The neck is a weak point in the human physique – and all martial arts have a few dirty tricks that rely on this fact. But some wrestlers and power lifters have a neck of such impressive proportions that it can hardly be regarded as a weak spot. Do you want to acquire a bull neck too? Dead lifts and neck presses won’t help much, American sports scientists discovered back in the 1990s. You’ll have to train your neck muscles separately.
The researchers, at the University of Georgia, did an experiment with a couple of dozen male students, divided into three groups.
One group had to do weight training for twelve weeks. They got a programme that focused on basic exercises like squats, leg press, bench press, Romanian dead lifts, bent rows and shrugs (b).
Another group followed exactly the same programme, but also did specific neck training exercises. They lay on their stomach and put a brace round their neck that they could attach weights to so that they could train their neck muscles (a).
Lastly, a control group of students did what students are best at. Absolutely nothing (c).
After twelve weeks a scan was made of all the test subjects to see which neck muscles had grown in circumference. That produced the figures below. Few dots: before the training period; lots of dots: after the training period.
The neck muscles of the control group (c) had not grown. More of a surprise was that the neck muscles of the subjects in training group (b) had not grown either. Only the neck muscles of the students in group (a), who had done separate neck muscle training, had grown in circumference.
The muscles that had grown were the splenius capitis (SC) [shown in red in the picture here], the semispinalis capitis (SEC) and the semispinalis cervicis/semispinalis multifidus (SCM).
The researchers don’t exclude the possibility that long-term general training increases the neck muscles, but think that the message is clear: if you want to strengthen your neck quickly, for whatever reason, you’ll have to do separate neck training exercises.
Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1997;75(5):443-8.