Q. What exercises would you recommend to strengthen the neck at home, using just a few minutes a day?
A. I'd recommend that you use a neck machine if possible. The Nautilus neck machine is the best on the market to date. However, if you can't afford one or don't have access to one, there are exercises that can be performed manually with assistance from a training partner.
Who should perform exercises for the neck? Athletes who participate in wrestling, boxing, football, soccer, diving or any other activity that involves risk to the head, neck or shoulder girdle.
What about the non-athlete? Because of inactivity, some adults lose flexibility of the neck muscles. And loss of muscle due to inactivity can contribute to poor posture and low- back problems. Properly performed, neck exercises can help develop and maintain normal range of motion. They also help minimize tension in the head and neck area. And there are cosmetic benefits from developing the neck muscles just under the chin.
Let me suggest two basic neck exercises: They are neck flexion for the muscles on the front side of the neck, and neck extension for the muscles on the back side of the neck. (There are other muscles in the neck region and exercises to develop them: They include lateral flexion and shrugs.)
These flexion and extension exercises are extremely productive. However, some risk is involved when exercising the neck, so please pay strict attention to the instructions. I've taught these exercises to junior high school kids but I made sure they did them exactly right. There are two rules regarding the neck that should be observed:
1. Never exercise the neck muscles before a game or practice. Exercise before a game can fatigue the muscles, leaving the neck more vulnerable to injury.
2. Do not perform isometric or static exercises. Such exercises do not develop the muscles through the full range of motion; they're inefficient and potentially dangerous.
The neck flexion exercise develops the muscles on the front side of the neck. The only equipment needed is a bed or a bench. In the starting position, the exerciser lies on his back on the bed. The head is in a position just off the end of the bed. The top of the head is parallel to the floor. The back of the head rests against the end of the bed (to prevent the head from being bent backwards too far).
The spotter kneels beside the exerciser, placing his hand across the middle of the exerciser's forehead and applying resistance.
In the starting position, the spotter should apply a mild pressure to slightly stretch the neck muscles. Too much resistance is being applied if the lifter feels the need to pull back or is not completely relaxed.
The exerciser takes at least two seconds to raise the head until the chin touches the chest. This should be done in a smooth and even fashion. If there are any sudden, jerky or fast motions, the lifter and spotter are not working together and injury could result.
After raising the chin to the chest, hold this position for "one thousand and one" before allowing at least four seconds to recover to the relaxed and stretched starting position described above. The spotter must use extreme caution and provide less resistance as the lifter approaches the stretched position.
The neck extension exercise is for the muscles on the back side of the neck. In the starting position of neck extension, the exerciser is on hands and knees, looking down with the chin tucked under. The spotter's hand is on the back side of the exerciser's head.
The exerciser lifts the head backwards, allowing at least two seconds to reach a position where the neck is fully extended (head looking skyward). Pause in this position for "one thousand and one" before allowing at least four seconds to recover to the starting position.
The exerciser and spotter should communicate with each other to ensure maximum safety and efficiency. There is some skill involved in performing and spotting any manual resistance exercise. Use extreme caution until you have mastered the spotting techniques. Never exert an all-out effort while exercising the neck. The spotter must learn to vary the amount of resistance during the raising and lowering phase of both movements, extending and lowering the head.
Perform one set of 12 to 15 repetitions of both exercises every other day. As the exerciser gains strength, the spotter must learn to adjust the amount of resistance accordingly.
Parents obviously should be concerned about the strength of a child's neck. I'd suggest that parents learn how to spot these exercises for their kids. They're extremely safe and productive if you strictly adhere to the directions outlined above. I'd rather you attempt to learn how to spot these exercises than allow your kids to compete without strengthening their necks.
It's amazing how many kids walk around with strong arm and chest muscles and a scrawny-looking neck. No one ever hurt their chest muscles playing football, but many athletes spend a half hour or more doing bench presses at the expense of developing their neck. If the coach doesn't do it, parents must urge their kids to emphasize their necks more than any other part of the body.
The theme for today? Get a-head with a strong neck.