Neck strength for contact sports

Neck strength is important for anyone who takes part in contact or combat sports, and it's something I'm often asked about. It can be a tricky area of the body to work on - and some of the traditional approaches can (for some people) cause more problems than they solve.

Here, I've recorded a quick video of my favourite neck exercise. Of course, this assumes that you have no real neck problems to start with - if you do, or if you get any pain when doing the exercise, then I recommend that you get that checked out by a professional first.

Wrestlers traditionally take a slightly different approach to neck conditioning, often bridging right up onto the top of their head, with their neck extended backwards. I think as an exercise, this has its place - especially if you're a competitive olympic wrestler who needs to be able to perform that movement as part of your sport. The trouble with it is that it puts a lot of pressure on the joints of the neck. For many people - especially those of us who are no longer in our teens or early twenties - it can trigger episodes of neck pain, and potentially contribute to wear and tear in those joints.

People also ask me about using a head harness for developing neck strength. (This is a strap that fits over your head and allows you to lift weights with your neck.) While I don't doubt that some people get good results this way, I'm not keen to recommend this approach for two reasons. Firstly, I think that if you're not careful it can promote bad movement patterns, and it is easy to take it too far and cause yourself an injury - especially if you have an existing neck problem. Secondly, in the majority of situations, we want to use the neck muscles to stabilise the neck in a close to neutral position (perhaps during a tackle, takedown or to defend a clinch), rather than to lift a weight. There are ways of using head harnesses effectively - but it's not my first port of call.

Finally - I do have some other tools in the box when it comes to neck strengthening; this isn't the only exercise that I use. For many, though, it's a great place to start.

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