Get Yoked: Build a Thick Neck
Sure, building your big muscle groups will make you bigger overall. But it takes a long time to get there. By contrast, if you build a thick neck, it'll quickly change your whole look. The same is true for traps and forearms. These are the "power look" muscles. When you develop them, you'll immediately look more jacked.
Since these are smaller muscles, you can train them frequently without causing much central fatigue. Plus, most lifters never train them directly, which makes them super responsive.
So, how do you build a power-neck? Let's talk about that.
A thick neck is one of the main visual signs associated with strength. During the golden age of bodybuilding, weaker or more frail individuals were often called "pencil-neck geeks."
I remember watching Prison Break and thinking, "This Lincoln (Dominic Purcell) dude looks like a beast." Upon further analysis, the guy wasn't really jacked. He just had a super thick neck which gave that impression. Science supports this. A wider neck is associated with the perception of formidability and masculinity (1).
There are health and performance benefits to having a thicker neck too. It protects the spine, reduces the likelihood of concussions, and could even reduce headaches and mid-back pain by more easily supporting the weight of the head and reducing the likelihood of a forward head posture.
Another bonus: A strong neck helps make sport-skills more stable, especially rotational skills like hitting a baseball, throwing, or swinging a golf club or a racket.
Training a muscle more often guarantees faster progress, as long as you're fully recovered. High-frequency training works, but you'll still need a sufficient workout stimulus for it to be effective.
So, if you're doing frequent insufficient workouts, you won't see much growth. If you're familiar with Dr. Fred Hatfield (or Dr. Squat), you might remember that he figured this out a long time ago. He found that muscles like the neck and forearms could be trained more often than larger muscle groups.
While there are exceptions, the smaller the muscle, the more often you can train it. Aside from creating less central fatigue, the best exercises for these smaller muscle groups cause very little muscle trauma.
You can train your neck 3-5 days a week. You can still progress with a lower frequency, but your progress won't be as fast.
The neck has four main functions:
- Lateral Flexion
I can't recommend training rotation because it's hard to do without specialized (expensive) equipment. All the muscles involved in neck rotation will still be trained if you work on the other functions.
Also, training the "anti" function is just as important as training the function. By "anti-function" I mean resisting a force that's trying to move you in a certain way. For example, anti-lateral flexion is resisting a force that's trying to move your head sideways.
Here are the three best exercises. You'll need a harness for them, like this one.
1. Neck Extension
- Functions Trained: Neck extension and anti-flexion if you include an isometric hold.
- Recommendations: Do 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps. I also like to use a pre-fatigue isometric since it becomes a combination of anti-flexion (isometric phase) and extension (dynamic phase). Hold for 15-20 seconds in a neutral position, against resistance, and then perform 8-12 reps.
2. Neck Flexion
- Functions Trained: Neck flexion and anti-extension if you include an isometric hold.
- Recommendations: Do 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps. Try using a pre-fatigue isometric. It combines anti-extension (isometric phase) and flexion (dynamic phase). Hold for 15-20 seconds in a neutral position, against resistance, then do 8-12 reps.
3. Lateral Flexion
- Functions Trained: Neck lateral flexion and anti-lateral flexion for the other side if you do an isometric hold.
- Recommendations: Do 3-4 sets of 12-15. Use a pre-fatigue isometric since it becomes a combination of anti-lateral flexion for the opposite side (isometric phase) and lateral flexion (dynamic phase). Hold for 15-20 seconds in a neutral position, against resistance, then perform 8-12 reps.
- Caton NR et al. Intersexual and intrasexual selection for neck musculature in men: Attractiveness, dominance, and actual fighting success. PsyArXiv. 3 Nov. 2021. Web.
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