Perform These Neck Strengthening Exercises to Help Prevent a Concussion

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Prompted by a rash of on-field concussions, the NFL, NCAA and other sports organizations are now spearheading efforts to keep their athletes safer. Updated regulations regarding protective equipment are being enacted, as are new rules to protect players. Although protective equipment technology has improved dramatically over the years, athletes—particularly those engaging in contact sports—are still falling victim to concussions.

One reason? Many athletes are doing very few trapezius and neck strengthening exercises. These two muscle groups have been shown to dissipate force during head collisions and rapid head rotations—the source of many concussions.

The neck has multiple movement properties, which mirror the lower regions of the spine. The neck can extend, flex, rotate and laterally flex; it can protract (move forward) and retract (move backward). A key factor for athletes: the neck also plays an important role in protecting the delicate cervical spine, which encases the spinal cord. Injuries to the spinal cord can result in partial or full paralysis. So, given its wide range of movement capabilities and role as a protector, the neck deserves an appropriate amount of training attention.

Neck Strengthening Exercises

You can improve your neck strength in just a few short minutes during your workout. Perform these neck strengthening exercises two to three times per week to build a stronger and (hopefully) more protective neck.

For novice athletes and those who have never directly trained their necks, the primary focus should be range of motion movements. Just be sure to keep your ears in line with your shoulder on each movement.

Up and Down (Extension and Flexion)

  • Look up and extend neck so tip of nose is pointed at ceiling
  • Flex neck so chin touches middle of collarbone
  • Repeat in alternating fashion for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 1x10-15

Side-to-Side Bends (Lateral Flexion)

  • Flex neck to side and bring ear as close as possible to shoulder
  • Return to center; perform rep on opposite side
  • Repeat in alternating fashion for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 1x10-15 each side

Side-to-Side Rotation (Lateral Rotation)

  • Gently turn neck so chin is over shoulder
  • Keep neck and shoulders upright throughout movement
  • Return to center; perform rep on opposite side
  • Repeat in alternating fashion for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 1x10-15 each side

Wall Presses

  • Stand with back and head against wall with shoulders pulled back
  • Press back of head against wall; hold for one second
  • Relax head; repeat for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 1x10

Once you are comfortable performing range of motion exercises with no load, gentle manual isometric resistance (provided by a partner) can be introduced.

Manual Isometric Neck Extension

  • Sit in chair with partner's hand wrapped in towel on back of your head
  • Look up and slowly extend neck so tip of nose is pointed at ceiling while partner provides light resistance
  • Hold for specified time

Sets/Time: 1x10-15 seconds

Manual Isometric Neck Flexion

  • Sit in chair with partner's hand wrapped in towel on your forehead
  • Flex neck so chin touches middle of collarbone while partner provides light resistance
  • Hold for specified time

Sets/Time: 1x10-15 seconds

Lateral Isometric Neck Flexion

  • Sit in chair with partner's hand wrapped in towel on side of head just above your ear
  • Flex neck to side and bring ear as close as possible to shoulder while partner provides light resistance
  • Hold for specified time
  • Perform set on opposite side

Sets/Time: 1x10-15 seconds 
each side

Banded Look-Aways (Neck Rotation)

  • Drape hand towel over lightly tensioned resistance band
  • Secure band to power rack slightly above eye level
  • Loop resistance band around forehead and sit on chair facing away from rack; keep slack in band
  • Gently rotate neck so chin is over shoulder
  • Return to center and perform on opposite site
  • Repeat for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 1x10 
each side

Single-Arm Dumbbell Shrug

  • Hold dumbbell at side with palm facing in
  • Keeping arm straight, shrug shoulder toward ear
  • Lower shoulder to start position and repeat for specified reps
  • Perform set on opposite shoulder

Sets/Reps: 2-3x10-15 each side

Photo:  msn.foxsports.com

Joe Giandonato, MS, CSCS, is the head strength and conditioning coach at Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, Pa. He has authored numerous articles on a wide variety of topics, including injury prevention, nutrition and improving athletic performance.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: CONCUSSION | SPORTS | PRESS | FASHION | EQUIPMENT | RANGE OF MOTION | SHRUG | SPINE | STRENGTHENING EXERCISES