach should always be followed, one that includes an emphasis on proper technique and progressive overload. The following are examples of resistance exercises and tips to help strengthen the neck.

Manual Resistance: Manual resistance, or partner training, is the most common way for football players to train their neck, specifically in the team setting. The best part about doing manual resistance is that you do not need any equipment and it can be done any time, any place. With this form of resistance, the stimulus comes from a partner who is applying resistance. In the video below, you will see me take Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Mohamed Sanu through a manual resistance neck exercise.

You will notice that the lifter resists against the force applied by a spotter, controlling the movement through a full range of motion while lifting and lowering the head. It is important for the athlete and the coach to communicate when using manual resistance. Hand placement, the proper amount of resistance and the speed of each rep is critical to executing this exercise. I suggest a rep cycle of up in two seconds, then pause, and then down in two seconds.

Neck Harness: The neck harness is more of a traditional tool. The use of a neck harness serves as an attachment point for applying resistance to the neck musculature from a weighted plate. By placing a harness around the football players head, athletes add resistance in the form of weighted plates. Using a neck harness provides functionality for users without needing a partner. Just as with manual resistance, the rep count and the movement must be monitored.

CerviFit: A portable, affordable and effective addition to a well-rounded neck strengthening regimen, the device garners it's effectiveness from the proprietary weight plates that stack atop the device. Using the physics of the fulcrum, the device allows the user to train all of the planes in an effective manner.

Machines: There are several different types of machines for strengthening the neck. Using machines also allows athletes to progressively track their weights over time. The biggest problem with neck machines is that they can be expensive, especially for football teams with small budgets. The second problem with these machines is they take up a large amount of room in a gym.

Progressions: If you have never trained your neck before, proceed conservatively. Perhaps start with the movement of flexion and extension without any weight. Try three sets of 10 reps on each of these movements and then slowly progress by adding resistance. As with any strength training program, you must follow a progression that considers frequency, intensity and time. You can overload the muscles by increasing the weight or simply increasing the sets and reps on each exercise. At the minimum, neck and trap exercises should be done twice a week. Many programs on the college level train the neck up to three times per week. Over a given week coaches can use a mixture of machines, manual resistance or a harnesses to train the musculature of the neck.

Testing and Evaluation: Any great strength training program starts and finishes with pre and post-test results. There are various ways to show progress to your athletes. One way is measuring neck circumference. A second way is tracking the weights on each exercise. A third way is to take photos of the neck and trap muscles at the beginning and end of every training cycle in the offseason.

With all of this in mind, stop neglecting your neck and start making it a priority in the gym!

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