The neck is an often-neglected part of many exercise routines, but weak muscles in the neck can lead to prolonged pain after injury and aggravate existing conditions like arthritis, experts at OrthoMD.com say. Strong neck muscles can help protect the upper spine and provide a more stable foundation for the head. There are two major muscle groups that need to be exercised when strengthening the neck, the back of the neck used when tilting the head back and the sternocleidomastoid muscles on the sides of the neck that contract to tilt the head forward and side to side.
Head Lifts for the Back of the Neck
Strengthen the back of the neck by lying on your stomach on a flat bench with your head hanging over the edge. Raise your head as if trying to look up at the ceiling. Pause at the top of the repetition for a second before lowering the head to the relaxed position. You can hold a weight on the back of your head for more resistance and muscle gain, writers at Building Muscle.com suggest. They recommend three sets of 12 repetitions of this exercise, but you may need to start with fewer sets or repetitions. Start the weight light and increase it gradually.
Head Lifts for the Sternocleidomastoid
This exercise is similar to the head lifts listed above, but is performed while lying on your back and raising your head until your chin touches your chest. The Building Muscle writers say this exercise can be performed with or without weights. If using weights, rest the weight against your forehead and stabilize it with your hands. Pause for a second at the top of the contraction before lowering the head. Repeat this exercise on both sides in three sets of 12 reps for maximum strength gain. You may need to work up to the level of sets and reps.
Front to Back Head Tilt
This exercise is recommended by researchers at the University of Maryland and can be performed while seated or standing. It uses the weight of the head to help strengthen the neck muscles. Lift the chin to tilt the head back as if you are looking up at the ceiling. Hold for a second before slowly returning to the resting position. This exercise should be performed in sets of five to 10 three times a day. This exercise helps strengthen muscles along the back of the neck.
Side to Side Tilt
Look straight forward while slowly tilting the head to the side. The Maryland researchers caution that you shouldn’t tilt the head so far that the ear touches your shoulder. As above, hold the tilted position for a moment before returning to the center position and moving on to the other side. Like the front to back tilt, perform five to 10 repetitions of this exercise three times a day.
About this Author
Keith Strange spent more than a decade as a staff writer for newspapers and magazines in the Southeast United States, where he polished his skills into an award-winning career. He has a B.S. in sports medicine and attended graduate school to study exercise physiology. Strange is a former competitive martial artist and holds a third degree black belt in taekwondo.