The neck bridge exercise has been used for years as a main exercise to strengthen the neck muscles, especially in various sports such as wrestling and boxing. If you look at some vintage boxing and wrestling videos, you’ll see many high-level fighters performing the classic neck bridge. The reasoning is good, you should develop the neck muscles and strength to prevent concussions and heavy impact from strikes and to resist breaking posture in grappling. But the health benefits for the neck are debatable.
I have a couple answers that will depend on your health and current situation to answer the question “Should I do neck bridges?”. But let me get into more information on the neck bridge and its possible downsides first, then I will answer the question everyone wants to know.
Neck bridging has been known to put your neck in the same position which has been shown to be responsible for a higher frequency of neck injuries. Both the axial compression and the shear force that occurs during the neck bridge may make it easier for a neck injury to occur or to worsen a neck injury.
Also neck bridges will help develop a powerful neck which you will mainly need for sports, more particularly, combat sports such as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Wrestling, Boxing, Muay Thai, MMA, Judo, Sambo and so on. These high-level sports, even football, require a strong and healthy neck. So, developing the muscles and strength for your neck is important. But what if you don’t do these sports or worse, what if you have an injury? I’ll give you an answer for this situation now. If you have an injury and you’re not fully healed, do not do neck bridges, consult with your doctor or physical therapist and work your way up if you really want to do the neck bridge exercise.
What is the Neck Bridge Exercise?
There are many ways to perform the neck bridge, but the most common and usual way is to have your back facing the ground while balancing the top of your head on the floor and pushing your feet on the ground. Your entire body weight should be supported by the feet and the head.
As a beginner or person in rehab for a neck injury you may find this neck bridge exercise tough, so you can put your hands on the ground neck to your head to provide some extra support, take it easy at first. Beginners usually start with the static neck bridge, holding the same position on the top of your head for a period of time and then resting and doing it again, basically in reps. Each time you rest and start again, you can count that as a new rep.
You’ll see neck bridging extremely popular in sports such as wrestling or many other grappling arts, even in boxing. The most known fighter to do it is Mike Tyson. It helps protect them from danger or getting pinned in wrestling or knocked out in a fight. But the main question is, what if you don’t do any sports? What if you are a normal person? Or what if you are injured? Or what if you’re recovering from a neck injury?
I suggest you first talk to your doctor, the neck is a very sensitive thing and you can damage yourself for life, take it from me, I have 2 slipped discs due to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Wrestling training and from not taking care of myself, the discs push against my nerve and I need surgery for my neck, until then I am forced to manage my neck pain and injury in a smart way or risk further life damage to my neck. This is why I am writing these posts about neck health, for all of you.
If your doctor says it’s okay, start very slow, use your hands for extra support and don’t push yourself too hard while doing the neck bridge. Also focus on your diet and make sure you’re getting enough protein every day to supplement your training and muscle growth. Also supplement this neck bridge training with neck stretches every time you finish training.
Why is neck bridging dangerous?
Neck bridging combines axial loading, which is basically a compression force on your spine and shear force, which is side to side force. The problem with axial compression on the neck is it will cause the loosening of cervical spine ligaments. When you add shear forces alongside of this, the risk of soft tissue injuries will increase.
Additionally, many people run into neck problems from poor posture cause by things like a desk job or just sitting in front of a computer too much or even looking down at their phone for too long. This forward movement of the head will often cause rounded cervical spine in the flexed position. This will often lead to neck pain, headaches and even to spine and disc problems which is something you obviously do not want.
The neck bridge usually compounds this position with the heavy load of your body weight all balanced on the neck. If you combine this with bad habits I mentioned above or with the heavy toll sports take on your body, especially on your neck, this will make things much worse for your neck’s health. This is not how we want to approach neck strengthening, we want to make ourselves stronger without injuring the neck.
What I mean is, you want to feel stronger and more amazing after the neck training. Performing the right neck exercises with proper form can help get rid of pains or reduce them at the least.
What is an alternative to the Neck Bridge?
I have two neck exercises I want to share with you which have helped me greatly strengthen my neck safely. The first neck exercise can be done without weights and once you feel your neck has gotten stronger, you can add some weights, even if you have no weights you can use something like a book with decent weight (NOT TOO MUCH!) or even a gallon of water (or milk?).
For this first neck exercise, lay flat on your stomach on a bench with your head hanging off the edge and lift your head up until it aligns with your spine and make sure you keep your chin tucked in, pretend you’re trying to touch your chest with your chin. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds, then release and go back down and rest. That was 1 rep. Do this for at least 10 reps.
Once you feel comfortable with this, you can take a small weight, book, gallon of water, anything you have, and hold it on top of your head. If you can, push the weight down on your head a bit for a little bit more resistance, now do the same neck exercise again. If at any point you feel pain in your neck, stop this neck exercise right away.
This neck exercise is pretty simple, but it utilizes a neck harness and it’s something you should invest in, because it will make your lives much better and much easier for neck training. With this tool, you strap the harness around your head and it has a chain that is hanging, you will attach a small weight to this chain to start and move your head up and down, you’ll feel your neck being worked.
If you feel any pain at any moment in the neck, STOP and consult a doctor. DON’T try to push yourself hard, move up in weight very slowly and keep in contact with your doctor about any neck issues.
As long as you keep the load light on these neck exercises as part of your warm-up, you should not run into any neck issues like fatigue-related problems in training. If you want to perform your neck training after a martial arts session or as a standalone workout, then you can look to add more volume in reps or sets.
If you have no neck injuries and just want to strengthen your neck, then feel free to add weight, but make sure you use proper form and take it easy, if you sacrifice form you will hurt your neck and you don’t want a neck injury, trust me. Start light, get the form down, then slowly move up and you’ll be fine.
What are the benefits of Neck Bridges?
Stronger neck, able to become more injury prone if done correctly, improved posture, build a strong posterior chain and builds core strength.
Are Neck Bridges safe?
As long as neck bridges are performed safely with correct form and you’re healthy with no neck injuries or if you have neck injuries but the doctor gives you permission, then they are safe. But please start slow and keep in touch with your medical professional if you have any neck injuries you’re dealing with.
Should I do Neck Bridges?
Now the golden question. As I said in the beginning, I have multiple answers for situations. Let’s go through them.
- Are you perfectly healthy with no neck injuries? Yes, neck bridges are safe, make sure you study the form and start slow, use your hands as support if you must. Slowly build up to the full Neck Bridge but focus on the form first.
- Do you have a previous neck injury? If you do, consult with your medical professional, if they give you permission and say its okay, then yes, it is fine, but start very slow and listen to your body. If they say no, then obviously don’t do it. Listen to your doctor.
- Are you currently dealing with a neck injury? I’d probably steer clear from neck bridges for a while and use the alternative workouts I mentioned, but like I said with everything so far, start slow and listen to your body.
Looking for lighter neck exercises and stretches?
Look no further, we got you covered!