8 Exercises to Strengthen Your Neck, Back and Shoulders

Strengthen your neck, shoulders and upper back to improve your performance and reduce your chance of injury from a collision.


If you participate in a combat sport, you need to prepare your body for the demands you will place on it. What part of the body is the most important to protect? The brain has to be high on the list.

Many may argue that it should be the number 1 concern. How can you discuss "injury prevention" without taking into consideration spine posture and control, head position, etc?

Training the head, neck and upper back can improve your posture. A thicker, stronger neck may help dissipate forces during a collision. And, a strong neck will help you move your head to the location you are intending to go more quickly. Essentially, it's one of the most critical areas of the body, but it's probably one of the most frequently ignored in the weight room. You should put the same emphasis here as you do on your glutes, quads, hamstrings, back and chest.

Add these eight exercises into your weekly program twice per week to develop your neck and head musculature. You may be shocked to see that your lifts increase and your 40-time shrinks.

Note: when you're able to perform 12 reps on each weighted exercise, add 2.5 pounds.

RELATED: Frequently Asked Questions About Concussions

Neck Extensions

Strengthening the back of the neck.

Coaching Points

  • Sit up tall.
  • Lift the resistance with continuous motion for 3-5 seconds. Squeeze the muscles on the back of your neck in a controlled manner.
  • Pause in the contracted position for 3-5 seconds.
  • Return to the start position over 6-10 counts.

Sets/Reps: 1-2x8-12

Neck Flexion

Strengthens the front of the neck.

Coaching Points

  • Sit up tall.
  • Lift the resistance with continuous motion for 3-5 seconds. Squeeze the muscles on the front of your neck in a controlled manner.
  • Pause in the contracted position for 3-5 seconds.
  • Return to the start position over 6-10 counts.

Sets/Reps: 1-2x8-12

Single-Arm Shrug

Strengthens the trapezius muscles.

Coaching Points

  • Sit up tall.
  • Anchor your opposite hand by holding the seat.
  • Lift the resistance with continuous motion for 3-5 seconds. Squeeze your trapezius muscle in a controlled manner.
  • Pause in the contracted position for 3-5 seconds
  • Return to the start position over 6-10 counts.

Sets/Reps: 1-2x8-12

Neck Bridge

Increases strength in the supporting musculature of the neck.

Coaching Points

  • Place your head on a stable bench with your hands on your chest.
  • Your heels should be under your knees when in the up position.
  • Maintain proper spine alignment by squeezing and holding the muscles on the back side of your body.
  • Keep your chin pointed up at all times.

Sets/Duration: 1-2x30-60 sec.

Rear Delt Bridge

Develops upper-back isometric strength.

  • Place your elbows on a stable bench with your arms at 90 degrees and your elbows pointing up.
  • Your heels should be under your knees when in the up position.
  • Maintain proper spine alignment by squeezing and holding the muscles on the back side of your body.
  • Keep your chin pointed up at all times.

Sets/Duration: 1-2x30-60 sec.

Rhomboid Shrug

Strengthens the back, which also helps support the shoulder blades.

  • Sit up tall.
  • Do not bend your elbows.
  • Lift the resistance with continuous motion for 3-5 seconds. Squeeze the muscles of your upper middle back in a controlled manner.
  • Pause in the contracted position for 3-5 seconds.
  • Return to the start position over 6-10 counts.

Sets/Reps: 1-2x8-12

Y-Pull With External Rotation

Strengthens the shoulder complex and back.

  • Squeeze the muscles of your upper back, pulling your scapula toward your spine.
  • Keep your elbows at shoulder level.
  • Lift the resistance with continuous motion for 3-5 seconds. Squeeze the muscles of your upper middle back and shoulders in a controlled manner.
  • Pause in the contracted position for 3-5 seconds.
  • Return to the start position over 6-10 counts.

Sets/Reps: 1-2x10-15

Scap Depression

Strengthens the back.

  • Place your hands on a stable bench with your knees at 90 degrees (right above your ankles).
  • Do not bend your elbows.
  • To begin, allow your hips to drop toward the floor.
  • Lift your body with continuous motion for 3-5 seconds. Squeeze the muscle of your middle back in a controlled manner.
  • Pause in the contracted position for 3-5 seconds.
  • Return to the start position by controlling the resistance for 6-10 seconds.

Sets/Reps: 1-2x10-15

RELATED: Build Shoulder and Neck Strength to Stay Healthy

Editor's Note: Check out Coach Taylor's SMARTER Team Training Audio Interview Series here.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: PREHAB | COACH | BENCH | SPINE