4 Tools to Build a Strong Neck

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Block of Granite

You have, will, and always will be getting your head and neck area targeted if you’re in a combat or contact sport.  Contact sports such as lacrosse, rugby, or football also feature violent clashes of the human body.  In BJJ and submission grappling, you literally get your neck squeezed by your opponent in order to solicit a tap to pain or because you are about to lose consciousness from lack of blood flow to the brain.

Yet so little emphasis is placed on developing the musculature and mobility of the neck. This is a must-have tool for every grapplers’ arsenal.

I’m going to get right to it and show you a few movements to use to develop your own neck program.

Neck Movements

To simplify things, I’ll show you exercises from four groups:

  1. External resistance:
    • Resistance Bands – resistance bands provide a lot of versatility and flexibility. You can increase or reduce the amount of resistance during an actual set to get your target contraction right. Ross Enamait covers resistance bands extensively on his site and in his clips.
    • Weights – the traditional neck harness has been used for years to develop neck strength.  While a valuable tool to overload the rear flexion of the neck, it also provides a static contraction for two main “shock absorbers” of the neck, the sternal head. From a cost/benefit perspective, if your on a budget, choose the resistance bands over the neck harness (Note that isometrics are free!)
    • Workout Partner – using weights, resistance bands, or their own resistance, a workout partner can help you train your neck.  The primary method of training the neck with a partner is drilling or live sparring/rolling.  Many of your takedowns, escapes, and submissions leverage your head positioning in order to finish, making this a great option for training.
  2. Bridge work:
    • Wrestlers/Grapplers warm up typically included some type of front, side, and back bridging.  Bridge work is very demanding on your body, especially with a weak neck.  It also works your body as a unit, meaning you move your neck along the primary movement patterns (flexion, extension and rotation) while grappling which makes it highly functional.
  3. Isometrics
    • Isometric contractions can be held for quick bursts to develop neck musculature (e.g., 5 seconds) or longer bouts for neck strength endurance (e.g., 30 seconds or more).  You will be resisting the force place on your head to move your neck, which is exactly what you face while grappling.  Plus you can use various methods of resistance (your head, a towel, resistance bands, an object like a wall or chair) to be creative.
    • You can also perform variations of headstands which will be, basically, putting weight on your head so your neck has to abosrb the weight. This forces an isometric contraction of the neck that is hard to duplicate. This also places alot of weight on your neck so if you have pain or disc issues to begin with, this may not be for you.
  4. Neck Mobility drills
    • When you start moving your body around the mats in grappling movements, where your neck becomes part of the movement, we will classify that as a neck mobility drill). It’s a natural progression from the movement patterns of bridge work and the strength development work with external resistance.  Examples I like include the Bridge with Kick Over and the Head Post Bridge Pass Drill (both of which I demonstrate on the video below).



With neck training, an ounce of prevention is worth at least a pound of cure. Don’t get sidelined again by a neck injury.  Make neck training part of your program.

Train hard, train safe.

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