WSBB Blog: Neck Training for Combat Sports Athletes

WSBB Education
Wed Jun 09, 2021

Tags: Grip, MMA, Maximal Results

Time to Read: 3.5min

In the world of combat sports, barbell training is becoming more and more popular as powerlifting methods spread across social media and the old idea that heavy barbell training causes you to be unathletic is fading away. You are seeing athletes become stronger in the bench press, the deadlift, and the squat.

Smart trainers know that in order to enforce your will on your opponent you must possess high levels of limit strength and endurance. One thing that is often forgotten is that we can also use barbell training to improve fight preparedness and reduce the amount of damage the athlete receives. By using specific exercises, we can enhance a combat sports athlete’s durability resulting in less injury and more success within their sport.

One specific way we can improve an athlete’s ability to endure and take damage is to focus on training the neck. Building a strong neck has multiple benefits for the different combat sports disciplines. For the wrestler, a strong neck allows for the cervical and thoracic spine to remain locked in during a takedown, creating a higher probability of takedown success. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu player will not only benefit from increased takedown strength, but they’ll also have stronger choke submission resistance abilities. The striker will have the benefit of having their brain protected from knockout forces, considering a strong neck and upper back acts as a shock absorber for head strikes. The next question would be, how do we go about training the neck in a safe and effective manner? Here are a few ways you can approach neck training to reap the benefits of cervical spine strength and stability.

Safety Squat Bar Goodmornings

This exercise is a two for one deal for the combat sports athlete. Not only will you be training your neck strength, you will also be training your posterior chain simultaneously. When performing safety squat bar goodmornings you are forced to maintain a strong brace in your thoracic and cervical spine in order to move the barbell. To enhance the neck training focus, be sure to consciously squeeze your upper back and brace your traps on each rep.

Neck Harness Curls

This exercise is something all combat sports athletes should have in their arsenal, the neck harness curl. It is a real simple exercise, you will just need a neck harness and some ten-pound plates. Load the harness light to begin, see what you can handle for sets of 25-30 reps, then begin adding weight accordingly. Be sure not to load the harness too heavily, you should be able to feel the muscles in the upper traps and neck engaging. If you begin feeling like you are struggling to do reps and you’re having to use your upper back and body to get momentum going you will need to lower the weight. When performed correctly, this exercise will have your neck as wide as a pit bull.

Banded Neck Rolls

Much like the last exercise, this exercise is a simple exercise to execute, but very effective when done correctly. To set this exercise up you will attach a resistance band to a squat rack or other piece of equipment, put a towel or cloth on your forehead, and attach the band around your head. You will then walk forward until your neck and upper back begin to resist the applied band tension. Once this is achieved, you will begin rolling your neck front to back, side to side. Do this until you adequately exhaust the next muscles. You can then reverse the band, running it around the back of your head, and doing the same movements in reverse. Don’t just move left to right, front to back, work all angles.

In the world of combat sports neck training is as important as any other muscle group. Having the ability to force a takedown, resist and escape a choke, or absorb a punch and avoid a knockdown or knockout is crucial if you are going to have success at the highest levels of competition. No matter how good you are, there is going to come a time in your career when you are physically challenged to your limits. When that time comes it is important that you have as few weaknesses as possible. In sports where the goal is to “kill the head and the body is dead” having the support to protect your brain is a must. The Wu-Tang Clan said it best, protect ya neck.