#1 Isometric neck bridges
This is a simple bodyweight neck-specific exercise that targets multiple layers of muscles that run along the back of your neck.
If you can’t do these, or you feel uncomfortable doing these just yet, you can skip to the next exercise as an easier alternative for some beginners.
You’ve probably already seen neck bridges done by athletes like wrestlers and boxers.
You can perform these kinds of bridges on a stability ball or a matt. However, there’s a concern that it can lead to an injury since your neck extends while the disks in your spine are compressed.
So, instead, a much safer alternative that many people swear by is a simple isometric hold on a bench.
Start by sliding your whole body forward off a bench. Only the back of your head and your neck should be on the bench.
All you do now is hold that position for as long as you can.
The goal is to work your way up to being able to hold it for at least 1 minute. And then you can go even higher to 2 minutes.
Alternatively, you can hold a weight on your chest and just stick to increasing the weight within a 1-minute hold time.
#2 Neck harness extensions
Instead of this isometric bodyweight exercise, it might make much more sense for you to do neck harness extensions.
You can buy one of these highly affordable neck harnesses on Amazon. They work really great, especially for targeting the back of the neck.
Adjust the neck harness so that it fits well around your head.
Loop the chain through plate weights and hook the chain on the other side so that the weights are hanging in the middle.
Simply lower your chin towards your sternum slowly, and then extend back up until your head is straight.
Then repeat for reps.
This is actually one of my favorite neck exercises because I can directly control the weight load. This allows me to apply progressive overload by increasing the weight over time.
#3 Prone weighted neck extensions
This is an alternative to the previous neck exercise without the harness.
Lay flat on a bench with a towel and plate weight nearby. Make sure you slide to the edge of the bench so that your head is hanging off.
Then take the towel and the plate and place them on the back of your head.
From there, just lower your chin towards your chest. Then extend back up, and repeat for reps.
#4 Stability ball neck crunches
The bridges and the extensions will help target the back of your neck. But what about the front of your neck?
Well, for that we’re going to do stability ball neck crunches.
Grab a towel and a dumbbell. Then take a seat on a stability ball.
Walk your feet forward and roll your body down until your shoulder blades are on the ball and your head is hanging off.
Place the towel and the dumbbell on your forehead.
Make sure your chin is tucked back before starting your reps.
Imagine pushing your jaw straight back towards your spine before beginning.
Lower your head down, while supporting the dumbbells with your hands. Then flex your neck to crunch your head back up. Repeat this for reps.
Remember, your hands should not be lifting the dumbbell. The work should be done by your neck muscles. Your hands are just there to help balance the dumbbell.
Using this same concept, we’re also going to do an exercise that involves side neck crunches.
Lay sideways on a bench. Position yourself high enough so that your head can hang off.
Take a dumbbell, or a plate weight, and a towel and hold it on the side of your head like you’re answering a telephone.
Slowly, lower your head down to the side and raise back up. Repeat for reps and make sure you do both sides.
#6 Resistance band alternatives
All the exercises that I’ve gone over so far can also be done with a resistance band. This includes the forward and side neck crunches as well as the neck extensions.
To do so, take a resistance band and tie it around something sturdy like a squat rack.
I also recommend that you either wear a hat, use a towel, or use a head harness. That’s because the resistance band can pull on your hair or your skin without shielding.
Wrap the resistance band around your head and turn your body toward the direction that you want to target.
So, you can face forward and do forward neck crunches. Then you can turn sideways and work the sides. Same with the back of the neck.
I personally prefer to use weights, but I wanted to show you guys this as an option as well.
#7 Rotational strength neck exercise
Resistance bands also help us train rotational strength.
Set up the resistance band just like before and wrap it around your head.
While facing forward, make sure that you eliminate any slack so that the band is nice and tight around your head
Simply turn your head from left to right. You can also do the same movement facing the other way.
And I would actually recommend doing both to balance it out.
This exercise is really good at targeting the large sternocleidomastoid muscle.
Personally, I feel it works much better when using the head harness. You can do it without it, but for rotations specifically, having a tight head harness can work much better.
Also, unlike the other neck exercises that you’ll be doing for 10-20 reps per set, with this one, timing works better. Aim for 30 to 60 seconds of rotations per set.
The upper traps are actually one of the major muscles that surround your neck. Because of this, they also contribute substantially to a thicker-looking neck.
And there’s no doubt that one of the best exercises for the traps is barbell shrugs.
Load up a barbell with a heavy weight and grab it with your hands a little wider than shoulder-width.
Unrack the barbell, stand straight up, and shrug your shoulders up towards your ears. Then lower back down slowly and repeat.
Make sure that you avoid some common mistakes when doing this. For example, you shouldn’t roll your shoulders.
Instead, you should raise them straight up and down.
You also want to take advantage of a full range of motion. In other words, don’t load the barbell with so much weight that you wind up barely raising your shoulders during each shrug.
This exercise pretty much works your whole body. But it’s often overlooked for how amazing it is at building up the traps and helping you develop a thicker neck. I’m talking about the deadlift.
Given the intensity of this compound exercise, you should position it early on in your workout. This will make sure that you actively push the weight load you’re lifting.
Load your barbell, step up to it, and plant your feet a little wider than hip-width apart.
Hinge at your hips and bend down to reach the bar. Grip the bar slightly wider than where your shins meet the bar.
Stick your chest out, and drop your hips down, while squeezing your shoulder blades together to pull all the slack out of the bar.
Don’t lean too far forward. You want your shoulders in line with your hands.
Take a deep breath. Hold it and lift the weight up.
When lifting the weight, don’t pull with your lower back.
Instead, lift the weight by squeezing your abs, pushing your feet into the ground, and hinging your hips by driving them forward.
Once you’re standing upright, lower back down and repeat for reps.
Another great neck exercise that can work just as well for your traps is dumbbells shrugs. Despite looking very similar to barbell shrugs, they are actually different.
With dumbbells, you can shrug with your hands in a neutral grip.
With a barbell, you can have your hands either internally or externally rotated to get a grip. Unless, of course, you’re using a T-bar, which not every gym has.
This neck exercise is done just like regular shrugs with your hands in a neutral position.
Grab two heavy dumbbells, hold your hands at your sides, and raise your shoulders straight up and down for reps.
Keep in mind, I recommend starting your workout with barbell shrugs and doing dumbbell shrugs later. That’s because you can load much more weight with the barbell than with dumbbells.
# Neck exercises workout setup
So those are 10 of my favorite neck exercises to build up both neck and traps. These will undoubtedly help you build a thicker, more powerful-looking neck.
To set these up for a workout, I would incorporate exercises like shrugs and deadlifts separately into your routine. Most likely, I would add these to my back workout.
As far as the rest of the exercises that specifically target the neck, I would only choose 4 or 5 of them.
Then I would perform 10-20 reps for 3 sets of each neck exercise.
Focus on upping your weight load and you stay consistent. Hit the neck anywhere from 2 to 3 times a week. This should be more than enough to see quick progress in terms of growth and strength.
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