In this article, I want to lay out the multiple reasons why having a strong neck is important for hockey athletes and then also include a neck workout for you to follow so you can start receiving all of the benefits of neck training for hockey.
Why Alignment is Crucial
If progress in your off-ice hockey training comes to a halt for an extended period of time even though both your training and nutrition are on point, it’s not unreasonable at all to suggest that there may be an issue with your neck alignment.
One of the biggest causes of poor neck alignment is having a forward head posture for extended periods of time throughout the day.
This is very prevalent in office jobs, but probably the worst offender in this category is the wild overuse of smartphones and video gaming consoles.
The amount of hours the current generation spends on these things is borderline insanity all by itself, let alone what negative implications can result in your hockey performance from the structural issues that come along with it.
Although, it should be mentioned that another major cause of poor neck alignment is when you perform BB shrugs with poor technique.
Specifically, if you’re one of these people who try to “roll” their shoulders during the shrug and/or if you tilt your head forward during the shrug — you have to stop. This dysfunctional cervical posture can cause impingements of cervical nerves (C5, C6, and C7 to be precise) that can impair neural drive to muscle tissue elsewhere in the body.
Yes, you read that correctly — poor neck alignment can lead to your body “turning off” certain muscle groups in the body that are associated with that nerve ending.
That’s very, very powerful stuff that could hold back any hockey player no matter how excellent their program design is.
Connecting the Dots
To drive this point home, I want to use some examples so you can get an idea on just how important this really is for your hockey performance.
The musculoskeletal nerve which innervates the long and short heads of the biceps as well as the brachialis originates from the C5-C7 nerve roots.
The radial nerve, which innervates the medial, long, and lateral heads of your triceps arises from the C6 to the T1 nerve roots.
From this type of knowledge, you can begin to structure the argument very clearly that your arm strength and arm growth can suffer dramatic performance reductions/training plateaus if these areas in your neck aren’t healthy and functional.
Furthermore, the long thoracic nerve located within the C5-C7 innervates the serratus anterior muscle. The serratus is a very important stabilizer of your shoulder blades and it functions to hold the blade up against your ribcage wall.
If this is weakened because it’s not being activated from the nervous system, you get those “winged out” looking shoulder blades that disrupts the structural balance you need within your shoulders to prevent injury and maximize your shot power.
Beyond this, once structural imbalances occur other muscles need to “pick up the slack” where the muscle that is not being activated is currently not doing its job.
Then, when other muscles start trying to do two jobs at once (their original function plus trying to function as a compensation mechanism for the muscle that is currently not activating) they can become inflamed over time and result in tendonitis of the local muscle.
If your neural drive is sub-optimal, much of your time in the gym can be wasted. Simply put, if you can’t properly contract a muscle group it’s going to be impossible to train it to any measurably effective degree.
If you suspect this is happening, I highly suggest consulting with a sports physiotherapist or an osteopath who is competent in manipulation and mobilization techniques to realign your neck.
And, if they understand strength and conditioning (specifically the demands of hockey), that’s a major bonus towards your development as greater attention to detail will be happening in all of the right places.
Although, you can still improve neural drive by reducing what’s known as “compression” within your vertebrae using ELDOA or Hockey Yoga.
The Importance of Posture
Not only is neck strength protective against concussions, but, the neck is an area of training that is often neglected that can help with your overall strength gains.
The neck extensor muscles improve whole body strength indirectly through improving your postural alignment.
Improved postural alignment is an excellent way to improve muscle fiber recruitment in all of your main compound lifts (through similar neural drive mechanisms discussed above).
Using the exercises and workout in the video at the bottom of this article is a great place to start.
But in a more complete view, a good time to start training the neck muscles is during a “Structural Balance” phase when we are trying to correct muscle imbalances and work on specific weaknesses — Just like Phase 1 in the Off-season Domination program.
In addition to the workout I am providing for you below, another great way to incorporate neck work into your plan is to superset it with your lower trap work.
A1: Lying supinated neck curls: 3 x 8 with 0secs rest
A2: Prone Trap-3 raise: 3 x 10/arm with 90secs rest
The neck is just like any other muscle group, people are just afraid to train it because it’s your neck. But, there is no question that if you do not train it then you are leaving a hole in your training approach.
Neck Workout for Hockey Players
The health of your neck improves neural drive, and the strength of your neck helps lock your head in place to prevent against concussions out on the ice.
Those two reasons alone are more than enough to start getting a little smarter about your neck training from this point moving forward. Here’s a great workout you can incorporate once per week to get the ball rolling:
A: Lying supine neck curls – 3 x 10 with 60 secs rest
B: Lying prone neck curls – 3 x 10 with 60 secs rest
C: Side-lying neck curls – 3 x 10 with 60 secs rest
D: Isometric band resistance hold – 3 x 20 secs with 60 secs rest
*Be sure to start with very light resistance – not much resistance is needed for neck training!
You can watch the full video demonstration of this workout here:
At the end of the day, hockey is a total body sport and because of this no muscle group should ever be left behind.
We function as one unit, and I hope that some of the nerve connection talk today helped you understand that in a simple way (and also opened your eyes as to how many more examples exist surrounding nerve endings and proper alignment). ‘
I hope you enjoyed today’s article and start getting the maximum benefits from having a strong neck, and when you’re ready to become an all-around better hockey player by having access to the best hockey training programs in the world — check out the Hockey Skills Accelerator today.