How do you build neck strength for football?
One of the big concepts behind training our neck for football has to do with the fact that we are involved in a high-compact sport, a very intense sport. For instance, if we are about to get hit from the side and our neck is weak, our head will flail all over the place.
Take the example of going to an amusement park and riding a log flume. Traveling down the final descent, the flume strikes the water at the bottom of the hill and the log stops really quickly and the water flies all over top. Now with big traps and a strong upper back, it is easier to absorb the force and hold the neck sturdy and still. Watching younger kids, their heads fly all over the place as the water comes over the top of them because their necks are not as strong.
We have to be able to stabilize our heads so that our brains aren’t bouncing all over our skulls like a game of pong. To begin, we need to realize that the neck responds very well to high volume because most of the muscles around the dome tend to be very slow twitch. The problem is that we need to focus on a lot of really rapid movements because rapid movements are what jar the head: whiplash in an auto collision, being tackled in football, or getting decked in an MMA bout.
That brings us to our first key concept.
1. Train The Power Snatch
A power snatch will train a massive yolk. It will lead to massive traps from doing power snatches. Hitting five to six doubles on the minute will not only train explosiveness as an athlete that will increase the vertical jump, speed, and power output, we will also train the nervous system to react a little bit quicker. Training the nervous system to fire rapidly allows the body to better protect the spine and brain when going into a collision playing the sport of football.
2. Upright Row
There is a great benefit from isolating the neck. We also have to get creative and build the yoke: the traps, the rhomboids, rear delts, and stabilize the trunk to help absorb the blows. That is where the XPT Half Rack comes into play.
The XPT Half Rack is an awesome apparatus we have at Garage Strength. The handles slide nice and easy and the barbell is omnidirectional moving both horizontally and vertically. Once we unrack the bar, we want to perform an explosive upright row while having the chest over the bar. Do this for four to five sets of eight to ten reps. Being explosive when performing the movement is key. Also think, when at the top, we want to squeeze the traps.
The traps are pivotal to providing the foundation around the neck to help absorb blows and stabilize the neck when getting hit and making contact. This movement can be done with a barbell, just remember to think about the movement is performed like a muscle clean or snatch without the turnover. Even though the traps and muscles around the neck tend to be slower twitched, we need to hammer out movements explosively.
3. Glute Ham Neck Harness Up & Down
This is a movement with an isometric contraction that is performed over a long duration. The movement is pretty difficult. The movement will hammer the posterior chain and force the muscles to coordinate with the neck.
We want to get into the GHD apparatus with our chest facing the floor and the body extended holding parallel with the floor. We then put the neck harness on with the appropriate amount of weight attached. We then maneuver our neck up and down for twenty-five to thirty reps. We want to do two sets.
The move is not super fancy. It is super effective. It is also really difficult. Anecdotal evidence tells us athletes after performing this movement come off and talk about their lower back, head, neck, erectors, and posterior chain are all lit up.
Football athletes have to coordinate the posterior chain with their neck strength to help take aggressive hits.
4. Neck Harness Rolls
These sets are hypertrophic in nature and the reps are through the roof. We recommend performing three sets of fifty to one hundred reps of this movement with the appropriate amount of weight.
With the neck harness on and in an athletic set, we hammer long, long sets of just nodding the head yes. It creates a ton of blood flow into the neck. The great thing about this movement is it teaches athletes how to arch their neck, a sneaky tool to teach athletes how to properly engage their glutes with their posterior chain.
This movement can be done twice a week for the large sets.
Face it, when the neck is stronger it is easier to take hits. We are training neck strength to help with the absorption of contact. The brain is the most valuable part of the body so we want to do everything we can to protect it while engaging in the contact sport of football. CTE is real and we want to do everything we can to work against it. Utilize these four exercises and reap the benefits from the hypertrophy in the traps and the strengthening of the neck.
Before we go, quick secret: use creatine monohydrate to help prevent concussions. There is a lot of research that points to a healthier brain and helping mental acuity. There is also research that says creatine can help recovery from a concussion. And finally, because it increases the rate of force production, it allows the body to absorb blows a little quicker to protect the brain.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.