Neck Respect, by Jan Dellinger

Stuart’s note: Jan Dellinger has vast experience in the Iron Game. For example, he was the associate editor of York Barbell Company’s MUSCULAR DEVELOPMENT magazine for 10 years, and its editor for three years. Thereafter, he continued to work for York Barbell Company. 

While considerable ink has been devoted to documenting the high frequency of low-back miseries suffered by Americans, experience and statistics verify that the other end of the spine is just as fragile, being extremely susceptible to misalignment, traumas, degeneration, and general breakdown.

Given the notorious touchiness of the upper portion of the spine in particular, it’s perplexing as to why regular neck work is not more actively engaged in by thinking strength trainees.

Not only have mainstream muscle magazines of recent decades done virtually nothing in the way of consciousness-raising toward this vital structure but have, on occasion, contributed to its diminished image. A prime case in point is, “A big neck (and trapezius) reduces one’s illusion of shoulder width.” God forbid that a trainee’s “illusion of width” should be compromised for something as “frivolous” as preserving structural integrity!

Shoring up the neck isn’t of value just for those who train and/or play contact sports. It’s also of value for John Q. Public and Ms. Public.

By upgrading the musculature of one’s neck to the maximum allowable degree in accordance with one’s particular genetics, the structure’s chances of withstanding a major assault of above-average stress without suffering lingering repercussions, is vastly enhanced.

In my opinion, the neck is one of the few structures that should be worked with isolation movements for best results. This is due to the fact that the head/neck assembly bends and flexes in all four directions. Granted, the occasional easy gainer can manage to acquire goodly neck/trapezius development from shrugging alone, but this exercise alone doesn’t bolster the neck in a comprehensive manner.

Properly used, a four-way neck machine is the preferred vehicle for exercising this delicate structure safely.

An underrated but terrific alternative for basement pumpers, is manual resistance. In the main, it’s recommended that manual resistance neck work exercises be done while either lying on a bench, or sitting. You can apply manual resistance on yourself if you don’t have a competent training partner to help you.

Whichever way you choose, bear in mind that while the neck is very responsive, it’s strained very easily, especially in the early stages of training. The person performing the neck exercises must work into exerting muscular force gradually, while the individual offering the resistance must be careful not to overdo the pressure.

Stick with higher reps per set: 10 to 20 comprise a fine range.

Some of you may wonder why I haven’t championed that old standby, the wrestler’s bridge. Many doctors and health care professionals advise avoiding this movement. Why? I posed this very question to Dr. Ken Leistner. Over the years of his chiropractic practice, he has found a high incidence of disc degeneration among those who practice bridging, because of the extraordinary stress the movement throws on the seven cervical vertebrae that comprise the neck.

Bridging violates the “safety first” rule of productive strength training. The job of strengthening the neck can be done more effectively by other means.

More power to your neck!

This post is a compilation of extracts from “Neck Respect” by Jan Dellinger, in the ninth issue of HARDGAINER magazine. To locate all the articles that Jan wrote for HARDGAINER, please see the contents of each issue, here.