Engaging Your Neck

You may have heard the phrase, “Where the head leads, the body follows” at some time or another and this rings very true in jiu-jitsu, whether you’re on the offensive or defensive side of things during sparring or competition. In terms of offense, with a strong neck you are able to better control your opponent by placing your head at particular angles during takedowns and guard passes, and maintaining proper posture to boost balance and power, so you don’t get snapped downward. On the flip side, if you have a weak neck that is easily pushed aside, you’re more than likely on the receiving ends of these same moves. This is just the actual grappling portion, but greater neck strength also helps with injury prevention. Here are a few exercises that are readily available that can assist with strengthening your neck, while allowing muscles to feel relaxed.


Basic Exercises
The following are exercises that can be performed anywhere with relative ease that require no equipment whatsoever. While these exercises will not strengthen your neck as much as other exercises, they provide better stretching possibilities for loosening up your neck so you don’t have that stiff “Incredible Hulk” feeling between your neck and trapezius muscles.


Neck Rotations

1. Tuck your chin down toward your chest.

2.Begin to slowly look to your right side letting your chin glide along your body to your collarbone, then upward and past it.

3. Keep rotating your neck clockwise in a circular motion, through the midpoint of you looking upward.

4. Still going clockwise, you will be looking to the left; your chin should be going downward, gliding against your body, past your collarbone, and to the starting position.

Note: In the fitness world these aren’t called “neck rotations” (Look Side To Side is); however, I feel the name suits them better because of the movement.

Note: In the fitness world these aren’t called “neck rotations” (Look Side To Side is); however, I feel the name suits them better because of the movement.


[row][double_paragraph]02Up Downs

1. Start again with your chin tucked down toward your chest.

2. Begin by slowly lifting your chin upward and extend your neck, until you are looking up. Hold for 1-3 seconds.

3. Slowly bring your chin back down to the original starting point.[/double_paragraph][double_paragraph]Look Side To Side

1. With your head at a neutral position, turn it to your right and hold for 1-3 seconds.

2. From there, turn your head slowly to the left, hold for 1-3 seconds, then turn your head back to the neutral starting position.

03[/double_paragraph] [/row]


Side Bends

1. As in the previous exercise start with your head in a neutral position.

2. While looking forward the entire time, bend your neck towards your right and bring your ear toward your shoulder. Hold for 1-3 seconds.

3. Begin going the opposite way so that you’re bending your neck toward your left, bringing your left ear toward your shoulder and hold for 1-3 seconds.


PRESCRIPTION: Perform each exercise for 10 repetitions in each direction, totaling 80 altogether; one or two times per day. Move slowly, concentrating on working through the entire range of motion during the movements.


Adding Props
With the use of either a stability ball or CXT (Combat X Trainer; see the review on page 98) you can actually mimic grappling movements that you perform during your sparring sessions or in competition. These exercises are more isometric or static in nature, but you’ll find that your neck really has to contract the entire time in order to control each of these. If either the stability ball or CXT drops downward then you aren’t using the strength of your neck and forward pressure it along with your head can create properly. If you’re using a stability ball you will have to use a little bit of imagination in regard to hand coordination. The CXT provides a better reference in terms of grip location as compared to the stability ball due to attached limbs that can be controlled. However it is also more of a challenge on the second movement because the head portion that you are pressuring into is much smaller in area than an entire ball, as well as it’s much heavier. This forces you to maintain a greater amount of forward pressure to keep it on the wall.


Double Leg Takedown
Sometimes people fail when applying the double leg takedown simply because they don’t use their heads and necks properly. When you trap your opponent’s hip with your head while pushing into their side, it allows your opponent no space to make his counter or sprawl more difficult and forces his body into the direction you want to take it. This drill helps you work that while strengthening your neck and making it harder for your opponent to move your head.


1. Position yourself so that your right knee is on the mat, your left leg posted, with an upright back posture, your body turned sideways toward the wall. Place the bottom portion of the ball between the wall and the right side of your head.

2. With your feet remaining in the same position, squat with your legs and push the ball into the wall with the side of your head, looking up. The ball will roll down toward your shoulder.

3. When fully upright, your left foot should be planted firmly and you should be up on the toes of your right foot.

4. Keep the pressure the entire time using your neck. Now, perform the eccentric motion of the squat by lowering yourself to the same starting position; the ball will roll upwards.[/third_paragraph][paragraph_right]05a



06Head Control with Under Hook
This is a wrestling-based move that can also be used in jiujitsu or MMA. It allows for numerous possibilities such knee tap takedowns, short throws, transition to a front headlock, knees, etc. With the exception of hand placement, your head is also in this position during certain guard passes that require you to drive forward into your opponent.

Prescription: You can perform these drills timed (1-3 sets of 1 minute) or by repetitions (1-2 sets of 25 reps on each side).




1. From a standing angled position with your left leg forward, place the stability ball/CXT against the wall. Now position the top of your forehead against the stability ball/CXT and drive into it. With a stability ball you will have to simulate your under hooks and wrist control.


2. If you are using the CXT you can under hook the right arm, control the left arm with your right hand (wrist control) and place the top of your forehead against the head of the CXT.


3.  Go from side to side, alternating the stance of your legs and arm movements (under hooks and wrist control) to the opposite upon each switch.



Using A Partner
If you don’t have the funds to purchase equipment, another option would be to have a partner helping you by providing resistance for your neck. This is a simple, yet effective way to gain neck strength. In the movement described advise your partner to provide some resistance, but not an overwhelming amount.


Head Tie

1. Tuck your chin to your chest and allow your partner to grab the back of your head.

2. Keeping your upper torso still, raise your chin and begin looking up until your neck can move no further.

3. Repeat steps 1-3 for 15-25 repetitions, then ask your partner to switch hand grips and do another 15-25 repetitions.


Note: The slight differences and the angle at which your partner grips your head with each hand causes you to work more on one side, so it’s important to perform repetitions on with both hands.


These are just a few of the many types of remedies available for a weak neck in order to create a strong one. Remember, having a strong neck can help you in every position in jiu-jitsu, rid you of discomfort in your trapezius muscles and either prevent injury or help you recover from one quicker. So, in the words of the Wu, “Protect Ya Neck!”



Travis began his love for grappling and fitness more than ten years ago here in Southern California and has turned that passion into a career helping Mike steward this fine publication. He has been training jiu-jitsu since 2009 under John Munoz at C-quence JJ/MMA in Norco, CA.

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