When I first started Brazilian Jiu Jitsu I had a rough time in many areas, which is completely normal. But one area I had to deal with, was pain, specifically in the neck. After training as consistently as I did, my neck would get sore, due to rear naked chokes, guillotines, and d’arce chokes. This is when I wondered “how do I strengthen my neck for bjj?”. At this point I quickly began researching and studying to learn. I have learned a lot since then and more than the average person due to my experiences.
A few years ago during training I unfortunately had a neck injury happen out of the blue. Sadly when I went to the doctors I found out I had a herniated disc in my neck. From this point I began going to physical therapy and taking even more care of my neck than ever before. I had to strengthen my neck for bjj and in general because I had to manage pain and keeping my neck strong. Because of this training I was able to continue lifting weights and training not only Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but also Mixed Martial Arts, which included Muay Thai and Wrestling in my game.
To strengthen the neck for BJJ its best to combine exercises with stretching. Doing this with ensure you have a strong, flexible, and overall healthy neck that will be prepared to handle the stress combat sports can put on your neck. Its best to start with bodyweight then add weights once you become strong enough. After each training session it is best to do neck stretches to speed up recovery and prevent stiff necks.
Now I will show you how I strengthen my neck for BJJ. I’ve used these methods for years and it has allowed me to train despite my injuries in weight lifting and combat sports.
Lying Neck Curl
This exercise can be done with weights and without weights. I recommend when starting to not use weights at all until you build up your neck strength. Build a strong foundation and then add weights to become stronger. This was my rule for how I strengthen my neck for BJJ.
Lay down on a flat bench or any elevated flat surface you have and make sure your head is hanging off the edge of the surface. Make sure you’re laying on your back. If you’re using a weight, I suggest a weighted plate, you can start with a 5 pound or 10 pound and add a towel around it for comfort. Place the weight on your forehead. You can also do this with no weight, remember, it doesn’t take much to train and strengthen the neck. When I began to strengthen my neck for BJJ I didn’t use any weight, then when I got into weights it was very light and it still had a great effect on my neck strength.
Now while either holding the plate on your head or while using no weight, lift your head up and try to bring your chin to touch your chest, hold for 2 seconds, then go back down to the starting position. Do this for 6 to 8 repetitions.
You should feel this exercise working the front areas of your neck.
Lying Neck Extension
This will be very similar to the above exercise. While laying on a flat bench, you will be laying flat on your stomach this time, make sure your head hangs off the edge of the surface. If you are using weights, make sure you hold them tight and place them onto the back of your head. Wrap them in a towel for extra comfort. Try to push the weight down just a bit on your head to add some extra resistance. It is also perfectly fine to use no weights, I did this to strengthen my neck for BJJ and even while recovering from my neck herniation in physical therapy.
Now lift your head up and keep your chin tucked in, if you do this correctly, your neck and head should be aligned straight at the top of the movement. Hold this for 2 seconds, then go back down to starting position and relax. Do this for 6 to 8 repetitions.
You should feel this exercise working the back of your neck.
Neck Side Raise
So far we have targeted the front and back areas of your neck directly. You should feel your neck being worked from these exercises since they directly target your neck. For the next exercise we will target the sides of the neck. This exercise will need to be done twice, once for each side of the neck.
Lay down on your side, you can choose whichever side you want to start with. Add a weighted plate, on your head, its recommended to wrap it in a towel for comfort. In this position you can only hold the weight with 1 hand, so make sure you press the weight down a bit to keep it in place and keep yourself safe. Lift your head towards the shoulder that is pointing up at the sky. Try to touch your ear with your shoulder, you don’t need to actually touch them but just get as close as you comfortably can. Hold this position for 2 seconds and go back to the starting position. Do this for 6 to 8 repetitions.
Make sure you turn to the other side once you finish this set, then do this exercise to target the other side of your neck too. I recommend lowering the weight for this exercise, it will hit the sides of your neck hard and usually this muscle isn’t as powerful or worked as often as the other neck muscles. Lowered weight or no weight at all will still have a great effect, if not better on the neck.
I highly recommend this exercise, not only in general, but for anyone practicing combat sports, especially Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This exercise will not only build the muscles around your neck, which is called the trapezius, but it will build your forearm and grip strength greatly. This will have a significant impact on your training. You will not only have a more protected neck because you are building the muscles around the neck, but you will have a powerful grip. For anyone who practices Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in the Gi, you will know how important grip strength is. Grip strength will greatly benefit anyone in No-Gi also, along with Wrestlers.
I am speaking from experience, it has greatly helped my Wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which is why whenever anyone asks me “how do I strengthen my neck for bjj?” I always recommend this exercise.
Now, to do this exercise it is fairly simple. Grab a pair of weights, I suggest dumbbells but I have also used large gallons of water or anything you can grip, make sure the pair of weights you choose are even in weight. So if you choose gallons of water or anything like that, make sure they have similar weight. Now grip them tightly and just walk around with them. Walk while holding these weights for a set distance or I personally like to walk for a set amount of time.
Usually I’ll do it for 5 to 10 minutes, or until I am close to losing grip of the weights. I set them down and relax, then go again. I usually go for 3 to 5 repetitions and relax. By the end of this you should feel it in your traps and forearms. This is an exercise I recommend doing often, I personally do these very often to, not only to strengthen my neck for BJJ, but for my overall strength.
This is another simple and effective exercise that will target the trapezius, the muscle around your neck. Building this muscle is vital to having a powerful neck, as it will help support the neck and keep it safe. This exercise is another one of my key exercises I use to strengthen my neck for BJJ. Doing this exercise is very simple and will require weights.
Grab 2 sets of dumbbells, if you have other weights that will be great, make sure they are similar in weight. Growing up I couldn’t afford any dumbbells, so when my grandmother came to visit, I’d use her suitcases since they were similar in weight, close to 50 pounds, I’d either pick up one or if she had 2 small ones I’d use those, since they were usually around 25 pounds. I’d lift those every day to build up my trapezius muscle.
To do this exercise, grab the 2 weights, one in each hand. Now make sure you’re standing with good posture, straight while having your head and neck aligned straight with your body. Pull your shoulders back and try to squeeze your shoulder blades to bring them closer together. Hold this position and try to bring your shoulders up to ear level.
Picture yourself saying “I don’t know” and making the shoulder gesture. You don’t need to bring them all the way up to the ears, just as far as you can go. Hold this position for 2 seconds, then go back down. Do this for 8 to 12 repetitions and then relax and do it again for another set. I recommend doing 3 sets of these, 8 to 12 repetitions each.
These are the main exercises I use to strengthen my neck for BJJ. If you use all of these exercises regularly, you have great results. I have been using these exercises to strengthen my neck for BJJ for years and it has had great results. The main suggestion I have is to always keep an eye on your form, do not ego lift and use bad form because you can end up hurting or damaging your neck.
I recommend stretching after each training sessions, this includes sports and neck training. It will help your recovery and overall health for your neck. It will also improve neck flexibility and prevent many injuries. Check out some great articles below to learn some effective neck stretches!
Here are some great articles and a great video I recommend for anyone trying to learn more about neck exercises, including for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but these can be applied for any sport.