It’s been commonly accepted that Monday is international chest day. Upon entering the gym, It’s a known fact that the dumbbells and bench press stations will be taken. If asking a fellow gym bro what muscles he is training, there will be many references to chest, back, shoulders, arms, or legs. So let me ask you an interesting question. Have you ever heard anyone say “Today is neck day”? In my entire lifting career, I have not found a single person in real life who told me they were going to train their neck. In fact, when I inform people that I am training my neck, they will often appear puzzled and respond “what?”
In the mind of average lifters, you cannot achieve hypertrophy of the neck, nor is it even viewed as a muscle. Of course, viewing a basic anatomy chart proves these ignorant beliefs to be false, but nonetheless the fact that you never heard of “neck day” proves how underrated neck training is.
Why Should I Start Training My Neck?
One might suspect that neck training is uncommon since on the surface level, it does not provide any real benefits. Many will compare the neck to the calves, and claim that it is an “optional” bodypart. This is one of the greatest lies to have ever been conceived in the lifting world. The reality is that neck training is not only mandatory, but can also make one of the BIGGEST differences in your physique. The neck will literally make or break a physique. Too many times, lifters will have massive pecs and arms, but puny necks. The result is that these individuals always look small and frail, especially when talking face to face. The fact of the matter is that as a drug-free lifter, having a larger neck is absolutely essential! You cannot afford to have a stack of dimes for a neck if wanting to appear big.
That is why in this article, I will teach you all the essentials of acquiring a bigger neck. We will explore various neck training methods through using straight weight, wrestler bridges, bands, and a neck harness.
Before training the neck, it is imperative that you stretch it. Not doing so can cause zingers to appear, where one side of your neck is cramped up. This can make it difficult to go about your daily life, and makes turning your head to be a real pain. Doing neck stretching right before weighted neck work can prevent this problem from arising in the first place. I recommend a combination of static and dynamic stretching. You will want to move your head up and down, left and right, diagonal, clockwise, counter clockwise, etc. The stretches that you have learned in high school should be sufficient for this. I advise that you stretch the neck for a minimum of 10-30 seconds per angle, which should total to approximately two minutes. Once that neck is warmed up, it’s time to begin the real training.
Using straight weight is the simplest way to train your neck, and is what most beginners should start with. These exercises are very basic yet effective, and you can easily add many inches to your neck without using fancy equipment. Everyone should begin with straight weight, bottom-line.
Lying Neck Curl
The neck curl is the primary mass builder for the neck. It involves placing a weight plate on your forehead, and flexing the chin towards your upper chest. This will build the front of the neck and thicken the sternocleidomastoid, which will make your neck appear very thick and wide from the front. It is by far the most important exercise in your training.
To correctly execute, you need to first wear some type of hat. This will create padding and thickness on the forehead, which will prevent weight plates from digging into your skin and creating ridges. When performing the neck curl, you must also try to disengage your arms and abs from the equation. We are working neck here, not lats, arms, and abs. Imagine your arms as handlebars, and visualize yourself flexing the neck exclusively. Do not crunch, and do not pull. A small degree of abdominal stimulation is fine, but if your abs are aching to a large extent and the neck is not getting pumped, it means you are lifting too heavy and need to drop the weight. You should feel intense contractions in the neck and lactic acid building up, otherwise you’re doing it wrong.
For progression, I strongly recommend that all beginners start off with a 5lb weight plate. You can use a slow or fast tempo, the choice is yours. I have found 4x25 to be the perfect set/rep range, because flexing the neck is a short range of motion and results in less time under tension. You can also do 3x20 or 3x33 which work equally as well. The key to neck training success is volume, never forget this.
In summary, high volume is the name of the game. Once you can hit the desired sets and reps, it’s time to increase the weight. You can either micro-load it with 2.5lbs-5lbs, or go straight into 10lbs. For most lifters the progression scheme will be with 5lbs, 10lbs, 25lbs, 35lbs, 45lbs, then stacking weights on top of each other (usually rubber) until you reach 90lbs.
At this point, your neck would have gained significant size, probably upwards of 2 inches. However, you will now find your hands being the limiting factor, and going past 90lbs will be almost impossible unless you have thin plates. That said, this is your weight limit for this exercise. You can no longer increase weight, only sets and reps. Therefore, your ultimate goal should be to reach 100 straight repetitions with 90lbs, or even 3x100. After that point, you have milked this exercise for all that it was worth. It’s now time to move onto other neck flexion exercises that will be shown later.
On a final note, if you find the transition period between 45lbs to 90lbs too difficult given the fact that you must hold the weight plates, consider using rubber plates instead since you can grab the empty space on the inside. The exercise will be a bit harder on the elbows given the narrow grip, but it will allow you to keep loading.
Lying Neck Extension
The neck extension is the next mass builder for the neck, and allows you to use the heaviest weights possible. This will develop the back of your neck, which makes it appear very thick and wide when you are turned around. It also works the upper traps and upper back to a large extent, which overall enhances yoke development. With this version, you are placing the weight on the back of your head and extending your neck. Neck extension has the greatest loading potential, however with the lying version you will be limited by the plate size since it will be larger than your head. It is much better to use bands or neck harnesses to do neck extensions, but either way if you are new to neck training, this exercise is a must-do.
The progression is exactly like the neck curl, start with 5lbs, then 10lbs, 25lbs, 35lbs, and 45lbs. 4x25, 3x20, or 3x33 should be the sets/reps. You can attempt to go past 45lbs, however the plate size will seriously limit you. I can only recommend heavier weights if the plates do not slide off your head, and if they are of smaller diameter. Otherwise, refrain from going past 45lbs. A great goal is to do 3x100 with 45lbs, after that I would highly encourage the usage of bands or a head harness.
Neck Side Raise
The neck side raise will directly build the sides of your neck, thus accentuating width benefits. You should do these after your neck curl and neck extension, and treat it as that last refinement tool that will correct muscular imbalances. Side neck work is like the dumbbells of neck training, it allows you to load your neck in a unilateral fashion. If one side of your neck is overdeveloped, the side neck raise will correct this problem. Just like the neck curl and extension, begin with a 5lb plate and add from there while using 4x25, 3x20, or 3x33 for the sets/reps.
Your weight limit will likely be 45lbs since the diameter of the plates will be too large. As a long term goal, try to get 3x100 with 45lbs. This should be more than enough to cover the sides of your neck, especially since you will be pre-exhausted, and already got tons of work from the curls and extensions. This is refinement work, nothing more. Think of the neck extension and neck curl like your flat and incline bench press, and the neck side raise like your triceps extension or dumbbell press.
It is very possible to build a large neck through exclusively bodyweight training. In fact, that is how Mike Tyson built a +19 inch unflexed neck. This is also how thousands of high school wrestlers have built over 19 inch necks without drugs or weights. The best way to build a big neck without weights is by incorporating the wrestler bridge. It is a time-tested exercise that has been used by combat athletes all over the world. There are many variations that exist, and if one gets very strong at these versions, weight may always be added on top of the bridge. In other words, your neck development can be fully covered off bridging.
One word of caution though, bridging is not for everyone. It can be dangerous especially if you are new to neck training. I would strongly recommend that you use the other neck exercises before attempting bridging. You should also start with the easier variations and build from there. Never attempt an advanced bridge if you are not ready for it, as that is an injury waiting to happen. Start with the easiest progressions, and build from there.
Level 1 – Isometric Hold (Hold for 15-60 seconds before moving on)
Level 2a – Head Rocking with Hands (3x10-20)
Level 2b – Head Rocking No Hands (3x10-20)
Level 3 – Head Rocking No Hands + Hip Thrust (3x10-20)
Level 4 – Bridging to Sides (3x10-20, hip thrust optional)
Level 5 – Weighted Isometric Wrestler Bridge (3x15-60s)
Level 6 – Weighted Rocking Wrestler Bridge (3x10-20)
Level 1 – Rocking Front Wrestler Bridge
This is the easiest bridging variation of all time. It will work the front of your neck. Over time, you should seek to lower legs, until your back is close to parallel to the ground.
Level 2 – Neck Plank (3x15-60s)
This is the most advanced exercise for the front of the neck, it is EXTREMELY difficult given the poor leverages, but if you can do this for 60 seconds straight you will notice significant improvements in your neck size. You can even do these weighted if you choose to, but I doubt that will ever be necessary.
It is evident that straight weight neck exercises have one major con, which is the fact that the loading potential is limited. Furthermore, it is easier to cheat or be limited by your grip strength since holding the plates are essential. With bands, however, all of these problems are obliterated. One can always stretch out bands for extra resistance, double them, attach more bands, or buy heavier bands. You can do neck extensions, neck curls, and even neck twisting exercises. Moreover, the bands actively pull you down which enhances the negative, while enabling peak contraction simultaneously. You will feel your neck working much better with bands, and it will be difficult to cheat, thus making band work very strict. The sets and reps are the same, either do 4x25, 3x20, or 3x33. Once this is too easy, either do sets of 100 with the bands, or simply upgrade tensions, add more bands, double them, or lengthen them.
Band Neck Curl
Band Neck Extension
Band Neck Curl from Power Rack
Band Neck Extension from Power Rack
Band Neck Twist
A secret benefit of bands is that you can actually work rotation. This is extremely beneficial for all combat athletes, and will of course correct muscular imbalances in the neck. It’s very comfortable and has unlimited weight potential.
Band in Mouth Neck Curl, Extension, & Rotation
There is one final secret of bands, which is the fact that you can place them in your mouth and work your neck/jaw muscles simultaneously! Again, this will be valuable to all combat athletes and can enhance facial aesthetics. I recommend you bite into a towel or piece of suede for comfort and eliminating the latex flavour.
Although a neck harness is not necessary, it can significantly enhance your neck training. It allows for extreme comfort, unlimited loading potential of straight weight which is easy to track, and can be combined with bands and bridging for more versatile neck training. This is my favorite way to do neck work.
Neck Extension with Harness
Remember the lying neck extension with a weight plate? The number one issue is that it did not allow for heavy weights to be used, even though neck extension should be stronger than neck flexion. With the head harness, the weight problem is eliminated. By attaching a chain through the loops of the harness, one can hang weights off their head and extend the neck. This allows for extreme weighted stretch, comfort, and a smooth movement. Best of all, you can microload this exercise and can easily go upwards of 90lbs. In fact if you train long enough, your neck extension can raise past 200lbs. You can go very heavy with these, so make sure to use proper form and prevent jerking the weight. Performing the neck extension while standing or seated work equally as well, so make sure to experiment with both. You should do 4x25, 3x20, or 3x33 on these. Add 2.5-10lbs once you hit the desired sets/reps.
Neck Curl with Harness
The neck curl with a head harness also eliminates the loading issue with the lying neck curl. You no longer need your hands, and it is very possible to go upwards of 90lbs. On top of that, the weighted stretch is absolutely incredible. This is less of a flexing exercise, but more of a negative movement similar to a preacher curl. With this version, you can no longer cheat by using your arms/lats, and grip is not an issue.
The neck deadlift is a fun exercise that isometrically works the neck. I prefer low volume on these, and would recommend a basic 3x10 setup. This will overload your neck so that when you go back to extensions, the weight feels lighter on your head.
Neck Harness Work with Bands
With a neck harness, you can attach bands through the loops and perform every exercise that was demonstrated previously. The only difference is that you no longer need your hands to prevent slipping of the bands, nor must you shove bands in your mouth. It is very comfortable, and you have the potential to attach the bands from new angles, which means more versatile neck training (such as doing lateral bending or having the bands at the bottom of a power rack rather than on top).
Wrestler Bridge with Bands
This is a very advanced exercise that combines bridging and bands simultaneously. With standard bridging, holding weight plates can be very uncomfortable and make the movement not flow as good. With bands and a head harness, no longer is this an issue. You can bridge to all angles without negatively altering technique. If you hate bridging with weight plates on your body, use this method instead.
In the final analysis, it was observed that there are many ways to develop the neck muscles. Straight weight, wrestler bridging, the usages of bands, head harnesses, etc. can all be utilized for tremendous growth. Start training your neck 2-4x a week and get stronger over time, and you will add inches to your neck. No longer do you need to suffer from having a pencil neck ever gain. It’s time to get your yoke on!