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PROTECT YOUR NECK! The phrase is often times thrown around in the grappling or fighting community for a good reason. The thing about BJJ and grappling in general, is that your actions have real consequences in real time either resulting in you getting choked out or in some cases, knocked out. We want to steer you as far away as possible from that. Working your neck muscles out can help you prevent some of those things from happening (more so on the choking part). Let’s look at how to get a thicker neck so we can hold out from those rear naked chokes or triangles a little bit longer!
Basic Neck Anatomy
Smart work beats hard work almost every single time and this applies to muscle growth as well. Knowing the anatomy of the muscle(s) that you’re trying to grow – which is the neck in this case – helps you benefit more.
To build bigger neck muscles, you have to be a bit careful as some of parts of the neck are more vulnerable to damage; you certainly don’t want any strained muscles. You therefore need to know and understand which of the main neck muscles can and cannot be worked out without worrying.
The trapezius muscles, or the traps are large muscles found on your upper back. Their name comes from their shape being that of a trapezoid. The traps’ uses include supporting your arms and moving your scapula for a full range of motion.
As far as functionality is concerned, the trapezius muscle groups work around the scapula and the back. But these muscles also have a huge role in bodybuilding due to their position and size. They run all the way up to your neck and shoulder from your back.
This is why it is said that if you’re looking for a thicker neck and/or if you’re looking to look jacked in general, working your traps regularly is a great way to do so. This is why it is imperative to work on their size and strength.
In order to work out your traps, you need to understand that they’re divided into three parts:
Upper Traps: The upper trapezius or upper traps support your arms – enabling them to resist any forces pulling them away. The upper traps allow for lateral movement.
Middle Traps: Also known as the transverse region, it keeps the scapula – the bone that connects the humerus with the collar bone – attached to your body. It also retracts it when you need to pull something towards yourself.
Lower Traps: This muscle is responsible for rotating and depressing the scapula.
The traps are the best options for muscle mass as they aren’t as vulnerable as the Platysma. This is why you can load them up a bit more as compared to the other neck muscles. There’s a high chance that you’re already working the traps in the gym if you work the shoulder muscles.
Know that deadlifts build thicker necks and are a viable pillar of strength training. These are compound movements that work out the entire posterior chain in addition to helping you get a bigger neck.
This is a broad and thin sheet of muscle that extends from the collarbone to the angle of the jaw. It is found under the chin and above the pectoral muscles (pecs). Naturally, it is an important neck muscle due to its position, but there’s a lot more to it.
This is the muscle that hurts when you strain the front of your neck. It also depresses the lower portion of your jaw and literally helps you keep your mouth shut. This means that if you want to grind or grit your teeth, this is the neck muscle that helps you do it.
The platysma muscle also controls the lower lip and it plays a part in your facial expressions. That being said, it is the weakest muscle that is responsible for the thickness of your neck. Of course, you can do a thing or two to improve this muscle as well.
How to Get a Bigger Neck at Home Without Exercises
Growing your neck comes with many advantages but there are many ways to attain a bigger neck. The obvious solution is to turn to the gym where you have all sorts of equipment to help you out. Many find working out at home easier, using weights or their own body-weight.
Then there are those – which may include you – that want bigger neck muscles, at home, without exercise. In this case, you’ll have to opt for a better diet, which is just as important if you have a proper training regimen.
You need to eat more calories and be in a caloric surplus to thicken the neck. This should be easy if you’re not exercising, but you have to try and eat healthy. Try to opt for low fat foods that are rich in protein if you want your diet to work. Try to stay hydrated as well.
Of course, this will work but it will only get you so far. Strength training and cardio along with a proper diet should be the ideal combination if you want a thick neck. Even some stretching exercises on a regular basis can do wonders if you’re eating like you should.
The Benefits of Learning How to Get a Thicker Neck for Grapplers & MMA Athletes
Combat sports are not for the faint hearted as they test you to your limits, mentally and physically. These sports don’t just require you to be skilled in them, but also have the right body sculpted to face any form of adversity.
Having strong neck muscles is a very important part of many martial arts. You’ll notice that combat sports athletes often have muscular necks and the insane neck strength that comes along with them.
The following shows you why neck exercises are important for strength training and conditioning in grappling and striking combat sports:
Muscular Neck for Grappling
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a grappling art that requires you to win via submission. It isn’t uncommon to injure your neck while competing or training as it’s often taken beyond the designated range of motion. This is as many BJJ submissions focus on the neck.
Therefore there are special conditioning neck exercises that prepare it for when the going gets tough. Along with getting you a more muscular neck, they also help fix many of the problems that you can suffer from after a brutal training session or competition.
Similarly, wrestlers also need a strong neck to deal with the high weight and pressure that they have to deal with in their matchups. There are many wrestling moves that put strain on the neck and you can be sidelined for months if you have a pencil neck.
The moves include the cradle, the head throw, the bridge, and even the nelson hold in some forms of amateur wrestling. This is why wrestlers often have to undergo neck exercises in order to prepare themselves. But it isn’t just grappling that requires you to have a thick neck.
Muscular Neck for Striking Arts
Striking sports such as boxing and muay thai also require a strong and thick neck. Fighters get punched with a lot of force and due to this, their head jolts back which puts a lot of pressure on the neck. This also means that the brain swishes inside the skull whenever a headshot is taken.
When you have a more muscular neck, you can take punches easier and go for a counter attack. You’ll be able to bounce back as you’ll have a sturdy neck. Your brain won’t move too much inside your skull as the head won’t jolt as much due to the stability of the neck.
Even if you pick up neck injuries, you’ll still recover faster if you’ve got a thick neck. In his prime, Mike Tyson had an insanely thick neck (thanks to his habit of doing neck bridges) that provided him with a lot of neck strength.
But in the case of Muay Thai, a thicker neck will help you deal with the above, plus the clinching aspect of the game. There are several attacks that are done from the clinch position. Many competitors don’t work on their clinch game very much, but the elite ones do.
Stronger neck muscles increase your muscle endurance in a clinch. It also makes it difficult for your opponent to control you if they’re the ones applying the clinch as you’ll have better posture due to your thick neck, which will be upright.
Hence, your rivals also won’t be able to press down your head thanks to those thick neck exercises.
The Best Exercises to Thicken Neck Muscles
So, how to get a thicker neck then? Well, the way to train neck muscles or any muscles is to attack them from all angles and in most cases, complete the full range of motion. You’re recommended to pick thick neck exercises that flex, extend, and rotate neck muscles.
You’re going to have to start with a lighter weight and go slow. Once you get comfortable with the weight, you can add pauses and even isometric holds during the reps. Some exercises require free weights while others can be done with a harness or even a towel.
While keeping good form is important during your workout, it is also recommended that you practice good posture overall. When you’re not training and are going through your daily routine, you have to try to pull your shoulders back while keeping the head and neck neutral.
So, let’s say that you go to the gym and want to add direct neck training in your routine. There’s a variety of exercises that you can try, several of which are related to each other. Combine them with a good neck bulking routine and you’ll make a lot of progress.
The following are the neck exercises that you should do at the gym for a bigger neck:
We begin with one of the neck exercises that’s a must have if you want to get a thicker neck and look bigger in general. All you need is a pair of dumbbells so this can be done at home as well. Your feet should be directly underneath your hips while your core is engaged.
The chest should be open and you should be looking straight ahead. You hold the dumbbells in your hands, keeping them at your sides. The palms should be facing inwards, while you pull or shrug your shoulders upwards.
Pull as much as you can towards the top towards your ears and then return to the starting position. Incorporating this exercise in your routine will help you get a thicker neck and give your upper body a more jacked look.
The Neck Extension
Neck extensions are very basic and you start by standing or sitting upright. Then you pull back your chin and try to make a double chin. Once that’s done, you maintain this position and pull your head back to look up slowly. Keep this position for two seconds and return to the starting position.
There are other variations of this. You could lie down with your head resting on something. Then you tuck the chin in towards the neck. After this, you hold the chin and press the head back against whatever it is resting on.
The hardest neck extensions are the ones done when you’re laying on top of your chest on the bench. Your entire body – except for the head – is supposed to be on the bench. The head will deal with the force of gravity. Everything else is the same as the first one.
The Iron Neck
The Iron Neck is a neck workout device that you put on your head that can help you strengthen your neck muscles. You use it to do a variety of different exercises but with a better engagement of your central nervous system, and increased muscle activation.
There are six foundational movements that are recommended if you have this device. They are the 360 Spin, the Look Left & Look Right, Protraction & Retraction, Locked Neck Body Turns, Diagonals, and Figure Eights.
The device helps you get a thicker neck while also reducing discomfort and chances of a concussion. If you don’t know anything about how to get a thicker neck, don’t worry as it helps you work out with a better form.
The Barbell Shrug (and Variations)
We looked at the weighted shrugs above and the barbell shrugs are similar. Hold a loaded barbell in front of you, making sure the hands are a shoulder width apart. Pull the shoulder blades up towards your ears and hold at the top, then slowly return back down and repeat.
There are other variations of this shrug. You can opt for a trap bar instead of a regular barbell. This can be used in a movement that’s similar to weighted dumbbell shrugs with the hands being on the side. It is effective and there’s more stability offered.
You can also shrug using a smith machine which leads to a smoother and more fluid movement. It is a safer option considering that you can safely lock the bar if you hit failure. If you like to shrug with the bar behind you (reverse shrugs), then this is a great option.
Neck Side Raises
For this, you lie on the side on the bench with your head hanging over the edge of the bench. You can use your hand to support your weight by placing it on the floor. Then you just move your head up and back to the neutral position.
Once you master this exercise, you can make it more effective by using a plate. You can keep the plate on the side of your face and lift it up when you raise the head. Since the plate is hard, you can wrap a towel around it and then place it on your face.
The Reverse Shrug
This exercise is also recommended for your neck workout. You can hold the barbell with your hands behind you and pull the shoulders upwards. Many say that this is more effective but it is a bit tougher in comparison to the regular version.
Some also do this with the bar in front, but with a reverse grip. It can be done with a smith machine as well.
Are Neck Workouts Bad for You?
Neck workouts are not bad for you as they come with a handful of different advantages. For starters, training your neck results in a thicker and stronger neck which looks good especially if you’re an athlete. But it’s not just vanity that makes neck training important.
The neck is at a very important position in the body as it is pretty much a junction between the brain and the rest of it. When you train your neck, you improve many things such as the brain’s signals, the body’s balance and coordination, and even your mental health.
It also improves the quality of your breathing. Those who suffer from poor posture are also recommended to work out the neck regularly. You also prevent injuries and the chances of neck pain (and even upper back pain) are reduced significantly.
But yes, there is a stigma around training the neck as people are afraid of injuring it or they don’t know how to get a thicker neck So, if you’re an athlete, especially a fighter, then you need to start with basic neck training using proper form and light weights.
Common Neck Training Mistakes
There are several mistakes that you can make while training their neck. These can result in a lack of growth and injuries which is why you need to be careful. A bad injury can even take months to recover from, which is really bad considering the crucial position of the neck.
The first mistake is not warming up before beginning your training. You need to warm up to get some blood flowing into the muscles. This should reduce the chances of injury and all you need to do is stretch the neck and traps a bit and/or do some aerobics.
Neck stretches are great not just for warming up but also if you don’t work out for a thicker neck. A neck stretch everyday lessens neck tightness. There are some days when you wake up and your neck feels slightly stiff; this prevents that.
The second is overloading the neck which can also be disastrous as it is delicate. Ego lifting is bad in any exercise and this applies to neck movements as well. You can go heavy on shrugs though, but not enough to ruin your form.
But overloading doesn’t just mean that you use ultra-heavy weights. It also means training every day and not allowing the muscles to recover. What’s really bad is when people get some form of injury and they keep trying to work through the neck pain.
There are some people who shouldn’t even train their neck at all. These are the ones who’ve had several neck injuries before or they suffer from neck pain from time to time. There are several conditions and issues that make neck training a no-no.
Those with disk issues or problems such as arthritis of the neck must stay away from neck training. Those with neurological problems such as migraines and vertigo are warned. Even the ones with a surgically repaired neck or are healing from an injury shouldn’t train.
Also, you need to choose your exercises carefully. There are some movements like the neck bridge that can make your neck thicker. However, they can cause chronic neck pain over time (Mike Tyson suffered from issues due to the bridge).
How Can You Train Your Neck at Home? (Iron Neck )
If you want a thicker neck but cannot go to the gym, then you can just work out at home without needing a complex four-way neck machine. If you have a set of dumbbells then you’re lucky. Otherwise, there are other ways to work out the neck without home equipment.
You can lay down or sit upright and move your head in different ways. However, there are many who get this wrong and can injure their neck in the process. This is why the Iron Neck setup mentioned above is the best way to train your neck at home. It not only improves your form so that you can achieve the best results. But it can also prevent injuries.
You also prevent neck and back pain when you use the device. It does this by improving the strength and stability of your body’s posterior chain. Your posture is also improved which helps it produce even better results. The Iron Neck is used by many athletes to strengthen their neck.
WWE Superstar and Hall of Famer Edge came back from retirement after a career-ending neck injury. He started using the device in 2019 and was medically cleared to return after a decade-long hiatus in 2020. BJJ star and coach Jean Jaques Machado also uses the device.