How to Build Neck Strength, And Why It’s Important

building neck strength

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You may think a lot about strengthening your arms, your legs, or even your backside, but chances are, you probably do not spend a whole lot of time thinking about strengthening your neck. After all, aside from bending and twisting your head—which are pretty important movements— it's not like you use your neck muscles for all that much, right?

Except that you actually do use your neck muscles quite a bit. Here is what you need to know about neck strength including why it is important and how you can strengthen your neck.

Why Neck Strength Is Important 

Believe it or not, developing and maintaining strong neck muscles is actually critical for proper posture and can help prevent head, neck, and back pain. It can also help prevent serious injury during a collision or impact, even helping reduce the chance of concussion. Even if you haven't spent a lot of time thinking about how to strengthen your neck before now, there is no time like the present to get started.

Your neck is responsible for holding up, turning, tilting, and bending your head. If you have ever experienced whiplash or a crick in your neck that makes turning or bending your neck painful or difficult, you know just how important your neck's movements are to your daily life.

When your neck loses range of motion or strength, you can't easily turn to check for blindspots while driving, or nod your head while talking to a friend. Even small movements become challenging as you have to turn your whole body to avoid a painful twinge.

Neck pain also is very common. In fact, worldwide, anywhere from 16.7% to 75.1% of the population experience neck pain in a given year.

And while neck pain is a multi-factor complaint with many potential contributing causes, poor posture that leads to imbalances in neck musculature is a major contributing factor. Individuals with neck pain are often found to have weaknesses and changes in their deep cervical extensors and flexors—the muscles responsible for bending the neck forward or leaning it back.

By prioritizing neck strength—and, as a complementary goal, correcting poor posture to help prevent muscular imbalances—you can help reduce the likelihood of neck pain, upper back pain, and even headaches. But that's not all.

A strong neck can be protective in the case of contact sports like football and rugby. Some evidence indicates that for players in these sports, a stronger neck may help prevent cervical spine injuries and concussions.

And while you may not personally be involved in sports like rugby or American football, you never know when you might get in a car accident or be bumped forcefully by someone on the street. Well-maintained strength in your neck might help you control your head's movement in an unexpected impact, helping prevent more serious injury or pain.

How to Build Neck Strength 

Building neck strength doesn't have to be an overwhelming task. Paying attention to your posture and how you regularly hold your neck is a good start. For instance, you don't want to constantly be bending your neck forward to look at your phone.

But aside from adjusting your posture, there are simple exercises you can incorporate into your regular exercise routine to help build neck strength and correct muscular imbalances. Try performing two to three sets of the following moves, two to three times per week.

Supine Head Nod

Also known as a chin tuck, this simple exercise can be performed lying down, or while sitting at a chair. It's a great move to target the muscles along the front of your neck and can also help with posture. Here is how to do the supine head nod.

  1. Lie on your back on a mat and relax your head, neck, and shoulders, attaining a neutral spinal position.
  2. Make sure the back of your head and shoulders should be in contact with the mat, but your neck should have a space under it.
  3. Maintain this space throughout the movement.
  4. Take a breath and try to lengthen the back of your neck, tucking your chin in toward your chest, as though you were creating a double-chin. This isn't a forceful movement.
  5. Hold the position for 5 seconds or so, then release back to the starting position.
  6. Repeat 10 times per set.

Dumbbell Shrug 

The dumbbell shrug helps strengthen the large trapezius muscles that run along the neck and upper back, helping with head, neck, and shoulder movements. It's a simple exercise that requires nothing more than a pair of dumbbells, or even a resistance band. Simply hold the ends of the bands in your hands, with the center of the band under your feet to perform the movement. Here is how to do the dumbbell shrug.

  1. Stand tall with good posture, holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides.
  2. Engage your core, bend your knees very slightly, and tuck your hips forward slightly.
  3. Check to make sure your ears are "stacked" over your shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles.
  4. Take a breath in, and as you inhale, raise your shoulders straight up, shrugging them toward your ears.
  5. Hold for a beat, then as you exhale, lower your shoulders back to start.
  6. Perform 12 to 15 repetitions per set.

Isometric Cervical Side Bending

An isometric exercise is one where a muscle contracts without moving, like a plank. This cervical side bending exercise is designed to isolate the deep cervical muscles on either side of your neck without requiring neck movement. Just remember—your head stays fixed throughout the exercise. Here is how to perform the isometric cervical side bending exercise.

  1. Sit tall on a bench or chair with your core engaged.
  2. Relax your shoulders and check your posture—your ears should be "stacked" above your shoulders and hip.
  3. Place your left palm flat against the left side of your head.
  4. Press your palm against your head, as though trying to press your head to the right, but resist the movement by engaging the muscles along the left side of your neck.
  5. Hold the position for 5 counts before releasing.
  6. Repeat 10 times before switching sides.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Row 

The single-arm dumbbell row, when performed correctly, strengthens the large muscle groups of your upper back and shoulders, including your lats, traps, delts, and rhomboids. It also requires the deep, stabilizing muscles of your neck and back to engage to support proper form. Here is how you do the single-arm dumbbell row.

  1. Place your right hand and right knee on a bench.
  2. Extend your left leg backward and slightly to the left to create a sort of "tripod" position.
  3. Hold a dumbbell in your left hand, extended directly down from your left shoulder to the left side of the bench.
  4. Roll your shoulders back and engage your shoulder blades to prevent your left shoulder from "dipping" toward the floor.
  5. Engage your core and check to make sure your body is forming a straight (and flat) line from the base of your spine to the top of your head.
  6. Pull the dumbbell straight up toward your chest, keeping your torso steady as you bend your elbow.
  7. Squeeze your left shoulder blade toward your spine.
  8. Hold for a beat, then carefully lower the dumbbell back to the starting position.
  9. Perform 10 to 12 repetitions before switching sides.

Safety Tips for Building Neck Strength 

First and foremost, if you are currently dealing with neck pain, make sure you talk to a healthcare provider or physical therapist before adding exercises to your routine. Depending on the root cause of your pain, or what mechanical or muscular issues you are dealing with, some exercises may be more important than others.

Likewise, some exercises may be best to avoid. It is also important to make sure you are performing moves that are appropriate for your personal situation. Pay close attention to your form and move slowly and with control through each exercise to protect your neck.

Finally, do not do anything that causes sharp or stabbing pain—pain like this is most likely going to cause more irritation and inflammation, leading to more pain. If something hurts, stop. You can try a different exercise, or simply set up an appointment with a healthcare provider to make sure you're not exacerbating an underlying problem.

A Word From Verywell

Building neck strength can be an important way to help prevent pain and injuries from taking place. That said, if you are currently experiencing neck pain, always talk to a healthcare provider or physical therapist before starting a new exercise program. You want to make sure you are performing exercises that will help your specific issue and symptoms without causing any further pain.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes weak neck muscles?

    Weak neck muscles, just like any other muscular weakness, can occur due to a wide variety of reasons. These reasons may include poor posture, muscular atrophy from neuromuscular disorders or autoimmune diseases, aging, injury, and general disuse.

    If you don't regularly work on maintaining proper posture and performing exercises that strengthen the back of the neck, shoulders, and upper back, you are likely to experience neck weakness over time.

  • Which foods are good for building muscle?

    A well-balanced diet filled with protein, high-quality carbohydrates, and healthy fats is going to help support strong, healthy muscles. That said, protein is considered the "muscle-building" macronutrient, so consuming a diet with good sources of protein is critical to developing and supporting muscle mass.

    Examples of high-quality proteins include eggs, chicken, beef, fish, and pork. That said, you can also consume plant-based protein sources, like beans, nuts, and seeds.

7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Fejer R, Kyvik KO, Hartvigsen J. The prevalence of neck pain in the world population: a systematic critical review of the literatureEur Spine J. 2006;15(6):834-848.

  3. Kazeminasab S, Nejadghaderi SA, Amiri P, et al. Neck pain: global epidemiology, trends and risk factorsBMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. 2022;23(1):26.

  4. Schomacher J, Falla D. Function and structure of the deep cervical extensor muscles in patients with neck painManual Therapy. 2013;18(5):360-366.

  5. Hrysomallis C. Neck muscular strength, training, performance and sport injury risk: a reviewSports Med. 2016;46(8):1111-1124.

  6. O'Riordan C, Clifford A, Van De Ven P, et al. Chronic neck pain and exercise interventions: frequency, intensity, time, and type principleArchives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2014;95(4):770-783.

  7. Wu B, Yuan H, Geng D, Zhang L, Zhang C. The impact of a stabilization exercise on neck pain: a systematic review and meta-analysisJ Neurol Surg A Cent Eur Neurosurg. 2020;81(4):342-347.

By Laura Williams
Laura Williams is a fitness expert and advocate with certifications from the American Council on Exercise and the American College of Sports Medicine.