Your neck muscles move your head through various ranges of motion—extension, forward flexion, lateral flexion and rotation—that you use on a daily basis. You can strengthen these muscles by performing resistance exercises. This will help them function more effectively and prevent neck pain, which can be very debilitating. There are a variety of exercises you can perform to strengthen your neck.
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Neck extension allows you to move your head to look upward. For this exercise, you manually provide resistance against this range of motion. To perform the exercise, place your hands behind your head and extend your head backward, but resist with your hands to make your neck muscles work harder than normal. After fully extending your head, return to the starting position and repeat for your desired number of repetitions.
Neck Forward Flexion
Neck forward flexion strengthens the muscles that bend your neck forward so you can look downward. To do the exercise, hold your head in a neutral position and place your hands against your forehead. Then flex your head forward, but provide resistance with your hands. Once your chin touches your chest, reverse back to neutral and repeat for as many repetitions as you want.
Neck Lateral Flexion
Your neck also functions to flex your head from side-to-side so your ears move toward your shoulders. Neck lateral flexion works the muscles that facilitate this motion. To perform neck lateral flexion, place your left hand on your head above your left ear and slowly flex your neck to the left against light resistance from your hand. Repeat for your desired number of repetitions and then switch sides.
Neck rotation involves turning your head to look to either side of your body. To strengthen the neck muscles that contract to rotate your head, first place your right hand against your right cheek and temple. Then turn your head to the right so your chin moves over your right shoulder, but resist this motion with your hand so your neck muscles have to contract more forcefully than normal. Repeat for as many repetitions as you want and then perform the exercise by rotating your head to the left against resistance from your left hand.
Isometric Neck Exercises
Each of the aforementioned exercises can also be performed isometrically—without any motion. The isometric method is preferable if you suffer from neck pain or stiffness because moving your head through ranges of motion may worsen your condition. Perform isometric neck exercises as recommended above, but apply enough resistance with your hands so your head does not actually move and hold for at least 5 seconds per exercise.