Let’s face it, having a thick neck can be quite imposing. Besides giving you that intimidating center linebacker look, it’s an indication of dedication and hard work in the gym. These massive traps make someone look like the Incredible Hulk without turning green.

But a massive yoke is not just a matter of vanity. The human head weighs over eight pounds, moves in multiple directions, and protects our most important asset (that would be your brain for most of us). That’s why it’s important to start incorporating neck exercises into your routine.

Neck insulation will provide a great finishing touch to a powerful physique and help maintain good head position and better posture. Here we’ll cover the anatomy of the neck, the benefits of direct neck training, and four neck exercises to add the cherry on top of your skull.

Let’s get to work.

neck anatomy

The neck isn’t all about traps. The neck contains several muscles that support head position, posture, and breathing. Here’s a breakdown of the major neck muscles.

  • Trapeze: The trapezius is a large, flat, triangular muscle that runs across the neck and upper back. This arises from the external occipital protuberance (back of the skull parallel to the upper jaw) and the ligament nuchae and has multiple points of insertion. The main movements of the traps are lateral flexion, contralateral head rotation and head extension.
  • Scapula lifter: The levator scapulae is a long, thin superficial muscle on each lateral side of the neck. This originates from the C1-C4 of the cervical spine (neck) and inserts into the medial edge of the scapula. The shoulder blade movements of the Levator are the elevation and retraction of the shoulder blades and the extension and lateral flexion of the neck.
  • Sternocleidomastoid: The sternocleidomastoid is a large muscle with two heads on each side of the neck. One head arises from the medial third of the clavicle, while the other arises from the manubrium of the sternum and inserts on the mastoid process of the temporal bone. The movements of the sternocleidomastoid are unilateral lateral flexion of the neck on the same muscular side and lateral rotation of the head on the opposite side. When both sides and the muscles of the sternocleidomastoid contract, it helps in the flexion of the neck.
  • Scalene: The scalene muscles are three paired muscles located in the front, middle, and back of the lateral neck. These muscles arise from the C3-C6 vertebrae and insert on the scalene tubercle and the upper border of the first rib. The scalene muscles act as accessory muscles for respiration and assist in all head movements.

Benefits of Direct Neck Exercises

The aesthetic benefits of a strong, muscular neck are beyond question, but they also have some important performance and health benefits. Here are four reasons to include direct neck training in your program.

  • Reduces neck tightness: The four exercises listed below, when performed well and with a full range of motion, can help release tension, tightness, neck stiffness, and possibly help improve flexibility.
  • Improves breathing: The anterior, medial, and posterior scalene muscles and the sternocleidomastoid muscles contract and relax to facilitate breathing, which becomes more important during high-intensity exercise.
  • Improves squats and deadlifts: The upper traps are an important part of your upper back that, when engaged, will keep your squat from turning into a good morning and keep the bar close to you during the deadlift. Plus, the muscular top traps give more room for the bar to sit on.
  • Injury prevention: If you’re a collision athlete, neck training is a no-brainer. Yes, pun intended. The neck supports the head and what’s inside. Studies have shown that collision athletes such as football players, boxers and people who get hit in the head have a more extensive history of orthopedic injuries and a stronger neck equates to less risk of injury.

Top 4 Neck Exercises

Shrugs are one of the most important neck moves, but there are other variations to spice up your neck game. Here are four moves to strengthen the neck and build muscle in your yoke.