Are you leaving neck exercises out of your workout routine? Here’s why you shouldn’t…
By Sakshi Udavant
Our heads are estimated to weigh around 10 pounds. When we slouch in front of our laptops for hours, our spines struggle to bear this weight, which can cause pain in the neck and the back.
That’s where neck exercises can help. But many workout routines ignore this important area of our bodies.
WHY ARE NECK EXERCISES NEGLECTED?
‘It can be tempting to prioritise the larger areas of our bodies while working out, such as our abs and thigh muscles, because we feel more sensation there and so can “see” results – six-packs, bulging biceps, etc.,’ says Jess Parkinson, registered yoga teacher and founder of From the Heart Yoga and Well-Being.
‘On the other hand, smaller (but still important!) areas like the neck and wrists take more time to strengthen, without offering immediately visible results. So “quick-hit” workouts tend to ignore them,’ she adds.
But the longer we neglect exercising the neck muscles, the stiffer they become, yoga teachers and fitness trainers warn. The neck is the prime connection between your head and the body, so maintaining some mobility and strength in the surrounding muscles is important for healthy functioning, reducing back pain and minimising the risk of spinal injuries.
But if you haven’t been exercising your neck so far, don’t worry – you still have time. ‘We’re malleable and fluid beings that can regain what has been lost,’ says Kira Sloane, yoga teacher and president of Yoga Anytime, an on-demand yoga platform.
So, where to start?
How to start stretching your neck? Here are some simple steps you can follow to incorporate neck stretches into your existing workout routine:
Breathe Into Your ‘Endpoints’
Start slowly, advise most experts we spoke to. You don’t want to injure yourself, so it’s best to take it one step at a time.
‘Begin by checking your extension, flexion, and lateral ranges,’ Kira suggests. ‘Gently turn your head to each side and notice endpoints. Draw chin to chest to check neck flexion and gently look up towards the ceiling to check the range of extension. Simply spending a little time every day with these four directions, holding at the endpoints and breathing, will make a world of difference if you have been neglecting neck exercises for long.’
Perform Simple Neck Stretches During Screen Breaks
Whenever you step away from your computer, try doing simple neck stretches to maintain mobility in your neck, shoulders, and upper back. Here are two Jess suggests:
‘A favourite of mine is the lateral flexion of the neck, or simply the lowering of the ear towards the shoulder,’ she tells us. ‘Keeping the shoulders level (hold onto the bottom of a chair or a similar object), simply allow the weight of the head to increase the stretch over time. Hold for 1–2 minutes on each side.
‘Another is interlacing the fingers behind the back of the head and gently drawing the chin back to elongate the neck and push the head gently into the hands behind. You can also do this against a wall, without the hands, to find retraction of the neck/cervical spine.’
Be Gentle With the Process
It can be tempting to step outside your comfort zone early in your practice to see how far you can go. But vigorous, exaggerated movements aren’t necessarily better.
‘Don’t push yourself into anything that feels sharp or painful,’ says Felicity Pryke, a yoga instructor specialising in mindful yoga. ‘Take it slow and stay mindful, noticing how the whole movement feels – not just the extreme endpoints.’
The best part about practising these stretches is that you don’t need a separate workout session to engage your neck muscles. ‘Don’t put pressure on yourself to always do an hour,’ Felicity says. ‘Just a few minutes every hour will keep you feeling physically and mentally refreshed throughout the day.’