Neck training is more than just something wrestlers need to do. It’s just as crucial for jiu-jitsu, with a slightly different twist. But many people still neglect neck training, so I would like to stress how important it is and how to do it effectively.
To do proper neck training, you must cover different movement patterns using isometric holds, flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation. Developing good neck strength in all planes will help you suffer fewer injuries and enable you to resist hard chokes and attempts to break your posture.
If this concise explanation does not convince you, dive deeper into this article about neck training and learn how to build a tree trunk of a neck.
In recent years, I have seen a surge in BJJ neck exercise, not just in martial arts but in other sports and even among fitness enthusiasts. The benefits are many, from looking better aesthetically to negating neck pain caused by sitting in poor posture at the office to being less prone to knockouts.
As grapplers, having a strong and mobile neck is even more critical than it is for the general population and athletes from other sports. Let’s see why neck training for BJJ is crucial.
General Martial Arts Benefits
Many studies have been done on athletes from different fields evaluating the importance of neck strength in preventing concussions.
What has been common knowledge in boxing for ages is also generally proven by science- a stronger neck equals less chance of concussions. One study concluded that the odds of concussion incidence decreased by 5% for every one-pound increase in neck strength.
This applies to boxing, striking, football, soccer, and even car crashes. Maximal isometric strength is a key factor for some situations. But a strong neck prevents concussions and overall injuries from overuse, with the figures from this study showing a 33% reduction in sports injuries and a 50% reduction in overuse injuries.
But remember that another factor in this is the ability to develop this peak force quickly and in time with the traumatic incident.
But what does this mean for BJJ athletes?
Injury Prevention in BJJ
BJJ may not have striking, and this is great for the brain. Unfortunately, the neck gets a lot of abuse. It’s the target for constant attacks to break posture in all directions, and each choke puts pressure on it.
Things get even uglier when you reach the level where neck cranks are allowed. This means every ounce of strength and mobility will help you prevent injuries on the mats.
Resisting nasty chokeholds is not easy. Often enough, the choke does not completely close the carotid arteries, and you won’t go to sleep, but the feeling is still terrifying and painful.
Much of this resistance comes down to mental fortitude and judging when you can tough it out and when you are going to sleep. But the other part is having a strong neck.
Having strong neck and trap muscles greatly helps in resisting chokes and alleviating pressure. And let’s not forget that having a thick neck makes sinking in the choke more difficult for people not blessed with monkey arms.
Posture is a fundamental element of jiu-jitsu, and there is a constant offensive and defensive battle to break and keep a strong posture, respectively.
The head is the best lever to use to control the opponent’s posture, which means you are constantly getting pulled, pushed, and tugged. A good example is resisting collar ties or pushing with your head against an opponent’s chest when you go for a single-leg takedown.
This applies both to standing wrestling and to grappling on the ground. Isometric strength is vital for resisting attempts to break your posture and is something you must develop. While a good portion will come just from rolling, training the neck specifically will drastically speed up the process and build equal strength in all directions.
Neck training is much more than doing reps with a neck harness. The neck has a lot of functions, and it must be strong in all capacities including:
- Lateral flexion
- Multi-planar movement like rotation + extension
- Protraction and retraction
To be able to cover all of those movements, you will need to employ a varied training approach. The good news is that, even though there is a lot of ground to cover, neck training does not need to be too frequent or overly long.
A couple of training sessions a week of 15 minutes each should tick all the boxes and allow progress if you increase the resistance gradually (by adding more weight, reps, or holding isometrics for longer).
As I’ve just pointed out, isometric neck strength is vital for grappling and will get tested constantly.
There are a few ways to train it; the most popular is using bands. Just strap the band to a solid base and pull it with your head to a point where it offers good resistance. Make sure to hit all four directions. The length of the holds can vary depending on the resistance level, but you can start with 10 seconds and work towards at least 30.
Another way to use a band is in combination with a good neck harness with D-rings like the Iron Neck Alpha Plus harness. This is a more comfortable way to do it, allowing for much heavier bands.
The method to do neck isometrics without any equipment is to use your own hands. I like this method because it allows me to push much harder than what a band can offer, so it’s excellent for maximal effort sets.
Flexion and Extension
Neck flexion and extension can be performed by lying on a bench and holding a weight plate. This works in all directions and is very easy to do, but the drawback is that having a plate on your face is uncomfortable, and getting into position can be a hassle.
Later flexion is often overlooked, but it is just as crucial as flexion and extension for combat sports like BJJ.
For neck extension, the best option is always a neck harness because it allows you to load the exercise much heavier than you can if you have to hold a plate. The Iron Neck harness I mentioned in the isometric segment is the best one you can buy on the market, especially if you want to use heavy bands and weights.
The Iron Neck
If you are looking for an all-in-one neck training device and have the money for it, the Iron Neck 3.0 will be the one thing you need. The innovative halo designs allow you to train effectively in planes and range no other method can.
You can do isometric, mobility, and concentric exercises with the Iron Neck and even combinations of those in the same exercise. For example, Iron Neck 360 spins are like isometric holds with bands on steroids and hist every possible angle.
Then there are some super cool and effective exercises like the figure 8s, which build strength and stability through the entire range of motion of the neck.
Is BJJ Bad For Your Neck
To be honest, yes, BJJ is bad for your neck. You will have to use it to post on your head in certain positions, perform neck bridges, and push with it for takedowns.
You will inevitably be caught in tight chokes and nasty neck cranks, and you will resist an infinite number of collar ties and attempts to break your posture. So, it’s safe to say your neck will be tested.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be injured or suffer. If you train your neck correctly and develop adequate strength, mobility, and the ability to activate the strength at the right moment, the mentioned “tortures” from the previous paragraphs will feel much lighter and less unpleasant.
Neck Training For Jiu-Jitsu
Neck training should be a core part of the strength and conditioning routine of every jiu-jitsu practitioner, regardless of their level.
Developing strength and mobility through a combination of isometric and concentric exercises with the help of bands, harnesses, and more advanced training equipment will help you reduce injuries and improve your grappling game in many areas.
- Collins, C. L., Fletcher, E. N., Fields, S. K., Kluchurosky, L., Rohrkemper, M. K., Comstock, R. D., & Cantu, R. C. (2014). Neck strength: a protective factor reducing risk for concussion in high school sports. The journal of primary prevention, 35, 309-319.
- Lauersen, J. B., Bertelsen, D. M., & Andersen, L. B. (2014). The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. British journal of sports medicine, 48(11), 871-877.