No man deserves a neck that looks like a stack of dimes.
If your neck is lagging behind the rest of your body,
do something about it – now.
by Ellington Darden, Ph.D.
Get out your tape and stand in front of a mirror. Pass it around the back of your neck and bring it together in the front. Make sure the tape is slightly above, not below, your Adam's apple. Now pull it tight and take a measurement.
"If your neck is less than 15 inches," according to a vintage magazine advertisement, "then you're nowhere close to the powerful, assertive man you could be." Included was a picture of a guy with a strong confident look on his face and a thick full neck.
|This photo of Earle Liederman was used with the message |
above. Liederman, a professional strongman from the
1920s and 1930s, had a mail-order business that marketed
his bodybuilding books and courses. In his prime,
he weighed 180 pounds and had a 17-inch neck.
I probably saw that ad and photo in a sports magazine at our local newsstand in 1955 . . . because I recall riding my bicycle home, finding my mom's sewing tape, and measuring my neck. It was barely 12 inches in circumference and I weighed 110 pounds. I remember thinking . . . "I want a bigger neck."
The closing part of the magazine promotion said something along the lines of the following:
When you complete this plan . . . Your square shoulders and muscular neck will provide pep in your step, which will make you successful on the athletic field . . . as well as in the business and social world.
At 12 years of age, I didn't care much about the business and social world, but I yearned for success on the athletic field. I didn't have the money at that time to purchase Liederman's plan. A year later, however, a buddy of mine did send for the course, and another kid in our neighborhood ordered the Charles Atlas muscle-building material.
We were all in junior high school, and I can visualize the three of us pouring over the type-written booklets with much interest. One boy, who was skinner than me, kept noticing that Liederman's program eventually required the lifting of barbells and dumbbells – while the Atlas routine could be performed with no special equipment.
Liederman's course made a better impression on me than did the Atlas material. They both contained small instructional pictures within the text, with Liederman and Atlas doing their own modeling. The primary difference between the men was the size of Liederman's neck. It was significantly bigger than Atlas's.
I still remember that in Liederman's progressive routines, his last exercise was called the wrestler's bridge – and there was a small picture of him in an arched position, with only his head and feet touching the floor and a barbell across his chest. That got all of our attentions.
Liederman's muscular neck was calling . . . since each of ours' was thin and resembled a tall stack of dimes.
Later that same school year, a new football coach was hired in our small town in Texas, and he purchased a dozen barbell sets for the high school football team to use. Four of the barbells were passed down to the junior high school.
Our junior high school coach was a former army drill sergeant. In the spring of the year, he had our team divided into four lines, each behind a loaded barbell. He demonstrated and four of us performed. When an athlete finished doing 8 to 10 reps, he went to the back of the next line, and rotated through.
When we finished all four exercises, another four were demonstrated, and everyone progressed through these in a similar fashion.
We did the squat, straddle lift, pullover, curl, overhead press, deadlift, shoulder shrug, and neck bridge. In all, we did one set of 8-10 repetitions of 8 exercises, and it took an hour for 20 to 25 football players to move through the lines. Everyone, except me, disliked the neck bridge. I wanted a bigger neck, so I did the exercise enthusiastically.
That was my first taste, in the spring of 1957, of lifting weights. We continued those twice-a-week workouts for four weeks. After that, I did what I could at home, namely: pushups, chinups, and neck bridges. By the start of the next school year, my neck measured 13 inches and I weighed 120 pounds.
The following year, I saved my money and purchased a 110-pound barbell-dumbbell set and began setting up a gym in one corner of my parents' garage. Several other guys brought their barbells over to my place. I took metal shop in my freshman and sophomore years in high school and constructed more equipment, such as squat racks, bench press racks, lat machine, chinning bar, dip bars, and curling bench. Within six months, I had a nice home gym.
My quest was to get bigger and stronger primarily for football. In my high school, there were only a handful of guys who weighed at least 180 pounds, and there was only two who weighed 200 pounds or more. Both of them were fat. In 1960, a 200-pound high school football player, who was lean and muscular, was rare.
When I entered high school, my goals eventually were to weigh 180 pounds, have a 17-inch neck, and play football well. I had read enough about strength training to know that it would help me reach – and perhaps exceed – those goals. And I included the neck bridge into most of my routines.
My progress was as follows:
|Year ||Body Weight (pounds) ||Neck Size (inches) |
|1959, Freshman ||138 ||14.0 |
|1960, Sophomore ||155 ||14.5 |
|1961, Junior ||173 ||15.0 |
|1962, Senior ||191 ||16.5 |
As you can see from the above listing, my body weight and neck size increases were steady. By my senior year, my body weight was 191 pounds and my neck was 16.5 inches. I was pleased, but not satisfied. I have a long neck, and even at 16.5 inches, it still did not appear to have the fullness that Liederman's had.
There was also an important factor that contributed to a 1.5-inch improvement in my neck size before my senior year. My football coach at that time was Chuck York. York was into strength training and a believer in teaching the technique of using the head and helmet as a blocking and tackling device. Note: this technique is no longer taught. But in those days it was – and you were more successful in this endeavor if you had a big, strong neck.
With Coach York's help, I rigged up a football helmet with a metal pipe welded to a square plate and screwed onto the top of the headgear. I had seen a picture of a similar helmet in IronMan magazine. With a collar, you could then attach small barbell plates securely to the helmet, and exercise the neck progressively in four directions: back, front, left side, and right side.
That proved to be an excellent way to work the neck, much more so than the standard bridging from front to back and side to side.
A year later, I carried my helmet-neck devise to Baylor University, where I continued to play football and strength train. At Baylor there were a dozen football players who weighed over 200 pounds, but only two of them had really impressive necks.
The first was 6-feet 4-inches tall and weighed 238 pounds. His name was Bobby Crenshaw. He was a giant of a man, who played tackle. His neck had mounds of muscle on the backside that extended to the middle of his head. His neck must have measured at least 20 inches. He lifted weights regularly, but I never saw him do anything other than shoulder shrugs for his neck.
The second football player was Ernie Erickson, who played center and linebacker. Ernie was a good-natured country boy. He stood 6 foot 2 and weighed 218 pounds. Ernie's neck was full in the front and thick on the sides and probably measured 19 inches. I never saw Ernie do any neck exercises, but he told me he had done a lot of bridging in high school.
Overall, if you could have combined Crenshaw's backside development, with Erickson's front and sides, you would have had a 21-inch measurement. Both of those guys' large muscular necks inspired me greatly.
By the time I graduated from Baylor in 1966, I weighed 215 pounds and had a neck that measured a full 18 inches. And over that four-year period, my neck strength tripled in the amount of weight I could handle on my spiked helmet.
|My 1966 graduation picture from Baylor University |
revealed a bona fide 18-inch neck.
During the mid and late 1960s, I was into bodybuilding and powerlifting competitions – drug-free, I might add. When I entered graduate school at Florida State University in 1968, I continued bodybuilding, but without my helmet-neck devise. I gave my spiked helmet to a friend in Texas.
When I met Arthur Jones in 1970 and eventually became employed by him (Nautilus) in 1973, I had done no serious neck training during that intervening time. As a result, my neck size had atrophied to 16.75 inches.
In 1974, Jones researched, developed, and began manufacturing the Nautilus Neck machines, which consisted of seven exercises performed on three machines:
- 4-Way Neck: front flexion, back extension, left lateral contraction, right lateral contraction
- Rotary Neck: left rotation and left rotation
- Neck and Shoulder: shoulder shrug
Jones was a man after my neck . . . and many other necks. What amazing machines they were. If you've ever had a chance to use all three, back-to-back, then you know what it is to strength train your neck. If not, you simply can't appreciate proper neck work.
In only a short while, even though I then weighed less than 200 pounds, I got my neck up to 17.5 inches.
For at least a dozen years, these three neck machines were an important aspect in whole-body training – especially among many college and professional football players, as well as wrestlers. In my Nautilus books (The Nautilus Book, The Nautilus Woman, The Nautilus Handbook for Young Athletes), which were published in the early 1980s, I recommended that both males and females, young and old, exercise their necks at least once or twice a week.
Unfortunately, the Nautilus Rotary Neck machine went out of production in 1985, and it is rarely seen in use today. But if you can find one, try a set on it. You'll be in for a unique feel. The 4-Way Neck machine is still being manufactured today, and so are versions of the Shoulder Shrug machine.
In my latest book, The New Bodybuilding for Old-School Results, chapter 16 is devoted to an interview of Dan Riley. Riley has been a strength-training coach for 25 years; first with Penn State University, then with the Washington Redskins, and now with the Houston Texans.
Riley's number-one, strength-training priority for his NFL players is the neck. The neck is so important that all of Riley's athletes train their necks first. Yes, the initial thing they do when they enter the weight room is to perform five neck exercises: flexion, extension, lateral flexion left, lateral flexion right, and shoulder shrug. There are no exceptions.
In the Texans' facility, there are six Nautilus 4-way neck machines – which are constantly in use, both out of season, and especially in-season.
With a 4-way neck machine (several companies besides Nautilus now manufacture adequate versions), you can work your neck intensely, progressively, and safely . . . without the compression forces that occur with the neck bridge. The 4-way neck machine is a great addition to any HIT routine.
If you don't have access to a neck machine, then you may want to invest in a sturdy neck harness, or even try to find a spiked helmet. I've seen both of them advertised on the Internet.
Dan Riley also describes on the Houston Texans' Web site (www.HoustonTexans.com) how to work with neck manually and with the assistance of a partner. Click into the fitness section and go into the "neck routine." With a little practice, you can get a productive neck workout with hand resistance.
|Dan Riley wants all his football players to be fully rested and |
to focus intensely on the execution of each repetition of each
neck exercise. As a result, neck work is performed
at the beginning of all routines.
Throughout the last 30 years, I've consistently worked my neck. Currently, with my 4-way neck machine, I do the front and back movements only, once a week . . . for three consecutive weeks. Then, I do the side contractions once the following week. At a body weight of 186 pounds, such a routine has kept my neck at a respectable 16.25 inches.
While my neck is not in competitive football condition, it is still big enough to provide plenty of pep in my step and success in both the business and social world.
My old friend, Vic Tanny, who I talk about in chapter 19 of The New HIT, used to say: "Nothing sets a man apart from his competition like a full neck."
Is your neck lacking in muscular size and strength?
It's time to invest in your neck wisely . . . and . . . turn that weak stack of dimes into solid silver dollars.