Players in the NFL know how important it is to have a strong neck. So do college football players. But most recreational athletes don't know about training their neck. However, new and recent studies show that strong neck muscles can decrease the severity of a concussion or even prevent a concussion from occurring at all.
Chris Nowinski, a former football player, is the co-founder and executive director of the Concussion Legacy Foundation. He explains why strengthening the neck is so important.
"A concussion is caused by head movement," Nowinski says. "If there's no tension in your neck (if your neck is weak), all the energy of the impact goes directly into your 15-pound head."
He goes on to say that if you have a strong neck, a fall or collision will "impact your entire body mass rather than just your head. So it distributes the energy (of the collision) throughout your body, and your head will not move as fast. If your head doesn't move as fast, then theoretically less force is transferred to your brain, reducing the severity of a concussion or preventing it entirely."
The way to strengthen your neck is with gentle resistance over all ranges of motion — front, back and each side of the head. If you have a trainer or a workout partner, it's much easier.
Get down on your hands and knees and have your trainer or workout buddy push down on your head as you try to lift it. That works the back of your neck. Next, turn onto your back. Have your partner gently push down on your head as you try to lift it. This works the front of the neck.
Remember that the amount of force applied to the neck should always be gentle. There should never be pain, or even discomfort in the neck when training it. Have each effort last two seconds, and do 10 reps.
If you're new to conditioning this part of your body, start slowly. Let the weight of your head do the work by allowing it to fall forward for five seconds, or sitting with your back and shoulders against a straight-backed chair and tilting your head back for five seconds, then hanging it first to one side and then the other for five seconds on each side. The muscles of the neck are small, but it's essential to work them all in every range of motion.
There are basically two types of neck muscles: those that support the head and those that move it. As you strengthen all of these muscles, you may be surprised to notice that headaches as well as pains in the upper back diminish or disappear. Stronger neck muscles make it easier to support the average head weight.
Serious athletes may consider purchasing a neck harness, which is adjusted to fit around the head and support a weight plate. One good exercise using a neck harness is to tuck the chin against the chest while standing, then lift the head erect, raising the weight plate as you do. Repeat on each side of the head. Start with five reps and gradually work up to 10.
The site Spine-Health.com recommends an exercise called the "Prone Cobra." To do it, lie face down, placing the forehead on a rolled-up towel for comfort. Put arms at your sides, palms down on the floor. Pinch the shoulder blades together and lift hands off the floor. Gently lift the forehead about an inch off the towel, keeping the eyes looking straight at the floor (do not tip the head back and look forward). Hold the position for 10 seconds, and do 10 reps.
Make neck training a part of your workout, doing exercises two or three times a week. As an athlete or active person, there will come a day when you thank yourself for it.