Basic Neck Training for Wrestlers
By John Gaglione
First let me say I feel training the neck is a very under utilized aspect of programming. For anyone involved combat and collision sports, such as wrestling and football, training the neck should be an integral part of their training programs. Training neck for strength and stability can help prevent injuries. A thick strong neck is vital for preventing concussions as well. We see concussions more and more frequently in sports and I think it is important we start to think about training the neck on a more regular basis or athletes who are susceptible to these injuries.
The first thing to look at when training the neck(cervical spine) is to make sure the neck is in optimal alignment for basic exercises such as push ups and planks. We often see new trainees go into an exaggerated forward head posture (chin protrusion/cervical hyperextension) during these exercises. This can cause neck and even shoulder problems in the future. I tell my athletes we don’t want to have a “turtle head” when performing these exercises. If they are still having trouble I instruct them to try and make a “double chin” and this usually helps keep the cervical spine in neutral. Another great verbal cue is to try to “pressurize” the back of your neck.
If an athlete has a forward head posture to begin with or it is exaggerated during exercises we want to make a point to strengthen the deep neck flexors before going on to more advanced neck training. The chin tuck is the basis for our neck training program as it serves as a great exercise to strengthen the deep flexors of the neck. Shown below is the supine chin tuck.
The chin tuck is a great way to train the deep flexors of the neck. It can be done from a variety of positions such as laying on the back(supine), on all fours(quadruped) and in the standing position. The chin tuck position can essentially be used during any exercise in order to strengthen the neck while you are training other lifts as well. This will help strengthen the neck, correct forward head posture as well as prevent injuries. Neck training is extremely important for combat sports in order to prevent injury and improve performance. Make sure your form is SOLID before progressing in difficulty.
After progressing through all of the variations of the chin tuck we want to start to challenge our athletes by adding some resistance to the exercise.
The first way to progress the exercise is instead of doing repetitions of the chin tuck they will hold a chin tuck static hold for a given amount of time. The can do chin tuck isometric hold from a variety of different positions such as plank, push up position, quadruped, supine, or standing. A good rule of thumb is once the athlete is able to keep a neutral cervical spine for a total 30 seconds or more then it is time to either change the exercise or make it harder.
This is just a guideline as you can perform the 30 second hold in a variety of different ways. For example you can perform 3 repetitions of a 10 second hold or 2 repetitions of a 15 second hold. A good place to start when starting to implement the isometric holds is 3-5 reps with 5 second hold, which equals 15-25 seconds total.
The next way to progress the chin tuck is to add perturbations to the exercise. Just like when training for stability for the lumbar spine we want to train to resist movement. This is the most functional way to train the spine. In combat sports athletes are constantly trying to snap their opponent down or wrench the neck in order to score near fall point or get in a more advantageous position. The athlete must brace the cervical spine in order to resist the motion and prevent being scored upon.
If an athlete can develop a strong and stable neck they can stay in better position, prevent unwanted movement to the neck, and prevent injury. The coach will add light perturbations(light taps to try to move the athlete out of optimal position) at first in a variety of different directions. The athlete should be able to resist flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation of the cervical spine. I have yet to find a truly effective and safe way to train true anti-rotation for the neck so for the purposes of this article we will focus on the three movement patterns (flexion, extension, lateral flexion).
Once the athlete can successfully resist the perturbations the coach can start to add manual resistance in all directions (flexion, extension, lateral flexion). Certain positions work better to train certain patterns. For example the quadruped works very well for training anti-flexion and anti-lateral flexion. Here are some examples below.
The supine position is great for resisting extension and lateral flexion. Here is an example below.
It is important to SLOWLY progress these exercises over time. We never want to rush any progressions for the neck or spine since it obviously is a very important structure to the human body. The coach or trainer can start to progress these exercises be applying more force into the athlete or keep the force constant and increase the length of time in certain positions. This is the start of true functional neck training for sports.
Any questions? Please comment below.
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About the Author
Coach John Gaglione is a Sport Performance Specialist out of Long Island New York and the director of strength and conditioning for Plainedge High School’s Football and Wrestling Programs. An avid strength sport athlete John also competes in powerliftering and kettlebell strong sport competitions. If you would like to learn more about John you can reach him at www.gaglionestrength.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.