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The Importance of Strengthening Your Neck, By Matthew Romans

The muscles that make up the neck are incredibly important but are often overlooked and neglected by most exercise enthusiasts. While the neck musculature is fairly small in comparison to some of the muscles of the torso and legs, these muscles play a critical role in one's posture and body alignment in a multitude of everyday tasks. As anyone who has slept in an unusual position and woken up with a stiff neck knows, the neck muscles are delicate structures, but they have the potential to become very strong if they are exercised properly. Why do so many trainees neglect these muscles, and what is the best way for them to be addressed? What is the downside of not exercising your neck muscles?

A basic understanding of neck anatomy and function helps bring things into a clear focus. The neck is made up of seven cervical vertebrae, and all of the surrounding musculature provide support and protection for these vertebrae. There are four major movements of the neck: anterior flexion (lowering your chin toward your chest), posterior extension (pressing the back of your head toward your rear end), lateral flexion (moving your ear toward your shoulder), and rotation (looking over your shoulder). Anterior flexion is performed primarily by the sternocleidomastoid and splenius muscles; conversely, the action of posterior extension is done by the upper trapezius, splenius, semispinalis and erector spinae muscles. Lateral flexion is accomplished by contracting the sternocleidomastoid, while the same muscle also performs cervical rotation with assistance by the upper trapezius and splenius. The range of motion for all four of these movements is fairly small, but cervical extension is the largest of the four. There are additional muscles in the neck besides the ones already mentioned, and many of them are smaller, deeper, and aid in actions like chewing, swallowing, and talking.

Why do so many people avoid strengthening their neck? One reason is that it is not top of mind for most people, especially those that don't suffer from an injury or debility. The bulk of exercise enthusiasts and gym rats tend to focus on the muscles that are the largest and located on the front side of their bodies, and the neck muscles don't fall into that category. Another reason is that they may be fearful of injury. This is a legitimate concern. As I mentioned above, the neck muscles can be very easily injured if they are not addressed properly, and most weight training protocols utilize a fast speed of movement that produces a high amount of force. This can exponentially increase the risk of injury. These other protocols also do not pay careful attention to proper alignment or head positioning, which are also critically important. Finally, most of the equipment available in commercial health clubs and gyms is poorly engineered, and many do not even have machines that target this musculature. Your neck muscles and vertebrae are too important to risk working with a poorly educated "personal trainer" or using substandard equipment.

In my opinion, every person can benefit from strengthening their neck musculature and keeping their cervical vertebrae healthy, especially if you have a history of a neck condition or injury, participate in combat sports (football, wrestling, martial arts, etc.), or regularly suffer from migraines or other types of headaches. Think about what happens when one gets in a car accident and suffers from the painful effects of whiplash; strong neck muscles can minimize this damage.

How do we address the neck muscles at Total Results? Most clients perform the Cervical Extension exercise to address the muscles of the posterior neck, largely because this addresses the greatest amount of musculature, but also because this seems to provide the most benefit. We have two machines that we use, one made by MedX, and the other by Super Slow Systems. Both of them work extremely well, and can be used not just for cervical extension, but they also have the capacity to allow for lateral and anterior flexion. Manual resistance can also be used for this (and all) exercise(s), either in a dynamic fashion or as a Timed Static Contraction. The Overhead Press exercise, while not specifically for the neck, does involve the trapezius muscle and encompasses the rear part of the neck. Working to strengthen the major shoulder muscles, which the Overhead Press does, can help provide a sturdier base of support for your neck muscles. Another exercise that can help strengthen the neck muscles is a dumbbell shrug, but this is one that we rarely use except in a situation where a client suffers from chronic exercise-induced headache. Our workouts are generally structured in a manner where we exercise the largest muscles first, so the Cervical Extension is likely to come near the end of a session, but we can modify the order of exercises to meet our clients' needs.

Total Results has seen its share of neck debilities in the nearly 20 years that we have been in business. We have dealt with relatively minor muscle weakness as well more advanced conditions like cervical fusions (my own mother is a Total Results client and has had both a cervical as well as a lumbar fusion), and we have seen some remarkable improvements. Years ago I had a client who was in his late 70's or early 80's at the time that he started working with me. This gentleman suffered neck pain and diminished function as a result of playing college football, and he had a difficult time turning (rotating) his head to check his blind spot when he drove. After a couple of months performing the Cervical Extension exercise, he was able to turn his head without any impediment. Other Total Results clients have experienced similar successes.

Strengthening the neck muscles is a key in maintaining excellent posture, protecting against injury, and lessening or eliminating the headaches that can come from having to hold your head upright all day. These muscles should not be allowed to atrophy; they need to be kept strong and healthy just like the rest of the body. You need an experienced and knowledgeable instructor with impeccably engineered equipment to show you how it's done. Get Total Results.

Posted October 02, 2020 by Tim Rankin