Neck training for any combat sport is essential. Whether it’s BJJ, wrestling, Muay Thai, Sambo, boxing or grappling having a strong neck is essential. If you haven’t already, I strongly urge you go read parts one and two before reading through this one. The first two parts outline the musculature structure of the neck, the movements and the very basics of safe neck training. Never overlook the fundamentals, especially with something like training your neck. You can read part one here and part two here.
In this part of Neck training for MMA, you are continuing with isometric holds. At first you had the neck tuck, then with manual resistance. After that came external resistance in the form of resistance bands and an exercise ball. This stage of your neck training involves more advanced neck exercises, namely isometric bridging.
Bridging is frequently seen in wrestling and MMA gyms. They are, however, an incredibly contested exercise in health and fitness circles. Many athletes and coaches swear by them, whereas others question their effectiveness and safety.
I have found bridging to be a very safe act when performed with the correct strength work prior, the correct knowledge of the exercise and when performed in a controlled manner. With that said though, they are not for everyone. Those with a history of back and neck pains and injuries should avoid these altogether.
When you give these a try for the first time, be sure to do so under the watchful eye of a qualified coach or trainer.
Front Wrestlers Bridge with hand Support
Begin in a bear crawl position. Your hands should be shoulder width apart and your feet slightly wider than your hands. Your hips will be up high. From here, gently lower your head onto the ground. Your hips will remain up high, and your legs will straighten out.
In this variation, your head is sharing the weight with your hands. For beginners it’s fairly uncomfortable being upside down and feeling the pressure of blood rushing to your head. This is something that will ease with time.
Hold this position for sets of 10 seconds to begin. 3-5 sets will be enough for beginners and progress will come pretty quickly. Work up to sets of 3 sets of 60 seconds before progressing onto the next variation.
Front Wrestlers Bridge
The set-up for this is exactly the same as above. Hands shoulder width apart, feet slightly wider and hips high. Slowly lower your head to the mat, as you do your hips keep high and your legs will straighten. In this full front bridge, your head will be doing the full support work. Slowly and controlled remove your hands from the ground, so your only points of contact are your feet and head.
It will become quickly apparent that this is a much tougher version than when the hands are there to provide additional support. As with the hands supporting version, begin with 3-5 sets of 10 seconds holds. With time work your way up to 60 second holds.
Wrestlers Bridge with hand Support
Begin flat on your back. Have your hands to the sides of your head, fingers pointing towards your body. Bend your knees to roughly 90 degrees and have your feet flat on the mat. Driving into the ground with your feet, raise your hips high and roll up onto the top of your head. Your hands are there for support so use them during this transition. As with the front bridging 3-5 sets of 10 seconds is a great starting point. Work your way up to 60 second holds per set.
It’s pretty common to see high school and college wrestlers bridging with their neck bent so far their noses touch the mat. While this may be a great way to escape getting pinned, at that stage it’s become a wrestling specific movement, rather than a neck strengthening exercise. It is best to stick on top of your head going only as far as the top of your forehead.
The set-up for the wrestler’s bridge is exactly the same as above. Bridge up, get your hips high, going onto the top of your head using your hands to help. When you are in this position, carefully remove your hands from the hold. Your only points of contact at this point are your feet and head. Keep the sets and reps the same progressions as above. Begin with 3-5 sets of 10 seconds holds and smartly work your way up to 60 seconds holds each set.
Neck Training for MMA part 4 is coming up soon and will have more dynamic neck movements and exercises plus some upper back work as well.
More Advanced Neck Exercises Closing Thoughts
All wrestlers bridge variations are a hotly contested neck exercises.
If you’re new to neck exercises and neck training, don’t begin at this advanced stage. Like everything else in the gym, start small, start easy and start light. With time, proficiency and confidence, build up to more advanced neck exercises like bridges.
As always, train hard, both physically and mentally.