Today’s blogpost is a guest post by a creative, humble and respectful guy in the field by the name of John Gaglione. John contacted me shortly after I posted a couple of neck training articles on my site several weeks back. In this post John outlines how he trains the neck in his facility.
The Ultimate Neck Training Exercises for Combat & Contact Athletes
By John Gaglione
First let me say I feel training the neck is a very underutilized aspect of training and is lacking in most programming. For anyone involved in combat and collision sports, such as wrestling and football, training the neck should be an integral part of their training programs. Training neck for strength and stability can help prevent injuries. A thick strong neck is vital for preventing concussions as well. We see concussions more and more frequently in sports and it is important to start thinking about training the neck on a more regular basis to help combat these injuries.
Bret went into a lot of science last time is his EPIC blog post titled Neck Training 101 so I am going to focus on giving you practical neck exercises and show you how to program them into your workouts. This is your Ultimate guide to a bigger, stronger and healthier neck.
If you follow the joint by joint approach to training, then you know that the cervical spine, much like the lumbar spine, will need more stability based training. A lot of people talk about training the back for stability, and the neck is essentially part of the back so shouldn’t we treat it the same way and give it the attention it deserves? So if you are into “core” training you should be training your neck just as much as your “six pack abs”.
The first thing to look at when training the neck(cervical spine) is to make sure the neck is in optimal alignment for basic exercises such as push ups, planks, squats, and deadlifts. We often see new trainees go into poor postures such as forward head posture, chin protrusion, and cervical hyperextension during these exercises.
This can cause neck and shoulder problems in the future. I tell my athletes we don’t want to have a “turtle head” when performing these exercises. If they are still having trouble I instruct them to try and make a “double chin” and this usually helps keep the cervical spine in neutral. Another great verbal cue is to try to “pressurize” the back of your neck.
If an athlete has a forward head posture to begin with or it is exaggerated during exercises we want to make a point to strengthen the deep neck flexors before going on to more advanced neck training. The chin tuck is the basis for our neck training program as it serves as a great exercise to strengthen the deep flexors of the neck.
When I train with my powerlifter friends we often joke and use the cue make a FAT NECK, but it actually helps quite a bit when you are trying to ingrain this position for squats, deadlifts, and other heavy compound lifts. Remember a fat neck is a more stable neck!
Shown below is the supine and quadruped chin tuck.
Supine Chin Tuck
Quadruped Chin Tuck
The chin tuck is a great way to train the deep flexors of the neck. It can be done from a variety of positions such as lying on the back (supine), on all fours (quadruped) and in the standing position. The chin tuck position can essentially be used during any exercise in order to strengthen the neck while you are training other lifts as well. This will help strengthen the neck, correct forward head posture as well as prevent injuries. Make sure your form is SOLID before progressing in difficulty.
After progressing through all of the variations of the chin tuck we want to start to challenge our athletes by adding some resistance to the exercise.
The first way to progress the exercise is instead of doing repetitions of the chin tuck they will hold a chin tuck static hold for a given amount of time. They can do chin tuck isometric hold from a variety of different positions such as plank, push up position, quadruped, supine, or standing.
The next way to progress the chin tuck is to add perturbations to the exercise. Just like when training for stability for the lumbar spine we want to train to resist movement. This is the most functional way to train the spine. In combat sports athletes are constantly trying to snap their opponent down or wrench the neck in order to score near fall point or get in a more advantageous position. The athlete must brace the cervical spine in order to resist the motion.
Once you can hold a chin position that resembles Peter Griffin than you are ready to progress to the next level of difficulty.
OK well at least give it an honest try and remember to make a FAT neck! Your stability will go through the roof! The biggest compensation is elevation (shrugging) of the scapula. Try to relax your upper traps and keep your shoulders packed (retract and depress shoulder blades down and back) when you tuck your chin.
If an athlete can develop a strong and stable neck they can stay in better position, prevent unwanted movement to the neck, and prevent injury. The coach will add light perturbations (light taps to try to move the athlete out of optimal position) at first in a variety of different directions. The athlete should be able to resist flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation of the cervical spine.
Once the athlete can successfully resist the perturbations the coach can start to add manual resistance in the three main directions (flexion, extension, lateral flexion), or add weight if a partner isn’t available. Certain positions work better to train certain patterns. For example the quadruped works very well for training anti-flexion and anti-lateral flexion.
The weighted neck variations are great when an advanced athlete doesn’t have a coach or an adequate partner to provide manual resistance. The other benefit is that the progressions are endless since you can always apply more load or more time to the athlete. When doing weighted variations we like to use weight plates, chains, or bands in order to provide resistance. We still want to train to resist all directions flexion, extension, and lateral flexion.
Here are some examples below.
The supine position is great for resisting extension and lateral flexion. Here is an example below.
You can also train these patterns in a variety of positions such as the push up position.
We can use old school “boxing” head weights as well. This is not as effective as weight plates in my opinion for certain positions, but it is stills a viable option for push up and plank variations. This is a great way to train for stability for the lumbar and cervical spine at the same time. The push up variation also trains scapular stability as well. This is a great tool to take your planks to the next level and involve your entire core from your tail bone to your cranium!
We can also use bands to resist flexion, extension, and lateral flexion. Remember bands are a form or accommodating resistance so the further the band stretches the harder the exercise will be. The exercise can be made more difficult by stepping further away from the anchor point. You can also adjust the difficulty of the band exercises by using a smaller or larger band. The thicker the band the harder the exercise will be.
Here are some examples below.
Rooney Band Good Morning
Band Look Aways (This is the best way to train rotation with a band just go light with this one)
4 Way Gray Cook Band Neck Static Series
If you do not have access to weights or bands you can use the weight of your partner or coach as resistance. This is still much more advanced than manual resistance. This is a great option for coaches who don’t normally implement neck exercises in their training. You can start off with static holds in quadruped position and progress from there.
The partner can simply lean their body weight on the athlete from a forward and side position. The athlete can lean on their partner at a more shallow angle (more horizontal and close to the floor) to increase difficulty or perform push ups to make the environment more unstable. Make sure the partners are very close in body weight of course.
Partner Push Up Series
Linear and Lateral from PUPP and Quad
When dealing with heavier athletes I suggest using a very steep angle (more vertical and further away from the floor) since the athlete with have a much greater load to deal with due to the large body weight of their partner. You can perform these variations from quadruped, push up, or plank position to vary the difficulty.
The stability ball is also a viable option to progress the 4 way chin tuck series if you don’t have bands available, but I much prefer the banded versions. As with the partner push up series you can start off with a very steep angle (more vertical and further away from the floor) and work away from the wall over time. A larger ball is also a progression since you will automatically be further way from the wall because of the size of the ball.
Check out the variations below.
4 way Standing series
Quad Stability ball stab.
Nick Tumminello Ball Anti-Rotation
The weighted, band, and stability ball exercises are fairly advanced progressions when it comes to neck training. Make sure to only use these variations with your advanced athletes and lifters. We do not want to use an advanced exercise in our neck training too quickly. We want to build up the muscles over time and make sure the movement quality is spot on!
So now you have all of these exercises, but how do you integrate them into your own program?
A good rule of thumb is once the athlete is able to keep a neutral cervical spine for a total 30 seconds or more then it is time to either change the exercise or make it harder.
This is just a guideline as you can perform the 30 second hold in a variety of different ways. For example you can perform 3 repetitions of a 10 second hold or 2 repetitions of a 15 second hold. A good place to start when implementing the isometric holds is 3-5 reps with 5 second holds, which equals 15-25 seconds total. In general I like to use timed sets. I will go anywhere from 30-50 seconds of total time for an exercise.
I generally do 3-5 sets of 5 reps with a 5 second hold on many of these exercises. My personal favorite is to use the Cook bands since they are very comfortable on the head. Start off with the basic chin tuck exercises and stick with them for 2-3 weeks and every 3-4 weeks after that you can pick a new, more advanced neck progression to add into your routine.
A good progression would be
1-Body weight Chin Tucks
3-Manual Resistance or Quad. Stability Ball
4-Weighted or Bands
5-Standing Stability Ball or Partner Push Up Series
We spend a good amount of time at level 1 and 2 in the beginning and then for most of my guys we stay at level 3 or 4.
These can be part of a pairing of a heavy compound movement such as deadlifts or thrown in during your assistance movements or on a separate day. If you do an upper lower split many people like to do neck on their upper body days, but find what is best for you. We usually do neck and grip exercises at the end of our workouts in conjunction with some static stretching and soft tissue work at the end of a total body strength session. Neck training can be done 1-2 times a week and you can see great results in size, strength, and performance.
A2) Band Neck Good Morning 3×5 with 5 Second Hold
B2) Kettlebell Goblet Bulgarian Split Squats 4×6-8
B3) 4 Way Gray Cook Band Neck Series 4×1 Rotations 10 Seconds each Position
E2) Wall Hip Flexor Mobilization 3×3 with 10 second hold
E3) Hex Holds 3×20 Seconds
E4) Cressey 3 Way Band Hamstring Stretch 3×3 10 seconds each positions
If you have any more questions please comment below or shoot me an e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
I would also like to thank the “Glute Guy” for having me on today. It is an honor to write for one of the top blogs in the strength and conditioning field and I hope you enjoyed the post and you learned a lot.
About the Author
Coach John Gaglione is a Sport Performance Specialist out of Long Island New York. An avid strength sport athlete, John also competes in powerliftering and kettlebell strong sport competitions. Elite Fitness Systems, Testosterone Nation , One Result & local wrestling site Long Island Wrestling Association .If you would like to learn more about John you can reach him at http://www.gaglionestrength.com or e-mail him email@example.com.