The neck muscles work through the day, whether you are sitting at your desk, or lounging with your phone, or even sleeping. And yet, like many other muscles we have covered in this fitness series, they are ignored during workouts and exercise. And no, the basic neck rotations and side-to-sides during a warm-up don’t really count.
One might argue that working the traps (trapezius muscles) is enough work for the neck. After all, the traps begin at the base of the neck and cover the shoulders and mid-back region as well. They also help you move your neck, head, and shoulders, among other parts of the upper body, in a healthy and functional way. But while working out the traps is absolutely necessary, it doesn’t mean you should completely ignore the neck. There is a reason why most tweaks or sprains occur in the neck. They are annoying, take a while to go away, and painfully stiff. A lot of these happen due to poor posture, and to avoid that, one has to spend some concentrated effort on the neck muscles too. Especially because while aiding movement, it also works as a shock absorber for any impact.
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There are spillover effects of neck training which go beyond just physical ability. “Athletes train the neck muscles to help reduce the likelihood of concussions. As important as that is, it’s not the only benefit of exercising the neck. Building strength in the neck can have a holistic effect on health,” states an article called 3 Key Benefits Of Neck Training on spiritualityhealth.com. These include reducing headaches, improving balance, and, most importantly, blood flow to the brain. The neck muscles are what stand between the brain and the rest of the body and this should be enough motivation to give them more attention.
Like any other muscle, there are various ways to improve the neck: isometric training, functional training, and reaction training are all popular with athletes. Given how varied neck movements are, we have chosen exercises which cover flexion (the movement of chin to chest), rotation (side-to-side movements), lateral flexion (ear to chest), and extension (movement of chin away from the chest) and even hyperextensions (craning the head back enough to look upwards).
Neck exercises using a ball: The most basic exercises for the neck involve free rotation. However, including a medicine or a firm ball will make a big difference in the kind of pressure that is applied across the neck. YouTube channel Core Chiropractic has a nice 3-minute routine which can be done with wall support and a ball and is a great place to start out your neck routine.
Yes, No, Maybe: Another channel that is worth following is called Minus The Gym. They specialise in workouts that do not involve any equipment and this exercise relates to the most basic human neck gestures: yes, no, or maybe. All you need to do it is a bed or any kind of surface with an edge off which you can extend your neck into these three patterns. You will work every flexion and extension, you will go slow, and you will make sure the movements are calculated and careful.
Isometric training for the neck: Holds are an important part of any training routine and Physiotutors has a video which uses a resistance band and a medicine ball to strengthen the neck and avoid injuries and even pain. Once you master the most basic moves, it is good to challenge the neck as well, well within the pain threshold. Based on lots of research which the video also cues into, these moves are easy but try not to get carried away. After all, neck injuries can be very restrictive to the rest of your workout.
The three videos above will give you enough to start and enter an intermediate level with neck strength. Adding weights, and training your traps and deltoids is part of push and pull days in the gym, and will aid neck strength and range of motion. The neck muscles kick in during multiple basic movements in daily life so spending a few minutes on them especially on days when you will work the muscles around it will give a major boost to your workout.
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.
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