The number one strength training priority for a football player (or any athlete exposed to repetitive impact forces involving the head and shoulders) must be exercises for the muscles surrounding the neck and traps muscle.
My first concern when planning the Texans weight room was to provide adequate neck equipment to accommodate all of players based upon the amount of time allotted for lifting. We have sixty-one players on our team and we currently have six Four-Way neck machines. This amount of equipment will provide each player with enough time to train his neck regardless of the time of year (off-season, training camp, in-season).
The muscles of the neck and traps are the shock absorbers for the vertebrae and spinal cord. The first thing we ask our players to do when they enter our weight room is to perform five exercises for the neck and traps.
Sudden impact injuries are of grave concern, but we must also worry about the accumulative effects from the repetitive impact forces from any contact sport, especially football. Many former athletes develop chronic neck problems long after their careers are over. How many of these problems can be attributed to a lack of neck strength during their playing days? How many of these problems could have been prevented altogether if during their career as an athlete more emphasis would have been placed on strengthening the neck?
Neck equipment must have the highest priority. Do not cut corners or buy gadgets. Purchase the best neck equipment you can find.
Our players perform twelve reps of each exercise. We allow sixty-seconds per exercise (five seconds per rep). We have timers (right) on each neck machine set at sixty-seconds.
Remember, it is not the number of reps we are concerned about. The brain does not have a little rep counter. What is important is how long (how much time) a muscle is under load or exposed to an appropriate amount of resistance.
Why twelve reps? I was most fortunate to be employed at West Point during a period when multiple strength training studies were conducted (to include the muscles of the neck and traps).
The best cervical expert in the world was brought in to perform thermograms on the neck and traps while cadets performed neck strengthening exercises. The entire project was a fascinating and educational experience that made a long-lasting impression. It strongly influenced my career as a strength coach regarding the need to prioritize strength development for the muscles of the neck.
The best results were observed when cadets performed one set of twelve repetitions. Each repetition of every exercise was supervised to insure rep reproduction. Criteria were established regarding the technique to be used during the execution of each repetition.
This included the following guidelines:
- Lift the weight in a very smooth and deliberate manner. There will be no sudden or jerky movements. Eliminate the use of any momentum and force the muscles to perform all of the work. Stabilize the upper body forcing the targeted neck muscles to raise the weight.
- Pause for a count of 1001 in the contracted position.
- Use the same speed to slowly lower the weight from the contracted position to the original starting position.
- Pause momentarily in the starting position before initiating the next rep.
- A set of twelve reps will average approximately sixty-seconds.
I have experimented with other set/rep ranges. It has been my experience that the one set of twelve reps protocol listed above produces the safest and most productive results.
It will take somewhere between five and six minutes to properly complete all five exercises.
Point: Purchase enough neck strengthening equipment to guarantee all of your players have ample opportunity to strengthen their neck twice a week. If you do not have enough neck equipment you must learn how to safely perform and teach manual resistance neck exercises.
Neck & Trap Exercise Sequence
- Neck Flexion – 12 reps (60 seconds)
2. Neck Extension – 12 reps (60 seconds)
3. Lateral Flexion Right – 12 reps (60 seconds)
4. Lateral Flexion Left – 12 reps (60 seconds)
5. Shrugs – 12 reps (60 seconds) Seated or Standing (can be performed with dumbbells, barbell, or Smith Machine)
There is no reason to roll the shoulders when performing a shrug. Elevate the shoulders in a very smooth manner and pause for a count of 1001 and slowly return to the starting position (five seconds per rep). If perform the shrug standing do not bend your legs or arms.
If you do not have access to a neck machine a very productive alternative is manual resistance neck exercises. There are skills needed to safely spot and perform these exercises. Do not attempt these movements until you have been taught how to properly perform these exercises.
- Manual Neck Flexion
2. Manual Neck Extension