Are you struggling to translate the strength you've built in the weight room into your on-field performance? If so, it's probably not because you've haven't been training enough. You might just be missing one crucial piece.
One of the most neglected areas in strength training is the neck. An unstable neck contributes to poor strength development and negatively affects core stability, which in turn causes a loss of mobility in the arms, legs, shoulders and hips. With decreased mobility, you lose the capacity to generate the high forces necessary to gain strength.
To better understand this, think of shooting a slingshot. If you don't have stability at the base of the slingshot, you can't pull the band back far enough to sling the rock with maximal force.
So how do you improve this vital muscle to maximize your strength and power? Follow this sample neck training program and see its results pay off on the field.
Sample Neck Program
Proper breathing sets the table for core stability and neck strength. Most people have dysfunctional breathing, inhaling and exhaling primarily through their chest and lungs instead of their diaphragm. If you don't own your breathing, you don't own movement. Do the following breathing exercise three times a week for five minutes and before any neck-strengthening exercise.
Thoracic Spine Rotation
10 repetitions per side, 20 to the more restricted side
If you lose motion in one segment of your body, your brain will find another place to gain it. Lack of motion in the thoracic spine forces your body to get it from the neck and shoulders. Too much motion in the neck leads to tightness and reduced elasticity (flexibility). So the thoracic spine is a critical player in neck strength. Follow this simple 90/90 exercise for increasing motion in the spine.
Performance Tip: Lead with the shoulder blade, not the back of the hand. Envision trying to touch your shoulder blade to the ground.
Upper Neck Release
Most of the movement in your neck should naturally occur at the top—i.e., from the base of your head and the top two bones in your spine. However, most people have restriction in this area, so they move too much in the middle neck, which ends up causing neck pain and stiffness. To strengthen and stabilize the middle neck, you must first release the upper neck. Self-treatment (release) of the upper neck takes the brakes off your power generation. Ensure proper hand placement (per the video), and don't hold your breath.
Anterior Neck Isometrics
Five repetitions of six holds each side
Due to abnormal posture of rounded shoulders and forward head position, the anterior neck muscles are usually tight and weak. The resulting compensation patterns may cause increased tightness in the anterior abdominals, hip joints and hip flexor muscles. Increased tightness pulls down on the ribcage, decreasing breathing capacity. Gain strength in your anterior neck, and you will also feel an improvement in hip power.
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