Neck Training for athletes

Neck training for athletes. Learn why all athletes should be doing neck training.

By Grant Leiphart

Neck Training for athletes

Unless an athlete is involved in a combat sport they probably don’t do enough neck training. However, there are many benefits produced by neck training especially if the athlete is playing a sport where the head and/or neck is susceptible to injury. The best way to limit cervical spine injuries or concussions is to strengthen and stabilize the neck.

Sport Specific Neck Training  

Some sports put an emphasis on neck training such as wrestling, boxing and mixed martial arts. Unfortunately, neck training tends to take a back seat in other sports where the head and neck are still exposed to injury. Athletes involved in Football, soccer, rugby, baseball/softball, and lacrosse (among other sports) would all benefit greatly from neck training. It has been shown that having a stronger neck can reduce the risk of concussions.

How does it help to have a strong neck?

Having a strong neck keeps the head from displacing rapidly by outside forces. For example, a football player who has a weak neck will have more head and neck movement after a head impact than an athlete who has a stronger, stiffer neck. This rapid head movement is what causes concussions, so if the athlete is able to withstand the impact an external force has on their neck or head they will limit their chance of receiving a concussion or limit the severity of the concussion. 

Having a stronger neck will also help to stabilize the cervical spine. (the part of the spinal cord that starts at the base of the skull and continues to the bottom of the neck). Injuries to the cervical spine can be very serious so it’s important to mitigate these chances. If an athlete’s neck is able to maintain its integrity after a force is applied to it then the chances of a cervical injury is greatly decreased. 

How to train the neck

Neck training can be very simple and does not require any equipment. Neck movement can be broken down into 4 categories: extension, flexion, side flexion, and rotation. An athlete should train their neck in all of these plains of motion to build an all-around sturdy neck. Here are some simple exercises an athlete can do to train their neck. (These can even be done at home!) 

  1. Lay on the edge of a bench or bed with your head hanging off the side, eyes facing towards the ceiling. Curl your head up, tucking your chin into the front of your neck. With control, lower your head back down.
  1. Same set up as flexion except this time flip over so your eyes are facing the ground. Now lift the back of your head up towards the ceiling. With control, lower your head back down.
Side Flexion
  1. Still on the edge of a bench or bed lay on your side so that one ear is facing the ground and the other facing the ceiling. It may be more comfortable to have your arm of the side that is facing down to be hanging off of the bench or bed as well. From here raise your head up so that your top ear moves toward your top shoulder. With control, lower your head back down. Make sure to do both sides.
  1. This can be done either on the edge of a bench or bed or laying on the ground. Start with your eyes facing towards the ceiling, tuck your chin into your neck so the back of your neck is straight. From here rotate your head from side to side keeping your chin tucked. You don’t need to force extra rotation from your neck, just rotate as much as comfortable.

These exercises can be done 2-3 a week. Start by doing only one or two sets on each with 10-20 reps per set. As your neck gets stronger you can add more sets and reps. Or apply tempo work (3 seconds up, 3 seconds hold, 3 seconds down). 

Maintaining a strong, rigid neck is crucial for all athletes.

The resistance to shock-related forces and anti-rotation properties a strong neck has will help minimize the risk of concussions. In addition to lowering cervical spine injuries in athletes. It is important to look for ways to minimize the risk of injury not only by implementing new technologies in sports but by also addressing physical weaknesses athletes have. 

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