Weight training for the neck is a topic surrounded by debate and a bit of mystery. Many gyms don't have weight-training equipment for the neck, and bodybuilding guides tend to shy away from neck exercises. Some say the exercises just aren't popular enough or are too dangerous. Danger is a factor, but like with any lift, you can negate the risk with adequate preparation and form. The payoff can be more than just a beefy neck, too. Research indicates that neck and shoulder strengthening exercises can eliminate neck pain and discomfort, according to Illinois physician and surgeon Dr. Mercola.
An effective exercise to strengthen your trapezius muscles -- neck-supporting muscles that run down the back of your head and neck-- is dumbbell shrugs. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and allow your arms to hang by your sides with your palms facing your thighs. While keeping your arms straight, shrug your shoulders up toward your ears. Hold the shrug for a count of two, slowly lower your shoulders to the starting position and repeat.
Lying Face Down Plate Neck Resistance
Lie on your stomach on a weight bench with your head hanging off the end of the bench. Place a weight plate on the base of your head and neck and hold it in place with your hands behind your head. In a comfortable range of motion, move your head up slowly, pause, then move it back down slowly. Repeat. Train lightly when first starting this exercise, gradually increasing the weight as you grow more comfortable and stronger. This exercise focuses on the back of the neck.
Lying Face Up Plate Neck Resistance
Essentially the opposite of the previous exercise, this one increases the width of the neck. Lie face up on a weight bench and place a weight plate on your forehead (use a towel for cushioning if needed) and hold it steady with your fingertips. Bring your head forward until your chin touches your chest. Pause, then slowly return your head to the starting position and repeat. Maintain tension in your neck throughout the movement. Again, start with a lighter weight before using heavier plates.
Head Harness Neck Resistance
This exercise, which you can perform standing or seated, employs the head harness apparatus for lifting heavier weights with the neck. Put the harness on and attach weights to the end of a chain. Attach the other end to the bottom of the harness. Plant your feet flat on the ground and keep your back naturally straight as you lean forward slightly so that the weight hangs free. Raise your head up and back as far as comfortable, pause, then return to the starting position. A neck harness can be awkward to get used to, so take your time in perfecting your form. This exercise works all major neck muscles.
This weight-free exercise is a classic for building the back of the neck. Lie on the floor with your head on a cushioned surface. Arch your back and bridge up on your head, keeping your feet under your knees. Keep your hands on the floor for support and maintain the position for as long as you can. The one-minute mark is a good benchmark to work toward.
Isometric Side Neck Exercise
Work the sides of your neck with this weight-free exercise. Stand up straight and place your left hand on the side of your head. Tip your head to the left while resisting the motion with your hand. Focus on contracting the muscles on the left side of your neck. Hold for five to 10 seconds, switch hands, and hold for five to 10 seconds on the right side of the neck.