The neck muscles are one of the most neglected muscle groups when it comes to training. When first starting to lift, the biceps, chest, and abs are the muscles that are usually concentrated on the most. Over time, as you progress in training these muscles, your physique will begin to look unbalanced, so you begin to add in legs, shoulders, triceps, back, and other muscle groups in order to attain a body composition that is more consistent and well-rounded.
At this point, once you have been training your legs, back, arms, chest, shoulders, and abs, you will look good. However, some guys who naturally are more skinny may find that their body seems to look too big for their head.
This contrast between the body and the head is not actually caused by the size of the head, but rather by how thick the neck is. A thicker neck signals strength and power whereas a thin neck appears weak and gives the physique a less serious appearance.
To correct this unbalance, you need to incorporate exercises into your routine that stimulate the muscles in the neck and lead to growth and all-around increased neck size. To achieve growth and increased size, for most people, direct neck training is key.
Does Your Neck Need Direct Training To Grow?
It is commonly believed that by doing heavy deadlifts and rows, your neck will get bigger along with your back and traps. Most weightlifters assume that since the neck is used to keep your head positioned forward during pulling and rowing exercises, it is being activated and trained as well as the other muscles performing the lift.
Research shows that this is not true and that there is little to no neck hypertrophy from pulling movements.
A study done on college-aged males found that resistance training does not stimulate muscles in the neck enough for them to grow. Despite doing deadlifts, rows, and rack pulls, the men in this study who did not train their neck directly did not see any growth. The group of guys that did do direct neck exercises, however, gained significant size in their neck after 12 weeks.
There is some evidence that doing lateral raises can increase neck size. This study found that the upper trapezius muscle was activated when doing shoulder resistance training. Although this means that you can grow your neck from training shoulders, lateral raises are not the most effective exercise for neck hypertrophy.
While lateral raises can activate the upper trapezius, that is only one muscle in the neck and will not be enough to grow the overall neck since there needs to be stimulation of all the muscles, not just the upper trapezius.
The Benefits of Direct Neck Training
Directly training your neck has several benefits. These are the main benefits of direct neck training.
- More balanced physique
- More proportional look at lower body fat
- Tighter fitting T-shirts
- Lowered risk of concussions
- Improved posture
Balanced Physique, Proportional Look, and Improved Posture
The primary reason to do direct neck training is that it elevates your physique overall. The difference between a skinny neck and a thick neck is significant enough for neck training to be worth it.
A well built physique without a strong neck will not be cohesive and will seem odd to most people. Generally, your neck circumference should be the same as your bicep circumference for good proportions and a balanced upper body.
On a cut, as you strip away body fat and lose water weight, non-muscular body parts tend to decrease in size. This means that your wrist may get smaller, your face will get more lean, and your neck will likely get thinner. To counteract the decrease in neck size from a caloric deficit, direct neck training is crucial.
A thicker neck will also make T-shirts fit more tightly and give the appearance of a muscular upper body, even though the majority of your torso will be hidden by your shirt.
If you are a boxer, directly training your neck will give you many advantages. Mike Tyson, one of the most feared boxers of all time, is famous for having trained his neck to grow it to 20.5 inches, 5.5 inches wider than the average neck size for men. He did this in order to absorb punches better and reduce brain damage form getting hit.
A large neck is also beneficial for grappling, BJJ, wrestling, and football. Even if you are not in a direct contact sport like these, you can still benefit from a reduced risk of brain damage if you find yourself in a collision or fight.
This study done on 6,704 athletes found that the odds of a concussion decreased by 5% for every 1 pound increase in neck strength. Since concussions are one of the worst injuries in terms of overall damage done to health and negative long-term effects, strengthening your neck with direct training is worth the extra time and effort.
Can You Grow Your Neck From Doing Shrugs?
While deadlifts and rows have not been found to be effective at neck muscle hypertrophy, shrugs are an exercise that can make a difference in your overall neck size and strength.
Shrugs stimulate the trapezius muscle which connects to the base of the skull. By strengthening the traps, you will add width and size to the back of the neck. This increase in size and strength will not impact the size of the neck as much as direct neck training though since it is only one portion of the neck and can not help grow the neck as a whole.
Do You Need Equipment For Direct Neck Training?
To directly train your neck, there are 3 main exercises. These all can be done by lying down on a bench or raised surface and curling, extending, or laterally raising your head to hit the different muscles in the neck. For these exercises to be effective, there needs to be some form of resistance against the head.
You can create this resistance with your bodyweight, a dumbbell, a plate, a resistance band, or a head harness. There also are machines specifically designed for neck training, however these are very rare and most likely over the budget of the majority of weightlifters who are not looking to spend thousands of dollars on equipment just for neck training.
Besides a machine, the best option to directly train your neck is a head harness. A head harness is the best choice for direct neck training because it allows you to do weighted neck curls and reverse neck curls without needing to balance a weight on your forehead.
You can also use resistance bands or just a plate or dumbbell. If you have a workout partner then you can have them press down on your forehead as you do neck curls to provide the resistance necessary for growth.
When you are first starting out, you do not need a lot of weight for neck training exercises to be effective so merely using the weight of your head can also be enough.
To summarize, most weightlifters should train their neck muscles. The reasons for this are that by increasing your neck strength and size, you will improve the proportions of your upper body, improve your posture, create a more balanced physique, reduce your risk of concussions and brain injuries, look better at low body fat, and fit clothing better.