The neck is vulnerable to strain and overuse injuries during athletic activity. Sports that involve impact, intense motion, or constant posture maintenance like football, hockey, and swimming can overwork the delicate neck muscles. Fortunately, targeted neck strengthening and flexibility exercises can help reduce injury risk. Here are some of the best exercises to keep the neck in top shape for sports.
This exercise strengthens the neck flexor muscles under the chin that are engaged when looking downward. Sit tall with shoulders back. Draw your chin straight back, aligning it over the center of your chest. Hold for 5 seconds. Do 2 sets of 10-15 reps. Chin tucks improve neck stability and posture against the downward forces experienced in many sports.
Turning the neck to look sideways and backwards is common in sports like tennis, volleyball, and golf. Sit or stand upright. Slowly rotate your head side to side, bringing your chin in line with your shoulder on each side. Rotate as far as comfortable. Do 2 sets of 15 controlled rotations each way. This loosens stiffness and increases range of motion.
Elevating the shoulders engages the upper trapezius muscles, which get a workout stabilizing the head during athletic play. Sit or stand upright with shoulders relaxed. Inhale and raise both shoulders up toward your ears. Exhale and release shoulders down. Repeat for 2 sets of 10-12 reps. Shrugs reduce tension in the neck region.
The ability to look upwards is needed for proper sports posture and technique. Sit or stand upright with chin tucked slightly. Gently tilt your head back to look upwards, taking the crown of the head back towards the ceiling. Hold for 5 seconds. Complete 10 reps. This strengthens the neck extensor muscles.
Upper Trapezius Stretch
Tight trapezius muscles can limit neck mobility and cause muscle imbalances. Begin by tilting your head sideways to bring your ear closer to the shoulder on that side. Gently pull your head further sideways with your opposite hand to increase the stretch through the upper trapezius. Hold for 15-30 seconds. Switch sides.
Levator Scapulae Stretch
Like the trapezius, the levator scapulae muscles that run down the back of the neck must remain flexible. Tilt your head sideways to bring your ear down toward the shoulder. Reach the opposite arm behind your head and grasp it to gently pull the head diagonally downwards. Hold 15 seconds.
Chin to Chest Stretch
This targets tightness in the back of the neck. Sit or stand upright and tilt your head forward to bring your chin toward your chest. Use your hands to apply gentle pressure and increase the stretch. Hold for 20-30 seconds. Do 2-3 reps.
These “hold” exercises build neck muscle endurance. Start by gently pressing your forehead against your hand or a wall. Hold with slight resistance for 5-10 seconds. Slowly tilt your head so you feel tension on each side of your neck. Complete 3-5 sets of submaximal isometrics.
Attach a resistance band to a stable object at head level when seated. Face away and grasp the band. Pull your head back with controlled force working against the band. Do 2 sets of 12-15 reps. Bands provide adjustable resistance to strengthen neck muscles.
Always use appropriate form during these exercises. Move the head smoothly without jerky motions. Start with low resistance and minimal range of motion. Stop any exercise that causes pain or discomfort. Perform 2-3 sessions per week for optimal prevention and allow rest days in between. Proper neck conditioning enhances performance while helping minimize injury risk from the rigors of sports. Consult a physical therapist or athletic trainer for personalized guidance. With a neck exercise program tailored to your sport, you can keep your neck strong, mobile, and pain-free on the field.