Neck Strengthening Exercises For Wrestling

  • 8 min read

For wrestlers, a strong neck can mean the difference between triumphant victory and painful defeat. During a wrestling match, weight is frequently placed on the head and neck, and the body can be aggressively pulled in different directions. These extreme movements can strain the spine, and damage the vulnerable ligaments that maintain healthy connective tissue. This doesn't mean you can't safely engage in combat sports, but it does mean you need to prepare yourself physically for these intense ranges of motion. If you have a thin neck, these motions can cause severe damage, and possibly take you off the mat for good. Advanced neck training will help you transform that skinny, weak neck into an iron neck, and protect you from a debilitating injury.


What is a Pencil Neck?

Pencil neck is the nickname for a person with thin, weak muscles around their cervical spine. While this can be as aesthetically embarrassing as a double chin, it has far more dangerous implications for athletes. Weak neck musculature doesn't have the power to withstand higher weight and pressure. This weight and pressure is exactly the type of force a wrestler will experience during a match. Without strong neck training, your neck is at risk for strain, sprain, and even breakage. A strong neck can also help prevent concussions. Remember, a thin neck is dangerous; an iron neck is safe. Engaging in solid neck exercises can help build a powerful neck capable of experiencing physical stress. If you're going to be engaging in dangerous wrestling moves, you'll need a neck strong enough to withstand their impact.


Wrestling Moves that put a Strain on the Neck

It's vital to know which moves can have the most effect on your neck and spine. Without solid training, these m0ves can result in a devastating neck injury, and take you off the mat for months. Here are a few moves to watch out for.


The cradle is a maneuver performed by grabbing your opponent's neck with one arm and wrapping the other arm behind their knee. You then lock your hands together, pulling their leg close to their head. This immobilizes your opponent and gives you the opportunity to pin. There are several varieties of the cradle, including the leg cradle, clap cradle, standing cradle, and far side cradle. When used against you, this move requires a decent amount of neck strength to resist; but with solid training, the muscles of a strong neck can allow you to escape. If you don't have the strength, you will most likely be pinned. At the very least, you will lose points for a fall.

Head Throw

If done properly, a head throw can quickly take an opponent from his feet to the mat in a matter of seconds. First, put your left hand on the back of your opponent's neck. With your right hand, grab whichever part of his arm is exposed (most likely the triceps or elbow). Rotate your head and upper body, pulling away and spinning the hips in a 180-degree motion. Quickly pull his arm with the spin so he loses his footing, making sure to land on the mat with your weight on his body. Many different angles of pressure are exerted on the neck during a head throw. As a result, a large amount of force will hit the receiving combatant's cervical spine during the rotation and landing. A thin neck can make this force overwhelming, and possibly result in damage.

Nelson Hold

While some forms of the nelson hold are banned from amateur wrestling, it is a foundational maneuver to immobilize your opponent. This notorious form of grappling is most often used when you are down on the mat and behind your opponent. It also puts a large amount of force on the neck and is known for leading to significant injury. Variations in the nelson hold depend on how many arms are used, and what position the arms take around the opponent's body. The half-nelson, for instance, uses one hand, positioned under the opponent's arm and around their neck. The three-quarter nelson is performed by once again passing a hand under your opponent's arm and around their neck, then slipping your other hand under their side. You then put this hand around the far side of your opponent's neck, and lock it to your first hand by interlacing your fingers. Both of these forms can be used to pin your opponent, and are legal in amateur wrestling. The final form, the full nelson, is illegal in almost every combat sport. This is due to it's unfortunate tendency to result in injury. The infamous full nelson is performed by doing two half nelsons at once. This double pressure on the neck has been known to violently crank it forward, often causing an opponent to submit from sheer discomfort.


Bridging is a foundational wrestling move and the #1 defense to being pinned. Think of bridging as starting from a reverse push-up position: instead of lowering your weight, you push upwards and lift yourself off the ground. This puts your full body weight on your head, shoulders, and neck. You then attempt to free yourself from your opponent or flip him so you are on top. It goes without saying that putting your full weight on your neck is dangerous, especially if done without proper neck training beforehand. You can strengthen the muscles utilized during bridging with the aptly named neck bridges. In the heat of the moment, you may be more focused on winning than your own health, and it could result in injury. The best way to prevent this is to build up a strong neck, which can be done by adding neck strengthening exercises into your regimen.


Neck Strengthening Exercises For Wrestling

These neck exercises specifically target the muscles used during these wrestling moves and can help you build a bigger neck even if you don't have access to a weight room. Whether it be with your hands, manual resistance, or specialized neck strengthening equipment, each of these neck training exercises can help give you the edge you need to win.

Neck Bridges

The neck bridge is the best exercise a wrestler can have in their neck training regiment. This movement directly increases your ability to perform bridging maneuvers and helps protect your neck from the blunt force that can occur during matches.

You need to take the utmost care when doing a neck bridge and move through each step slowly.

First, lay flat on your back with your feet and hands on the ground in a supine position. Then, lift your hips up and curl your neck back, so you're rolling onto your forehead. You should be looking behind you at the peak of the roll. Hold this position for 3 to 5 seconds, more if you are at a more advanced training level.

After that, roll your head back down, using your hands to maintain a slow and careful movement back to your starting position. Stay there for 3 to 5 seconds, then repeat the sequence. Do between 5 to 15 reps depending on your current neck strength. Keep track of how many reps you complete during each session, and try to increase the quantity when the workouts stop feeling challenging. It's important during neck bridges to carefully go straight back, without exceeding your current level of flexibility. The neck bridge is a great exercise to train the muscle groups of your neck but performed improperly it can be dangerous.

Side Bends

Side bends engage the lateral flexion movement of the neck, a motion utilized in various wrestling moves and holds. It's one of the best neck exercises to preserve the ligaments, and strengthen the cervical spine. To start, have a chair or bench you can sit down on. From your sitting position, pull the shoulders and neck back so the spine is straight. Once you have a sturdy starting position, use one hand to push on the left side of your head, moving your right ear towards your right shoulder. Hold that position until you feel a stretch on the left side of your neck, usually for 3-5 seconds. Stop immediately if you feel any pain. From there, return to your starting position, then repeat the same motion with your left ear and left shoulder. Hold for 3-5 seconds, then return to the center. You'll want to repeat this exercise as many times as you did the neck bridge, again depending on your specific level of training. Feel free to take it easier on the first couple of sessions, and incrementally increase the number of repetitions as you grow stronger.

Neck Flexion

While a neck bridge works the extension movement of the head, neck flexions target the forward movement of the neck and cervical spine. Incorporating neck flexion exercises into your workout routine helps build the deep flexor muscles. These muscles play a large role in the size and appearance of one's neck. Taking a seated position, wrap your hands around the back of your head. Then gently push your head down, so your chin moves towards your chest. Hold this for 5 seconds, then return to your starting position. Repeat 5 times, and do 5 sets, making sure to stop if you feel any strain. The neck flexion functions well with just the strength of your hands, but progress will be slow. This exercise is best used in conjunction with focused resistance, preferably in the form of specialized equipment.


Using the Right Equipment

While these exercises work without any weight added, they are much more effective with added resistance. If you have a workout partner, they can provide manual resistance by carefully applying pressure to the neck. Simply have your partner push gently in the opposite direction to give your muscles something to resist against. This is essentially the poor man's resistance equipment, though it rarely achieves the same results. If you can, it's best to utilize proper neck strengthening equipment. Neck strengthening equipment allows you to train more efficiently. You can also keep better track of your progression, and have an optimal workout without needing a partner. One prime example of this training equipment is a neck harness.


What is a Neck Harness, and what does it do?

A neck harness is a device that optimizes exercises designed to strengthen your neck. This simple piece of equipment fits snugly over the head and connects to a resistance band or set of weight plates. Because of its even spacing over the head, it engages the neck on four equally spaced points of connection. This ensures that no one side or muscle group is activated over another, which can lead to muscle imbalance and injury. A neck harness is beneficial for wrestlers because of the well-balanced workout it provides. For wrestlers who want a huge neck, harnesses can strengthen the muscles at a much faster rate than using bodyweight exercises alone. Not only that, but you have much more control over the progression of your workouts. How much weight you lift depends entirely on what level of neck strength you currently possess. While a traditional neck harness is great, there are even more advanced forms of strengthening equipment. These cutting-edge pieces of equipment can help grow the muscles of your neck at a more rapid pace, and achieve results far sooner.


What if I Want to Strengthen my Neck Faster?

While neck exercises can be effective, and a traditional neck harness can be very beneficial for muscle growth, there are more sophisticated machines to build a powerful neck. If you want a device that can evenly apply resistance to each part of your neck, and have the most comfortable fit, you'll want to choose Iron Neck - the best neck exercise machine on the market. Iron neck is the #1 leader in neck strengthening resistance equipment. Our flagship product, the Iron Neck, is used by athletes in wrestling, MMA, and other combat sports to build powerful neck muscles. They use our product because they know it yields the best results, and gives them the strength to dominate their competition. Wrestling is about the survival of the fittest. Don't get on the mat without having the tools you need to win. Get rid of that weak neck, and get an Iron Neck today!