Get ahead of the game with these neck exercises

Football is a contact sport. There is no way around it. Collisions occur on almost every play and the head and neck are often involved in these hits. These hits can jar the head forward, backward, to the side, rotationally and possibly diagonally. Therefore, proper strength training of the neck muscles is imperative for performance and injury prevention. According to a WebMD article, it has been reported that 70 percent of all NCAA college football players will experience some type of neck injury at sometime in their college career.

But an often overlooked area of many football strength programs is the comprehensive strength training of the neck muscles. This article will feature five simple, yet effective, exercises to the neck region directly and indirectly.

Cervical Slides

This exercise will strengthen the deep cervical (neck) muscles that are responsible for stabilizing the neck. This exercise is an integral and "base building" exercise of any neck program. First, lie face up with one hand under the base of the skull. Then, slide the hand supporting the head out from underneath the head so that there is now a gap between the head and the table or floor. Maintain this "gap" for one minute without raising or lowering the head, nor allowing the chin to "poke" towards the ceiling. If one minute is too long, try three reps of 20 seconds with a three second rest in between reps. Once that becomes easy, progress to longer intervals to reach a one-minute goal per set. This exercise is similar to the prone plank whereas it strengthens the deep, underlying muscles that are extremely important in protecting the neck.

Dumbbell Front Raises

Even though this focuses on the anterior or front part of the shoulder muscles, the neck muscles do get strengthened and supported by performing this exercise. Lift the dumbbells with either your hands in a palm up, neutral or palm down position upward to your collarbone level. Control the weight up and down and avoid substituting by using your upper trapezius muscles during the activity. Perform three sets of eight repetitions with a weight that causes the eighth rep to probably be your last due to muscle fatigue.

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Similar to the previous dumbbell front raise exercise, but in this movement, the focus is on the lateral or outside portion of the shoulder muscles, as well as the neck muscles indirectly. Lift the dumbbells out to the side of the body to collarbone height without "hiking your shoulders." Perform three sets of eight reps.

Dumbbell Shrugs

Upper trapezius muscle development is the focus of this exercise. While holding dumbbells next to the body, lift your shoulders straight up towards the ears as high as possible. Hold at the top for one full second then return the shoulders down to the starting position. This exercise usually requires more weight than what one can normally bicep curl. But the weight should not be too heavy that the dumbbells cannot be safely held and not be too heavy to prevent full range of motion of the movement or cause compensations such as the chin poking outward/forward.

Isometric Cervical Holds - Forward, Backward, Side-bending and Rotation

These strengthening exercises can be performed with a partner or alone. Simply push your head into your partner's hand or your own hand in order to contract the neck muscles in either a forward, backward, side-bending or rotational manner for four seconds of eight repetitions. Remember to push hard enough to strengthen the neck muscles, but not too hard that your head overcomes the resistance of the hand and motion occurs. (There should be no motion in this exercise.)

Football is a fantastic sport to watch and play because of its speed, power and physicality. It is these attributes that make it even more important to have strong neck muscles. So in order to maximize your enjoyment of this sport and to possibly avoid a neck injury, implement these exercises into your football strengthening program.

- Brett Fischer is the owner/founder of the Fischer Institute in Phoenix, Ariz. He is a licensed physical therapist, certified athletic trainer, certified strength and conditioning specialist and a certified dry needling provider. He has worked with the University of Florida, New York Jets, PGA & Senior PGA Tour and the Chicago Cubs.

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