I was pretty scrawny growing up. But a year or two after I started serious training, when I saw an old acquaintance of mine, the first thing he said to me was, “Wow, your neck really filled out.”
The series of bridging exercises I’m about to share with you were responsible for that effect. If you’re starting with a pencil neck like I did, then these may help you build a bigger neck, but they’re really not the best mass building exercises. My focus has always been strength instead of mass. That‘s what these are for.
Why You Need Neck Training
The neck has quite a few muscles. Most people get scared away from ever doing neck training, thinking they may end up hurting themselves. But that’s exactly the reason you need to do neck training.
As the support for your cervical spine, your skull, and your brain inside that, these muscles need to be strong. Although football players and wrestlers need neck strength absolutely, it’s a wise thing to train for anyone, women and children included.
Bridging is not just about the neck, though. The truth is these exercises train most of the body. The spine and all of the back musculature are put to work. Even the abs, legs, and hips get a workout.
A Progressive Way to Injury-Proof Your Body
This article covers four bridging exercises, two in the rear plane and two to the front. There are also basic and more advanced variations of each. Just these movements alone allow for lots of progression.
It is recommended to do these exercises on a padded surface. A wrestling mat, rolled up towel, or any other cushion can be used to go under your head. It’s also important to ease into these moves slowly. If you do too much or go too fast, there is potential for injury, just like in any other exercise. But done properly, these are an excellent way to better injury-proof your body.
Wrestler’s Bridge With Hands
Lay on the ground with your feet flat and your knees pointed up. Place your hands by your head with the elbows pointing up. Now press up until the top of your head is resting on the ground. Your hands will remain on the floor to help support your weight. Bring the hips up as high as you can and hold for time.
You can also roll your head so the weight is laying more on your forehead, or even touch your nose to the ground, to build additional strength and flexibility into the movement.
Wrestler’s Bridge Without Hands
When you can do the previous version for several minutes without too much effort, then you’re probably ready for this step. The aim is to bring your hands off the ground so your weight is more fully on your head and neck. As an intermediary step, you can raise up onto the fingertips of your hands. Once again stay in this position for time.
Start off in a bear crawl position with your hands and feet on the floor and the hips up high. Place your head on the ground and then roll slightly towards the back of your head. The hips will remain high, with the legs straight. Hold for time.
As in the wrestler’s bridge, you can start off with the hands on the ground for support and then take them away as you advance.
In my opinion, the front bridge is quite a bit easier than the wrestler’s bridge. One day I was playing around with the front bridge to make it harder and I happened upon this exercise. It has been one of my favorites for neck strength for many years now.
Starting in a front bridge position, with the hands off the ground, walk your feet backwards and close to each other. Only your forehead and your feet should be touching the ground. This is basically a plank, except that the support is on your head. This works the neck tremendously, as well as being a decent core exercise, too.
You can make this slightly easier by keeping the legs apart to some degree. The hardest version is with the feet together and your body straight, and no pike in the hips.
A Two-Exercise, Two-Set Neck Training Routine
Since neck strength is neglected from most people’s training, even if they cover all the other bases, I want to offer you a simple routine to do as an add-on to your current training schedule. It takes just two exercises, two sets, and a few minutes of time.
- Start off with a wrestler’s bridge. If you need your hands, that’s fine. If you can do away with them, even better.
- Work up to several minutes of holding the position.Then flip over and go for the front bridge. If you can hold that for a few minutes, then switch to the neck plank. I seldom hold the neck plank for more than 30 seconds.
That’s it. That’s your neck routine. This is what I did for many years and it was responsible for building my neck strength.
Advanced Neck Training
While the basic bridging is great for just about everyone, these exercises can be taken much further. I decided to work on supporting weight in the wrestler’s bridge position. It took many years and I eventually worked up to supporting over half a ton in this manner:
This is a goal I had as a professional strongman and it’s not for everyone. Just sticking with these basics covered in this article can take you quite far. Try out these exercises and enjoy the strength it brings.
Photo 1 courtesy of Shutterstock.