A thick, strong, muscular neck is like a mane made of muscle.
A big neck looks intimidating, at least to me. If I see someone with a thick neck, automatically I think they’re involved in some sort of hard training…and that they’re probably strong.
Often the only muscle group that are visible when wearing everyday clothing is the neck. So why is it that most people seemed to be more concerned with their six pack abs, which are covered up by clothing (in public) most of the time, than their neck muscles which are usually visible?
These days, I don’t train for aesthetic reasons (that is, I don’t train for looks) with the exception of one body part: the neck.
Big muscles with a pencil neck just looks plain weird. Almost as weird as someone with a huge upper body and tiny legs. In my opinion, a pencil neck is just as bad as chicken legs.
Take a look at former NFL football player and former professional wrestler Bill Goldberg. On the left is how he normally looks. On the right, with the help of my horrendous photo editing skills, is how he would look if his neck were a little thinner:
Here's another example:
Which one looks more alpha to you?
This big-muscles-small-neck looks like a skinny person wearing a muscle suit.
From a functional standpoint, a strong neck has many benefits especially if you’re into martial arts such as boxing, Muay Thai, BJJ, wrestling, MMA, or contact sports like football or rugby. I used to do a bit of Muay Thai training, and regular neck training really helped when it came to clinching.
I haven’t experienced this myself, but apparently a strong neck will prevent injuries or concussions from blows to the head.
Unfortunately, the neck is a neglected body part by most people. Even for those who exercise for aesthetic reasons (bodybuilders), it’s not uncommon to see those who have huge, bulging muscles and a pencil neck, despite performing indirect neck work such as shrugs, rows and deadlifts.
So what’s the solution?
Direct neck training with a neck harness.
I’ve searched the internet for the best neck harness on the market. I wanted something durable so that it would last me many years. I also wanted something that was lightweight. I was living in Bangkok, Thailand at the time, walked to my gym in 35+ degree weather and did not want to be weighed down by heavy chains and leather.
I eventually came across a neck harness that was fit for demigods and created by the people who make equipment for the world’s strongest men:
The Headstrap Fit For Hercules neck harness is light weight, and made by Ironmind, who makes lifting accessories and equipment for the folks at the World’s Strongest Man events.
Unlike most neck harnesses which are constructed of leather, this one is made from some sort of super strong proprietary materials. I emailed them to ask what the headstrap was made of, but they wouldn’t tell me! But apparently this material is able to hold 1 ton (that’s 2000lbs, or 907.185kg). I’m assuming it’s similar to their lifting straps which are made of nylon.
Here’s a close up look at the strap:
It also does not have a chain attached to the harness.
These lightweight, but super strong materials made it easy for me to carry around in my bag.
According to Ironmind’s website, this harness should fit heads with a 20-26” circumference. My head circumference is about 24” and it fits me just fine.
The headstrap is adjustable through the use of an adjustable buckle. It is secured by double passing the strap through this buckle.
The top portion of the harness (the section that goes over your head) is very comfortable. It has some thin, blue padding along the inside of the headstrap, as shown below:
The ends of the straps are cut at an angle. There’s also a plastic coating that lines the edge of the strap, making it easy to weave the strap through the buckle. I’m also assuming it’s there to prevent any sort of fraying of the strap over time.
I don’t know much about stitching or threads, but the stitching on this harness looks very strong.
A unique feature on the Headstrap for Hercules neck harness that I haven't seen on other neck harnesses is the blue aluminum plate.
According to the manual:
Simply thread the red webbing through the round hole on the right side of the frame, stand up and lever your head toward the left shoulder (working the muscles on the leftside of your neck). To work the muscles on the right side of your neck, thread the red webbing through the round hole on the left side of the frame and lever your head toward your right shoulder.
I’ve found leaving the red strap in the center slot and rotating the headstrap so that the adjustable opening is facing the side works fine. This allows me to train the sides of my neck without having to adjust the red webbing every time.
How I Use The Ironmind Neck Harness
I’m going to explain to you how I use the Ironmind neck harness. There are 2 ways that I’ve used this neck harness:
- Attaching Olympic plates, and
- Connecting the harness to some cable machine.
Before getting into this, I’d like to touch on the manual that comes with the neck harness.
In the instructions, it says:
For maximum comfort when training the front or back of your neck, we recommend that the label on the headstrap be on the same side as the muscles you are training (i.e., keep the label side of the headstrap on the back of your head when you are training the back of your neck, and reverse it for the front of your neck), but some people don’t notice any difference. Another way to view this recommendation is to position the adjustable opening on your headstrap on the same side of your head as the weights.
Personally I found it more comfortable and effective doing the opposite: that is to position the adjustable opening of the headstrap on the same side as the muscles I’m training (rather than the label side).
Wearing A Beanie Cap
I prefer to wear a beanie cap (or toque) when using a neck harness. It’s a little bit more comfortable than using the neck harness by itself. Also, the sweat from my head will be absorbed by the hat, and not the harness, meaning the harness will remain cleaner and odor free a lot longer, and I don’t have to wash the harness as often (actually, I don’t recall ever washing this harness )
You can get cheap beanie caps at the dollar store around the fall and winter time. I’ve found that the tighter the hat, the better it is to use with the neck harness because it moves around a lot less compared to a loose cap.
Exercise While Standing
I also want to point out that I do all my neck exercises standing.
You’re using more muscles standing compared to sitting, and it’s more functional that way (at least in terms of clinching in martial arts).
Also, I’ve seen pictures and videos of people sitting and doing neck extensions, and it looks funny to me. It’s like they’re performing self fellatio or something.
Anyways, that being said, here’s how I use the Headstrap Fit For Hercules with plates, and cable machines!
Normally, you would undo the buckle of the red strap, weave the strap through the holes of the Olympic plate(s), and re-buckle the strap to secure the weight.
I have found this time consuming, having to undo, weave, and redo the buckle every time I changed the load. Another problem with doing this over and over again is that the plastic edge at the end of the red webbing will start to wear out:
The first thing I tried to make loading and unloading weights easier was looping the red strap into the holes of the Olympic plates (without unbuckling the buckle), and attaching 2 carabiners at the end of the red strap to prevent the plates from falling off.
It looks like this:
The problem with this is that the carabiner will wear out from rubbing against the metal plates.
The best solution I’ve figured out is to add a chain and carabiner.
Using a chain along with a carabiner makes adding and removing plates faster and easier. The length of the chain I am using is 30”, or 76.2cm. This allows me to weave the chain through multiple Olympic plates.
If you decide to go with chain and carabiner route, make sure you go with the ones that are designed for mountain climbers and able to hold thousands of pounds of force (it should have a kN rating), rather than a flimsy one with no specifications that you might get for free with a water bottle.
Now I can simply weave the chain in the holes of the Olympic plates, and secure it to the strap with a super strong carabiner. It’s quick and easy.
Some notes on using plates with the Ironmind neck harness:
For this variation, I make sure the length of the red webbing along with the chains is long enough so that the Olympic plate does not ram up into my testicles while performing standing neck extensions with this harness.
I lay the plates on a bench first, sit down on the plates, place the headstrap over my head and then stand up.
Performing standing neck flexion with the Ironmind neck harness will make the black straps on either side rub against your shirt. Baby powder could be applied to make it glide easier, but I have not tried this myself. Because of the rubbing of the strap, it’s a good idea not to wear your favorite shirt with some design on the back, because it may rub off.
Neck Lateral Flexion
While doing this, the blue aluminum plate will glide up and down the side of your shoulder. I’ve found that I need to wear a t-shirt while doing this exercise. The aluminum plate tends to “stick” to sweaty skin, so I do not do any neck training topless or with a tank top.
I’ve also experienced with heavier weights during neck lateral flexion, is that it turns into an isometric exercise for my neck, and most of the flexion is coming at the waist. It’s almost like a side crunch.
I used to do neck training on one of these Freemotion functional cable machines:
They were great because I could adjust the height of the pulley (I set it low for neck extensions, and at around chin level for both neck flexion and lateral flexion), and the weight stack made it quick and easy to change the weight.
The other option is to use a low pulley.
I purchased the lat pull down attachment for my Amstaff power rack specifically for neck training.
It’s plate loaded, and a whole lot easier than attaching plates to the harness directly. However it’s not as convenient as a cable machine with a weight stack and pin-selectorized weights.
Compared to plates, I find that the tension on my neck using cables is continuous, and it felt harder to do at the same weight (at least on the pulley attached to my rack) compared to hanging plates off the harness alone.
Here’s a video of me demonstrating how I use the neck harness along with the low pulley:
Again, I find that at heavier weights, lateral neck flexion becomes more of an isometric exercise for the sides of my neck, and the movement is more of a side crunch with cables.
- Light weight
- No chains (unless you attach your own)
- Super durable
- Cures pencil necks
- The adjustable buckle will gradually become loose, so you’ll need to re-tighten the neck harness from time to time.
- Most expensive neck harness on the market. But you get what you pay for.
- You may find that the top button on collared shirts will be difficult, if not impossible to button up.
In closing, whether you’re a martial artist, football player, training for strength or looks, you should be exercising your neck.
Don’t take my word for it; check out what other people have to say about the Ironmind Headstrap Fit For Hercules neck harness.
If you have any questions about the Ironmind “Headstrap Fit For Hercules” neck harness or neck training, just enter it in the comment box below.