Your Neck: The Most Neglected Muscle.
As we talk about the most neglected muscle, I bet 2/3 of you are looking down at your legs thinking, "crap, my legs only look big compared to that Alley McBeal chick." You know what though, that's your fault. I already wrote an article on leg training. Perhaps you shouldn't have skipped over it; chicken legs! But this isn't about one of the most neglected muscles; this is about THE most neglected muscle.
Why is it that when most guys start working out the three most muscles they want to develop are their chest, abs and biceps? One may answer that it's the first thing people will see, but that's totally not true. What if you're wearing a shirt? What if you wear a suit and tie, and are looking to impress? What one muscle will give people the impression that you're well built when you're wearing clothes? What muscle will set you apart from everyone else on stage? What is one of the most commonly injured muscles in nearly any sport? Why is it that everyone neglects training... his or her neck?
I personally think that one of the most impressive attributes is having a large neck. For one reason, proportion. Many bodybuilders shave their heads to make their heads look smaller. Having a small head will make the rest of you body appear larger. Having a large neck will make your head seem smaller. Beyond that, it gives the impression of power and brute strength. Having a large upper body and a small neck is just silly. Look at John Basedow (the guy who does the "Fitness Made Simple" commercials). He's got a great physique, but his neck is smaller then a pencil, it looks stupid.
Another important reason you should stop neglecting neck training is that the neck is highly involved in nearly any physical sport. From sacking the quarter back, to laying someone out on the ice, to going up for a rebound, to a double legged take down to even sliding into home plate, the neck is put at risk in any of these movements. By strengthening your neck muscles, you not only lower this risk, but you also help to protect your spine and spinal cord.
The Neck Muscles
The splenius originates just behind your ear, attaches to your skull, and runs diagonal towards your back where it inserts to the spine underneath the traps. Next is the sternocleidomastoid that runs from behind your ear to your collarbone. There is also the trapezius that covers your upper back and the posterior section of your neck. Together these muscles are responsible for the flexion, lateral flexion, extension and rotation of the neck.
Training The Neck
I feel the neck requires a different type of training then other body parts. When training the neck safety should be kept the utmost priority. The following are a list of guidelines to make sure you get the most out of neck training, injury free:
1. Prioritize your neck: Train your neck on a totally separate day. The few people who actually train their neck far too often leave it until the end of a workout, as if it's unimportant. You should train your neck on its own separate day to make sure the muscle is un-fatigued and you can put full concentration into the exercises.
2. Use flawless form: As with any other muscle, form is very important when exercising the neck. Never sacrifice weight for form or lift explosively. You should use at least a 2/2 pace on all exercises, taking 2 seconds for the concentric, 2 seconds for the eccentric, and concentrating on a good contraction.
3. Use a full Range of Motion (ROM): Exercising through a full range of motion helps to maintain (and possibly increase) flexibility in the muscles. This is very important in injury prevention. This also ensures that you are using the full length of the muscle and not just a portion of it. Each repetition should start from a position of a full flex, then to a full contraction then back again.
4. Warm up and stretch: Before and after working out it is very important to warm and stretch the neck muscles. This can easily be done by slowly rotating your neck from the right side to the left. It's important to never rotate all the way back as you can pinch a nerve.
I feel it is best to train the neck using self-resistance. You can control the exact amount of the stress you put on your neck muscles, and you don't have to worry about straps falling off, or weights etc. It can easily be done in the comfort of your home, even in the chair you are sitting in now.
Neck extension: This exercise primarily targets the sternocleidomastoid with both sides working together. The movement is simple, almost as if you are nodding "yes". Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Put your hands on your fore head and applying constant tension, slowly move your head from straight up (where you are looking forward) until your chin touches your chest. It is important to keep the tension constant at the same amount and keep your neck slowly moving.
Neck flexion: The upper most trapezius and the splenius will be the main muscle heads worked in this exercise. The motion is also quite simple. Begin with your head in the starting position and slowly move your head to where you are looking up. Place your hands on the back of your head for resistance. Make sure to do this exercise (as all others) using a full ROM and very slowly.
Lateral flexion: This movement also uses the sternocleidomastoids, but it targets one side at a time. Sitting in a chair, staring straightforward, move your head as close to the shoulder as possible without moving your upper torso, from there return it to the starting point. It's important to keep your head straight ahead and of course, go slow. Place your hand slightly above your ear in order to add resistance. An example routine: Neck extension: 2 x 8-12 Neck flexion: 2 x 8-12 Lateral flexion: 2 x 8-12
This is what I plan to be doing, along with grip work (hmm... an idea for a new article?), abs and calves every Saturday. It's important to try to add resistance every 2-3 workouts. Your body will tell you how much to add.
And there you have it, neck training made simple. No longer should you have any lame excuses trying to play off your pencil neck as genetics. No longer will your head look like a balloon floating above your body. You will look stronger and more intimidating then ever before. You will be less prone to injury. Lift angry, and fear the day you meet me on the stage!