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Neck Strength Training Principles for Football Players and Coaches

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Free weights offer plenty of choices for neck training.

Here are some key things to think about before you begin any sort of neck training for yourself or your football players. If you’re already doing neck training, hopefully this article can help evaluate the practices.  This article is about the neck, but all of these principles can be applied to any form of strength training for football.    

“There are three reasons why a lifter will perform an exercise incorrectly. One, they weren’t taught correctly. Two, the weight is too heavy. Three, they’re being undisciplined.”

- An Intelligent Coach

Safety is of the utmost importance when designing and implementing any neck training protocol.  Like any other type of strength training for football, injuries shouldn’t occur while performing exercises and caution should be taken to avoid injury.  Have great attention to detail when coaching or performing neck exercises, follow rules of progression and it should always be a “How to before How much” mentality.  There should be no pride taken in performing repetitions with too heavy weight and poor quality.  Exercise always carries a risk of injury and poor technique may increase this risk exponentially.

There are hundreds of exercises that a football player can perform to increase the size and strength of their neck.  I suggest specific exercises because of the following reasons:

Safety: When the exercises are performed correctly, they may be the safest choices.

Practicality: A large number of different individuals can perform these exercises.  Some will be more appropriate given different biological and chronological ages of the players. Maturity and experience will also play a significant role in exercise selection.

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Manual Resistance neck exercises are a great way to go when you may be lacking resources.

Equipment: There are several options for the tools needed. For some exercises you don’t even need a machine or weights.

Progression: Most of the exercises can be overloaded progressively to accurately measure and demonstrate strength gains. The strength gains can be quantified.

Comprehensive Design

Like more broad comprehensive football training programs that strengthen the entire body, there’s proper ways to develop and implement comprehensive resistance training protocols for the neck.

We have to do the best we can with what we have. If you don’t have any tools for shrugs, shoulder retraction or levator scapulae elevation, but can complete all of the other movements, that may be the best you can do for the time being.

We should be proactive for getting the best tools possible. If you don’t have all of the necessary tools to design and implement the best neck training possible, it’s never too soon to begin finding ways to get them.

A complete comprehensive neck protocol would entail exercises that stress the head and neck musculature using the following movements:

  • Flexion (Front Neck)
  • Extension (Back Neck)
  • Right and Left Lateral bending
  • Chin Tuck
  • Chin Raise
  • Shrug
  • Row and Isolated Scapular Retraction
  • Levator Scapulae Elevation
  • Scapular Downward Rotation

A neck workout that directly trains all of these movements is optimal, but hardly realistic and maybe unnecessary.

Progression

Hopefully you or your football players are using some sort of systematic progression when performing traditional lifts like the squat and bench press.  There’s no reason why a proper neck training protocol shouldn’t have a well-designed progression.  Progressions must be set in place in order to tell the football player when to increase the intensity of the exercise, the volume of work or maybe even decrease.

For example, sometimes I suggest when performing neck exercises a 10-15 rep-range is appropriate.  This is based on the assumption that the football player is going to perform as many good repetitions as possible on each set; yes, going to “failure” and demonstrating that the last repetition can’t be completed (I promise you won’t fry your nervous system).  Once the player can perform 15 or more repetitions with a specific weight, go up the smallest interval of weight possible for the next workout.

That progression is just one example.  I’ve used 2 X 10, 3 X 10, etc. and had the player use the same weight for each set. Once they could complete all sets with the same weight, then they could increase.  You’ll have to figure what’s best for your situation.

The Repetition

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There are plenty of good machines to choose from.

We’ve all watched some sort of football strength training B.S. on the Internet. The repetition for neck training needs to be taught correctly and reinforced consistently.

Don’t be the coach slapping a player on the back saying “No big deal, you’ll do better next time”, after the player just got done poorly spotting his partner on manual resistance front neck, right after you taught him correctly. That type of reinforcement in the weightroom is stupid.

The nature of the muscles involved in neck strength training will respond well to a 2-3 second concentric movement, a 1 second pause in the middle of the repetition and a 3-4 second eccentric contraction. That’s approximately an 8 second repetition.  For safety reasons, it’s extremely important to teach and experience what it feels like to perform the repetition this way. Teaching it this way will probably save you some problems in the future.

To teach the actual time the muscles are under tension, it may be necessary to count the seconds slowly out loud. The lifter shouldn’t count out loud while performing the exercise.  Their jaw shouldn’t be moving and it’ll only be a distraction.   

I’m not going to completely contradict what I previously said, however, don’t drive yourself crazy screaming at kids to slow down on their reps when it’s not the slowest rep possible.  They should learn how to do it slow, and then if they “loosen” up a bit and go just a bit faster, but it’s slow and controlled it’s ok.

We don’t want to make football players hate training their neck. We need to teach the them the right way to do it and why they need to value it.

 

 

 

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