If you’ve been grappling for any length of time, you more than likely don’t need to be preached to about the importance of training your neck. GENERALLY, people are wary of hurting their necks and will be cautious in this regard.
With good reason, your neck houses many of your critical brain function structures, nerves and blood vessels and all that good stuff you want to keep working.
With that established, we need to train our neck to keep up with the rigours of grappling.
Well, we’ll take it like anything else we would look to train:
1) What muscles are we after?
2) How are we going to train them?
3) How are we progressing this and introducing appropriate variation over time?
4) What about SPP (specific physical preparation)?
What muscles are we after?
Looking at the image above, we can look at some tissues we want to train.
Prime movers involved in both flexion/extension (moving our head up and down) and lateral flexion (tilting our head from side to side) is what we’re going to be after.
That’s going to be a combination of Splenius capitis, Longissimus capitis and other related structures in that region. Just good for context to see the muscles in question if you haven’t before.
How are we going to train them?
Breaking that down we’ve got 2 major planes of movement we’re going after.
We want to do traditional “neck curls” with a neck harness or similar contraption. In my experience those contraptions don’t work, buy a harness, link below:
They’re very much a worthwhile investment. Stick it in your gym bag, bring it with you, consider the following:
Neck Curls (in this example the athlete is using a kneeling position over a barbell – there’s many variations of this.
Looking at 3 – 4 sets initially (I prefer 3 – novel stimulus) of a modest loading around 10 reps / 30 sec etc. After a number of “intro” weeks of this to build familiarity with the equipment and to remove apprehension around training “delicate“ structures.
Equally, if not more important is training our lateral compartment of our neck. Tilting and loading the neck laterally is a lot more common when you’re grappling at a high intensity, especially if you wrestle a lot.
We use many different variations of this, some of our favourites include lateral isometrics as well as lateral crawls with a band (shown above), partner assisted or not etc. Further examples of this on social media in the coming weeks.
How are we progressing this and introducing appropriate variation over time?
After this look to progress in both load and volume. Some of our strongest guys and gals can perform the neck curls with approx. 25% bodyweight for sets of 6. There’s a large target to aim for. In terms of progression past this we like to look at isometrics and work for time.
As well as working other lateral compartments of the neck – this helps to inform our training process to building a complete approach to building our athlete’s necks.
In time we want to build to a complete picture of neck training worked into the programming in a way that makes sense, addresses all necessary concerns and demands required of the athlete, and can be progressed effectively.
Now for the good stuff…
What about SPP (specific physical preparation)?
Now we’re on the way to well-built, robust necks in our grappling athletes. Next thing:
What are the specific demands of the sport that we can attempt to address?
You’re going to use your neck a lot in high force isometrics as you stabilise positions and if you wrestle, you will use it a lot with driving on single legs, doubles, snapdowns etc.
To be honest nogi and wrestling is a lot more intense on the neck that gi, but anyway.
Our go to is usually high force iso’s that last 7 – 10 sec and we cycle that in both extension, flexion and lateral flexion cycles. Also, a lot of room for endurance and I’m a big fan of both work for time and cluster isometrics here, both work great and I feel have appropriate transfer.
Culminating our neck work in this among other strategies as we approach competition will help our athletes’ deal with high force situations involving these structures (as best we can).