The neck is frequently a weak link in soccer, and it's an area most players don't think about training. Neck strength training makes for more powerful headers and helps prevent injuries associated with falls—and may even help prevent concussions.
Here are four exercises that will help you train your neck. Perform them at the end of your strength-training workout to round out your program, three to four times a week.
Many athletes and coaches focus on the muscles at the front of the neck and forget to address the ones in back. Shrugs develop your trapezius muscles, which begin at your neck, sweep out to your scapula and down your back.
How-to: Take a shoulder-width grip on the bar. Stand up nice and tall—chest out, shoulders back—with the bar in your hands. Keeping your arms straight, lift your shoulders straight up, attempting to touch them to your ears. Lower them all the way down. Feel the stretch in your trapezius as you lower the bar.
Tip: Make sure to lift the bar straight up and down—don't rotate your shoulders at the top of the movement. This is one of the few exercises you should perform in the mirror. Watch yourself critically when you perform it. If you don't see your shoulders lifting up, you have too much weight on the bar.
2. Neck Flexion, Weight Plate
This is a classic exercise you don't see too often anymore. You need a bench, a weight plate and maybe a towel.
How-to: Lie face-up on the bench with your head unsupported by the bench. Place the towel on your forehead. Place the weight plate on the towel and use your hands to hold it in place. Keeping the weight plate on your forehead, lift your head up using your neck muscles. Lower under control and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Sets/Reps: 3x up to 20
3. Lateral Flexion, Stability Ball
How-to: Stand next to a wall holding a stability ball on the wall at head level. Touch the right side of your head against the ball. From this position, attempt to touch your right ear to your shoulder. The ball will be in your way providing resistance as you move your head. When you've pressed as far into the ball as you can, pause for a count, then relax. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions, then switch sides.
Sets/Reps: 3x up to 20
4. Neck Extension, Partner
This exercise works the muscles on the back of your neck. You will need a partner.
How-to: Begin on your hands and knees with your head down. Your partner places his or her hands on top of your head, then provides gentle pressure while you try to raise your head against it. This should create an isometric contraction—i.e., there should be minimal movement of your head. Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat three times.
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