The term ‘pencil neck’ always takes me back to those old Charles Atlas ads in the back of comics that had the skinny guy getting sand kicked in his face. They way they drew that poor guy with skinny arms, legs, and a tiny neck was meant to point out how much people prefer not to look like a ‘bag of bones’.
Part of getting rid of that look is building muscle everywhere including around the neck and shoulders.
For some reason there are concerns about working the neck muscles because people don’t want to overdevelop the area and become a ‘no-neck’. But that idea is fairly laughable because how often does it happen that you can quickly and easily gain muscle and size after only doing a few sets? Muscle gain is progressive and quite easily to monitor. It’s not like you can gain huge slabs of beef overnight.
The Importance of Neck Training
Aside from not being a pencil neck, you need to have strong neck muscles for a few good reasons:
- Injury Prevention
Those muscles are going to support and protect the spine and head. People complain about ‘tweaking’ their neck or other issues which in some cases wouldn’t happen if they had stronger neck muscles. Plus a balanced physique should have a strong neck and shoulders that matches the rest of the body, not a little pencil neck.
Neck exercises are great to do with either shoulders or a back workout and they tie into the trapezius muscle. To start with, use light weight because you do not want to overload these muscles.
- Shrugs – These are a great upper trapezius exercise. Using dumbbells gives a greater range of motion. Grab a pair of bells and hold them at your sides. Looking straight ahead, raise your shoulders up as high as you can and try to touch your ears. Hold for a slight pause and then lower slowly.
- Reverse High Rows – This is a favorite of old school bodybuilders and is great for the neck and traps. Grab a barbell off the rack behind your body with palms facing to the rear. With a shoulder-width grip, pull the elbows up and back to raise the bar as high as you can. Make sure to drop your chin a little and go slow to feel a good stretch and nice contraction.
- Front Rows – These are also called high pulls or upright rows. Use dumbbells for a more natural movement with the rotator cuffs. Slowly pull the weights up the front of the body to your upper chest keep the elbows out and up while looking forward. This is a great shoulder and trap exercise.
- Neck Raises – Older gyms used to have a neck harness but for those without you can just use a towel. Sit on a bench and roll up a towel the long way. Lean forward and bend your neck down. Place the towel over the back of the head on hold each end with a hand. Use your arms pulling down gently as resistance and slowly raise your head up and then back down to complete reps. You can do these to the side as well by simply pushing against the side of your head with a hand for resistance.
There you have it; four great exercises to help build up the neck muscles and traps to prevent the dreaded pencil neck syndrome from ever happening to you!