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Savage Neck Training for Football Players

how to train the neck

This is a guest post from our buddy, Mike “The Machine” Bruce. Mike is a very talented performing strongman, motivational speaker and personal trainer. Add onto this that he has one of the Strongest Neck’s in the the World, and he is the perfect candidate to talk about Neck Training.

Where your head goes the body follows…

This is a common phrase heard throughout Wrestling and Judo circles that refers to your head being controlled by your opponent.

This is a principle that athletes of all combative sports, especially Football, should pay more attention to, but unfortunately many don’t. That’s why there so many athletes walking around with big, muscular bodies and little pencil necks…

In my opinion the reason is that the neck is overlooked in training; and more emphasis is placed on other attributes such as speed off the line, leg drive, pressing strength etc.

Whether you are on the mat, in the ring or on the gridiron, I believe the neck is the most important body part to be worked. In football you are told to keep your chin up, roll your traps forward, sink your hips low and charge the other man. When this collision occurs, your neck serves as a shock absorber for the rest of your body.

Thus if you have a pencil neck it’s sure to be game over for you.

You must work the neck muscles to build functional strength. By functional, I mean the neck needs to be strong, flexible and have muscular endurance from every angle. This way the neck will be able to provide the necessary protection to the cervical spine as well as give the best chance to resist attack from opponents on the field.

There are many ways to work the neck. I believe in using 3 movements to build your foundation. These movements will cover the 3 ranges of motion:

  • Flexion
  • Extension
  • Lateral Bending

It is important to note though the neck can be twisted, I don’t believe in working the neck in a circular motion as it does not target the neck muscles and is also not good for the cervical spine. This is why I feel it is more efficient to target the 3 ranges of motion mentioned above.

The exercises we will use are:

Neck Curl with Weight Plate: This movement works the neck flexion, which is the first part of a nod, bringing your chin to your chest.

how to build neck strength how to build neck strength

When performing the Neck Curl, my hands only serve as handles, I’m not pulling the weight up, I’m providing stability while the neck does all the work in an up/down motion.

The Neck Harness Lift: Seated or standing, this is bringing the chin away from your chest.

how to train the neck

My hands are on my hips, while I focus on raising my head up/down as strict as I can. I do not use any hip power to raise up the weight. You can do this seated. The only difference is that the hands should be placed on your knees. pic 4340 beginning, 4338 finish.

Side Neck Lift: Bringing your ear down toward your shoulder, the lateral bending.

Check out the above video clip, showing how to do the Side Neck Lift, followed by a special little demo for my buddies at Diesel Crew, Jedd and Smitty.

Here are some more video demonstrations of the above lifts…

IMPORTANT – Getting Started

Before starting the program, it is imperative to understand that if you haven’t done any prior neck work, you will experience stiffness, a bit of a sore throat, and lack of neck mobility for the first couple weeks. This is completely normal and should pass as the neck is worked.

For all beginners I suggest you work the neck with all 3 ranges of motion 3 times per week.

Start with the neck curl, then side neck lift, and finish with the standing neck lift.

Your Goal will be to work up to 100 repetitions in all 3 exercises. This is the protocol I use when I teach the neck regimen.

I feel this builds the proper muscular strength and endurance needed for combative sports.

Start off with a 5# weighted plate and aim for 3 sets of 25 on all exercises. Every week , try to increase the repetitions until you reach 100 reps. Once you attain 100 reps increase the weight by 5# and repeat the process. Always aim for 100 repetitions. You will notice incredible gains in width, strength, and endurance following this program.

You have quite a window to work with here: 5#weight plate -45#weight plate and then even a 100# weight plate for all you Bull Necks out there.

Once you work the neck for 16 weeks at 3 days per week, increase your neck training to 5 days per week.

This is my current neck training schedule:

  • Neck curl 3 sets of 100# for 100 reps
  • Side Neck lift 3 sets 100# for 20 reps [see video]
  • Neck Harness Lift 3 sets 90# for 100 reps
  • I do this 5 days per week

Remember, I have been training my neck for 24 years consecutively. This may seem too high volume for some, but for my goals, this works great for me.

As a player, your other strength attributes play a huge role in how good you are on the field.

But remember: Don’t neglect The Neck! Because where your neck and head go, your body will follow.

Mike “The Machine” Bruce

Mike is a trainer and motivational speaker as well as a performing strongman. If you’d like to train with Mike, then check out his site at, or go hear to set up a training session with the Machine.


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10 Responses to “Savage Neck Training for Football Players”

  1. Todd Says:

    Cool post, thanks. One of my earliest memories of working out was at 14 yrs. of age, using a concrete plate to do the neck curl (a football player had told me about it). I cramped up so bad afterwards that I thought I had really hurt myself, but I stuck with it and have always had a big neck since then, even though I didn’t stick with the neck work later on. I think it helped my neck development take off at a young age.

  2. Jim Smith Says:

    That’s cool man. Thanks for stopping by the site.

  3. Rick Walker Says:

    Great post!

    Many people spend countless hours training their biceps or traps, but then forget to protect their most important investment. Their noggins! Neck training is important, and I try to get the Ironmind Headharness into my weekly routine at least twice. After reading this, I will have to up it!

  4. Jim Smith Says:

    What kind of stuff do you do for your neck, Rick?

  5. Rick Walker Says:

    The headharness front and back mainly.

  6. Mike "The Machine" Bruce Says:

    Smitty and Jedd of Diesel Crew have played a big role in my strength journey.

    Their training philosophy/methods are used in my gym everyday.

    It is a pleasure for me to write for them and all.

    Keep The Faith,
    The Machine

  7. Neck training article @ « Mikethemachine's Blog Says:

    […] training article @ Here is my new article I had the pleasure of writing for my brothers in iron Jedd and Smitty. […]

  8. Max Says:

    Great article never thought of doing 100 reps until reading.
    My question how to fit in training 3 times a week, does it mean training every other day? I’m worried about recovery time. Have you an example of what days you guys do neck work?
    Silly question perhaps.. but hopefully easy to answer.
    Thanks again

  9. Robert Taylor Says:

    Some of these exercises may not be the best option. But great to see you are paying attention to an area that is often overlooked. Here are a few suggestions from a study about neck training protocol. Keep on sharing! Always fun to read:

  10. Tanner McNamara Says:

    You stated that you believe 100rep training, “Builds the proper muscular strength and endurance needed for combative sports.” To me, It seems “combative sports” differ in their nature and so should your training. If I was training football players I would primarily train their necks to withstand a single, extreme impact i.e. a 1RM. I would do this by prescribing similar set/rep schemes to performing a 1RM squat. However, If I was training wrestlers I would train for both strength and endurance. Do you believe 1 set at 100reps is the best training regimen for these differing demands?

    Thanks for spreading the positive role of neck training!

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