Strong Neck and Impressive Traps
You may not consider your neck the most important body part to
concentrate on in the gym, but you have at least three important
reasons to work it.
1) your neck muscles are responsible for your head movements, 2) well-developed neck muscles decrease your chances of suffering perhaps the most dreaded injury of them all— fracture of the cervical spine, and 3) your neck muscles are a key component of a strong and proud overall look.
The upper trapezius is attached to the base of your skull and the ligaments of your neck. Another back muscle that figures in neck development is the levator scapulae. It's mainly responsible for raising the scapula but it will also tilt your head back and raise your chin. The trapezius muscle is made up of 3 areas. The upper, middle and lower fibers. Each division performs a variety of functions.
Moving the shoulder blade towards the spine and up and down, rotating the shoulder blade so the topmost part of the upper arm faces up, moving the head and neck in a backwards direction, rotating the neck and bending it sideways. And also assists in breathing.
People who work in office environments (sitting at desks and in front of computers), or spend many hours driving, the upper trapezius can become very sore and painful. Exercise, of course, helps strengthen this area and prevents pain.
Most of the muscles that affect head movement are small and weak, but not the sternocleido-mastoid (1). It's the major muscle responsible for forward motion — or flexion — of your head. It starts at the clavicle (2) and works its way up to the mastoid process of the skull. The sternocleidomastoid is also a lateral flexor, allowing sideways movement, as are the scalenus medius (3) and the scalenus anterior (4). Backward motion (extension) is the work of a number of muscles, including the splenius capitis (5), the splenius cervicis (6), the four erector spinae muscles, the semispinalis cervicis and the semispinalis capitis (7).
Kinesiology & Physiology
The upper portion of the trapezius can be developed, by simply elevating the shoulders, with shoulder shrugs and upright rows movements.
The middle muscle fibers can developed by pulling shoulder blades together, with rowing exercises and deadlifts. It is common for those lacking experience and muscle knowledge to focus more on the upper portion of the muscle, and forget the important middle part, resulting in muscle imbalance. This can affect posture and compromise general shoulder health.
The lower part can be developed by drawing the shoulder blades downward while keeping the arms almost straight and stiff. This exercise can be done with a machine with an overhead cable and pull-down bar.
Stand erect, with your arms at your sides and a dumbbell in each hand. Let your head hang down and tuck your chin into your collarbone; don't force it. Droop shoulders down as far as possible. Raise your shoulders as high as possible. Hold at the top, then slowly return the weights to the starting position. Do not lean forward as you bring the weights down and avoid any rotation of the shoulder at the top of the movement.
Dumbbell Shrug Demonstration
Upright Barbell Row
Standing upright, grasp barbell with both hands about shoulder width apart. Let the bar hang down in front of you. Pull the bar in an upwards direction, just under your chin, keeping it close to your body. Concentrate on pulling with your traps. Lower slowly to the starting position. The same can be done with a Smith Machine. This exercise also works the shoulders.
Upright Barbell Row Demonstration
Stand straight, holding the barbell with both hands in front of you and your hands a little wider than shoulder width apart. Keep your feet at shoulder width. Droop shoulders down as much as possible to start, with the bar hanging at arms length. Raise your shoulders up as far as you can go as you would with the dumbbell shrug. Avoid any semicircular motion of the shoulders, go in the direction against the the force of weight and gravity. The same exercise can be done on a Smith Machine.
You can also do a Barbell Shrug Behind The Back with your palms facing backwards. "Shrug" your shoulders upward as high as you can. Best to have the barbell resting on a power rack or bench before you try to pick it up behind your back.
Barbell Shrug Demonstration
Machine Shoulder Shrug
You can work your work your traps without having to hold dumbbells or barbells. Position yourself on the calf machine, with the shoulder pads resting on your shoulders. Raise your shoulders up towards your ears and hold it for a second. Return slowly to the starting position and repeat.
Machine Shoulder Shrug Demonstration
One of the reasons your cervical spine (the part of the spine that makes up your neck) is vulnerable is that its seven vertebrae aren't as strong as the rest of the spine. But this fragility also allows the freedom of movement that lets you turn, shake and nod your head. The major neck exercises require movements in various directions. Most are done lying down to use gravity for resistance, but many use weights attached to a harness or a partner to provide resistance with his hands.
- Partner Assisted Lateral Flexion: In partner-assisted neck exercises, your partner supplies the resistance with his hands. Flexion means moving your head sideways against his resistance. He must allow you to move through the range of motion smoothly and slowly—about one to two seconds per repetition. He shouldn't resist so much that you have to strain.
- Partner Assisted Twists: Here you swing your head around rather than sideways. In both partner-assisted exercises, your partner must "feel" the amount of tension you develop against his slowly yielding resistance. Remember that the neck is vulnerable so approach these exercises carefully and without jerky movements. Don't overexert.
- Partner Assisted Flexion: Strengthening the flexors in front of the neck is the most effective way of preventing hyper-extension injuries. Have your partner offer smooth, easy resistance while you raise your head forward slowly and lower it. Repeat.
- Partner Assisted Extension: For extension strength, have your partner push against the back of your head with easy smooth resistance while you go through a full range of extension. Begin with your chin on your chest, and end with your head in line with your body
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