How to build a powerful neck

Neck Anatomy

All throughout the internet and in the muscle magazines, there have been many, many articles dedicated to training the neck. So my goal here is not to reinvent the wheel, but to give you my version or perspective on training the neck.

In today’s world of bodybuilding you will notice a trend and that is that most bodybuilders do not train their necks. Many athletes in combat sports train their necks to ensure their health and safety. The 1996 Olympic gold medalist, Kurt Angle, (who happens to be one of my favorite wrestlers in both armature and professional) has a twenty one inch neck. Kurt’s neck is so thick that it amazes me that he competed for the gold with a broken neck. The neck part of his spine was encased with thick neck muscle, which helped Kurt Angle heal rather fast from his neck injury and compete and win a gold medal.

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Imagine if he had a pencil neck; he would be finished. He also broke his neck during a wrestle mania match against another great wrestler, Brock Lestner, who by the way has a powerful neck as well; he suffered a concussion when he tried a Swanton bomb off the top rope and landed on his head. These athletes prove positive as to why neck training is important. But, what about bodybuilding? Bodybuilding is not a combat sport unless a competitor gets a raw deal during the judging, then maybe it can be considered a combat sport when the competitor grabs the judge by the throat for giving the bad score (joking). But why do bodybuilders need to do neck work?


Well, first off, a powerful built neck gives off a sense of power when combined with a powerful set of traps and wide shoulders. A bodybuilder’s physique needs to have that complete look that only a big set of shoulders, traps and neck gives off. Having a built physique with a pencil neck just gives off a very bad impression of weakness.

c1faf_ORIG-bodybuilder_jeff_kingJEFF KING (C) 1984

Back during the 1940’s and 50’s Bob Hoffman from York Barbell often sold, through his magazines (Strength & Health), weight set kits that included a head strap for neck exercises. Many of the weight lifters and bodybuilders from that era added neck training to their regimens.Paul Anderson has often been depicted training his neck with a head strap that he created.

Paul Anderson Neck Training


I do not know why the trend in neck training among bodybuilders has stopped, but I feel that it should be a part of your training program. I would like to share with you a program that you can begin implementing right away.

1) Wrestlers bridge with hand support 3 sets of 5 reps. The wrestlers bridge is a classic staple in many wrestlers training regimen; hence the name “Wrestlers Bridge.

Wrestlers bridge with hand support2) Front Neck Bridge with hand support. This exercise should be done in a 2 set for 5 rep fashion due to its complexity. As you get stronger, you should be able to do them unassisted.

Front Neck Bridge with hand support

3) 4 way Neck Machine. Arthur Jones from the Nautilus equipment fame created this type of machine. Arthur Jones felt that neck training was very important but he believed it was dangerous and due to those dangers, he created and developed the first Nautilus neck machine. The one depicted is not a nautilus machine but the concept of training the neck nautilus style is similar. This nice machine will have you training your neck from all four sides.


4) The Head Strap. The classic way to train the neck, next to bridging, is to use a strong head strap. The strongest head strap I have ever seen manufactured comes from Randall J. Strossen’s Head strap for Hercules. As the name implies, you can load this head strap with all the weight your neck can handle. It was created with the great Paul Anderson in mind even though this strap was created long after Paul Anderson.

A Headstrap Fit for Hercules

Paul Anderson Neck Training

Safety First

When training the neck, it is extremely important to follow good form. Carelessness with neck exercises can be much worse than with other exercises. Use smooth controlled motion at all times, don’t jerk or bounce at all.
Before you begin any resistance exercise for the neck always warm up first. Move your neck forward and backward, side to side, and turn your head from left to right. Do 20-30 reps of each movement to warm up.


Manual Resistance

Place the heel of your hand(s) on your forehead. Apply pressure with your hands, and resist with your neck. You can adjust the pressure according to your own strength. Press as hard as you can, as long as you are able to keep your neck still against the resistance.
A more advanced version of this movement is to allow your neck to successfully move back and forth against the resistance, while keeping the resistance as high as possible. You can use this method for training the front, back, and both sides of your neck.

You can also lean against a wall with your head, varying the angle to choose the correct resistance. Use a small pillow to make the exercise more comfortable.

Neck harness

This is a good basic neck exercise. The harness is best used for the back and the front of the neck. The harness is a webbing or leather cap that fits snugly on your head, and has a chain on each side hanging down from the ear region. You load weight plates on the chains, and then move your head against the resistance created. For this exercise it is a good idea to use lighter weights and higher reps (i.e. 15+ per set).

Head strap exercise

You stand with hands on knees to work the back of the neck. Look at the floor with the weights hanging in front of you. By flexing your neck, you raise your head to look forward, and then slowly lower your head to complete the rep.

To work the front of the neck you can lye down on a bench with your head and neck out over the end of the bench. Have a training partner spot you and help you get the harness and weights in place. Flex your neck forward and try to touch your chin to your chest and slowly lower your head to complete the rep. You can also hold a weight plate against your forehead and perform this movement.

Shoulder Shrugs

This exercise is excellent for working the traps and the neck muscles. It also works the forearms from gripping the weights.

paul Anderson Shrug pulls

Grip a barbell shoulder width apart. Stand upright with your feet shoulder width apart. Hold the barbell at arms length in front of you.Keep your arms straight during the entire movement. Sag your shoulders downward as far as you can. You will feel your traps stretch,hold this position for a second. Shrug your shoulders upward and squeeze your traps at the top. Hold this position for a second. Repeat. For variety you can do this exercise from a low cable pulley or use a pair ofdumbbells instead of a barbell.

Upright Rows
This is a good exercise for working the muscles of your shoulder girdle. Primary muscles are the traps, neck, and the deltoids.
Secondary muscles are the biceps, brachialis, and the forearms.


Grip a barbell a little narrower then shoulder width. Stand upright with your feet shoulder width apart. Hold the barbell at arms length in front of you.

Keep your elbows above your hands at all times. Pull the barbell directly up from the starting position until the bar is
just below your chin. Hold this position for a second to maximize the peak contraction, then slowly lower to the starting position. Repeat.

This exercise can also be performed using a low cable pulley.


Train your next two to three times weekly. Alternate between bridging and head strap work. Perform the 4 way neck machine if you have access to one. Do all exercises 2 to 4 sets of 5 to 10 reps and soon you will have a powerful neck as well. When training shoulders and traps, train your neck as well.

Until Next time

God Bless.


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