Let me ask you a question…
When was the last time you trained your neck?
Last week? Last month? Longer? Maybe never?
Let's face it, neck training isn't high on the priority list for a lot of athletes, and certainly not your every day Jimmy and Joe.
It's not really a “sexy” muscle group like the abs, pecs, etc…
Why even bother, amirite?
Neck training actually offers a number of benefits that, while often overlooked, actually make a lot of sense. Not only can it be helpful for the highest level athlete, but it can also be useful for the desk jockey with a tight neck, the person recovering from a traumatic injury, or even someone with chronic pain.
Historically, neck training has typically been accomplished through the use of expensive and large 4-way neck machines or less expensive loadable harnesses.
Over the last few years, however, the Iron Neck has made a big splash in the neck training department. Its unique, revolutionary design creates a much more dynamic method of training the neck and, while it's not the cheapest tool out there, it's the one that I would recommend to anyone.
In this review, I'll break down the Iron Neck, outline some reasons why you would use it, and then detail how to use it/progress with it.
- The Iron Neck Overview
- Benefits – Prehab/Injury Prevention
- Benefits – Posture & Mobility
- Benefits – Rehabilitation
- Progression & Exercise Guide
- My Experience
- Which Iron Neck to Buy
- Who's Using the Iron Neck
- Pros and Cons
- Full Rating
Before jumping into all the benefits of the Iron Neck, let's first have a look at what it even is.
Aside from looking… unconventional… the Iron Neck is a headpiece that attaches on top of the head and underneath the chin. It comes in two sizes depending on the circumference of your head: Standard (20.5″-22.5″) and Large (22.5″-26″). Within these two sizes are several ways to adjust the piece so that it fits your precise measurements.
The first is the top band. The band is adjustable via a velcro section and it determines how far the device will slide down the head. You'll want to set the Iron Neck deep enough on the head so that it doesn't slide off or tilt when training.
The second is the pumping mechanism. Located at the 2:00 position when looking straight ahead, the pump inflates the rubber sections on the forehead as well as the back of the head. In doing so, it creates a comfortable and snug fit on the head. It's also reminiscent of the old school Reebok pumps, which is always fun. Iron Neck recommends that you don't pump the device more than 15 times to prevent over-inflating. They also recommend to always release the air after use by pressing the smaller release valve adjacent to the pump.
The third and final adjustment is the chin strap. This is your typical nylon buckle strap that adjusts easily to tighten the entire Iron Neck to your head.
On the front of the Iron neck is an attachment point where you can attach a band for linear resistance. Iron neck offers three resistance options from which you would pick one with your order (you can also purchase the others separately):
- Starter (0-25lbs)
- Intermediate (0-35lbs)
- Advanced (0-50lbs)
In addition to attaching a band, you can also attach directly to a cable pulley system to accommodate various resistance.
Lastly, depending on the model you purchase, there may or may not be rotational resistance available. The Iron Neck is currently sold in three different models: Pro, Varsity, and Home. The primary difference between the three, aside from price, is the rotational resistance capabilities. I will go more into detail on this below, but as an overview, the Pro version allows for adjustable rotational resistance, the varsity version allows for a fixed level of rotational resistance, and the home version allows for no rotational resistance.
Now that we have an idea of what it is, let's have a look at the benefits and then a training progression to maximize results.
One of the biggest reasons to look into the Iron Neck, and neck training in general, is to mitigate the risk of injury. In this day and age, people are simply more susceptible to injuries in and around the neck area. Whether that's through a concussion suffered on the field or maybe from a car accident… it's a real threat.
It's important to have an understanding of how the muscles in our necks move in order to properly comprehend the value of training the neck directly. The neck musculature is primarily made up of diagonal fibers that collectively accommodate range of motion across three planes: coronal, sagittal, and transverse. They control flexion and extension of the head and neck, as well as rotation and lateral movement of the head and neck.
As it relates to a forceful impact, in order to reduce the risk of injury we need neck muscles that are capable of rapid contraction. The best way to do that… strengthening. In doing so, we reduce head acceleration and variable forces that could injure the brain.
“As the head rocks back and forth, it's also twisting a little on the brain stem, and it's those accelerative and rotational forces as the brain is impacting inside the skull that are really what's causing these concussions. A stronger neck means you're reducing those accelerations and rotational forces.” – Dawn Comstock of the Colorado School of Public Health
One 2014 study published by the Journal of Primary Prevention tracked 6,704 high school athletes in boys' and girls' soccer, basketball, and lacrosse over a 2.5 year period. Based on their data, they concluded that “for every one pound increase in neck strength, odds of concussion decreased by 5%.”
In the same study, they concluded that smaller mean neck circumference and smaller mean neck-to-head circumference ratio were significantly associated with concussions.
Check out this clip of a new helmet test that was put into place in November 2018. It now adds a neck element to simulate the twisting of the neck that occurs with a forceful impact. This is a great example of how building a stronger neck can reduce the risk of concussion/head trauma.
Whether you're an athlete, a desk jockey, or someone who often looks at their phone, neck training has clear benefits as it relates to the prevention of injury.
Did you know that the average human head weighs 12 lbs? That alone is pretty wild when you consider your neck is responsible for holding it up. But what happens when we tilt our heads… for instance, when we are looking at our phones? Take a look at this infographic from Surgical Technology International. It shows the relationship between the actual weight on the spine and forward head tilt.
When you consider the following stats as presented by BankMyCell, the potential impact on our bodies is absolutely alarming:
- The average smartphone user checks their device 47 times a day (that's over 17,000 times a year).
- 80% of smartphone users check their phone within 1 hour of going to sleep or waking up. 35% of these users will do so within 5 minutes. (after listening to this Podcast with Matt Walker on sleep, this is particularly worrisome.)
- The average time spent on smartphones per day is 2 hours and 51 minutes. When you add a tablet to the mix, that number skyrockets to 4 hours and 33 minutes.
- The average smartphone user will tap, swipe, or click their phone 2,617 times a day.
Look, I'm not here to preach or tell you what you should or shouldn't do with your smartphone. I'm on mine all the time and I absolutely contribute to these statistics…
But… it's no wonder so many people are living with chronic neck/back pain. Our necks are subjected to incredible amounts of stress every single day. The long term impact of putting all this pressure on our muscles, ligaments, discs, etc… is quite concerning. It actually has a name: Text Neck.
So, what can we do about it?
Well, one obvious way is to limit our exposure to these damaging forces. Another way to improve our posture, strengthen our neck/upper thoracic spine, and generally bring a level of awareness to our bodies in order to mitigate the risks.
The Iron Neck is a very valuable tool in this respect, in my opinion. I will say anecdotally, as someone who works at a desk and looks at their phone a lot (Instagram wins again), I have experienced very positive results since implementing the Iron Neck in my regular training. My neck does in fact feel stronger, my endurance is better, and I overall feel that my posture and mobility has improved.
The Iron Neck is unique in that it allows for a progressive training of the neck with a full range of motion. Because of this, the Iron Neck is very effective at rehabbing an injury, especially in the neck/upper back area. Whether it's chronic pain from ‘text neck', a car accident, a sporting injury, or something else completely… this tool can make a difference.
Two of the worst things you can do for yourself when trying to recover from an injury are to A.) do nothing; and B:) do too much, too fast.
The ability to progressively introduce load/resistance and range of motion is a careful consideration when prescribing a rehabilitation protocol. One of the most commonly used methods, especially early on in treatment, is isometric contractions. Unlike an eccentric or concentric contraction, an isometric contraction will still activate the muscle fibers, but without the movement of a joint. This can reduce pain and even improve mobility if used at the end ranges.
The Iron Neck is an excellent tool to perform a variety of isometric contractions, including those at the end ranges. For instance, you can perform resisted cervical retractions, bottoms-up kettlebell holds while wearing the iron neck, 360-degree spins, etc… These movements, facilitated by the Iron Neck, can increase stability throughout the core, spine, and neck. They also work to resist motion in various ranges of motion to provide a low-impact stimulus to an affected area.
From here, you can introduce more dynamic movements such as figure 8's to progressively train the neck not only to rehab an injury, but also to limit the possibility of sustaining another one.
In addition to the physical recovery of an injury, the Iron Neck could potentially also be used to aid in the recovery of TBIs, concussions, as well as providing response to those with autism, sensory disorders, etc… This is possible because the unit can be used to provide vestibular input, improve proprioception, measure reaction times, and assess other sensory parameters.
Iron Neck has a series of six recommended exercises as a part of a program. While there are certainly other movements you can perform, these should serve as the foundation to your neck training with the Iron Neck.
1.) 360-Degree Spin
- Spin in place 360 degrees with neck and hips locked. Each 360-degree spin is 1 rep.
- Move slowly and maintain posture
- Complete 3 reps rotating clockwise and 3 reps rotating counter-clockwise
2.) Look Left, Look Right
- Turn head to the left and then to the right (as you can) without moving the shoulders. Each look left, look right is 1 rep.
- Keep shoulders completely square throughout.
- Complete 5 reps facing all 4 directions.
- Draw a diagonal line with your nose, starting at one shoulder and moving up & above the opposite shoulder. Each line is 1 rep.
- Complete 8 reps from each shoulder, facing forward and backward.
- Extend the nose out as far as possible as you can without moving your shoulders. Hold for 1 second and then return your head to the retracted position. Each forward-back is 1 rep.
- Keep the Iron Neck parallel to the ground.
- Complete 8 reps facing forward and backward.
5.) Figure 8
- Draw a sideways figure 8 with nose. Each figure 8 is 1 rep.
- Begin with small loops and gradually increase size.
- Complete 8 reps tracing each direction, facing forward and then backward.
6.) Lock Neck Body Turn
- With the neck locked and hands in prayer position, rotate torso as far as you can to the left and to the right without moving your feet. Each full rotation is 1 rep.
- Begin slowly and increase to a more rapid pace.
- Complete 5 reps facing all 4 directions.
I've owned the Iron Neck Varsity for two months now, and I've been using it regularly in my training. For the most part, I've been using a mix of the six movements above at the end of my upper body training sessions and then once more on my active recovery morning. I've also experimented with other movements that incorporate other tools such as the Sanddune Stepper. These two pieces actually work brilliantly together. With the Iron Neck on, I've used the Sanddune for every movement above (sans #1), goblet squats (with look left, look right), bird dogs, etc…
View this post on Instagram
I just posted my review of the @theironneck training device. – Like many of you, at first I was a little skeptical about the product, but after seeing who was using it and after my own experience, I’m a total believer. – I’ve had the Iron Neck now for just over 2 months. I use it three times per week (after upper sessions and then again on my active recovery morning). I’ve also been trying it out with warmups with great success. – One thing I’ve been doing basically since day one is pairing it with my @sanddunestepper. It’s a match made in heaven. @joerogan and @defrancosgym need to try it if they haven’t since they’re so high on both products. – In these clips you can check out a few of my favorite movements. It’s overall a very versatile piece of equipment that takes up practically no space. The bird dog with the Iron Neck and Sanddune is extremely challenging. – Also, someone is going to win one of these. – #GarageGymLab #garagegyminspiration
I've also been successfully experimenting with different warm-up movements while wearing the Iron Neck. Arm swings, band pull-a-parts, shoulder distractions, etc… are a few of my favorite movements. Coupled with my regular Sanddune Stepper warm-up movements, my body feels really well prepared for load.
As it relates to my desk job, neck discomfort/tightness has always been something I've had to deal with. I'm very happy to see that the Iron Neck has helped me considerably. I still have to remind myself to sit properly, take breaks, etc… I mean, it's not a cure-all, but it has made a noticeable difference for me.
My wife has Ehlers Danlos syndrome, which some of you may have read about in my review of the Sanddune. This disorder brings on joint issues and general pain, particularly in the neck and upper back (for her at least). She has been using the intermediate band successfully and she's also noticed a marked improvement. She's also a pediatric occupational therapist and she can see the potential value in helping those with sensory disorders, etc… as mentioned above.
All-in-all, the Iron Neck has been getting a lot of use at my house and I'm really glad to have this tool in my lineup.
As mentioned earlier, there are three Iron Neck options to choose from: Pro, Varsity, and Home. In this section, I'll outline the differences to determine which might be most appropriate for you.
The Pro system is Iron Neck's premium offering. Priced at $625, this unit is different from the others in that it provides an adjustable level of rotational resistance. At the base of the attachment point is a dial that acts to change the resistance through a braking system. This is great if you have multiple people using the Iron Neck or if you simply want to adjust the resistance based on your personal progression. The Pro unit is all black, but is otherwise built the same as the Varsity and Home versions.
The Varsity system is Iron Neck's mid-tier offering. This unit is priced at $425 and it's the version I have in my gym. The primary difference with this model is that there is a fixed level of rotational resistance vs. the adjustable dial on the Pro version. This is a great unit if you're looking to build rotational strength but you're more budget conscious and you may not be training multiple people. The Varsity Unit has a gray and black colorway and has the same build quality as the Pro version.
The Home Iron Neck is the most economical version. It's priced at $325 and it's ideal for someone who is looking to recover from an injury and/or build general neck strength. The primary difference with this model is that it doesn't provide rotational resistance at all. It has a white and black colorway and, again, it has the same build quality as the other two models.
Once you pick the Iron Neck that best fits your specific needs, you'll need to determine which resistance band is most suitable for you. In the below chart created by Iron Neck, you can see the amount of resistance for each band based on the distance between the attachment points. I personally own the Intermediate and Advanced bands.
Neck training has long been a staple in the weight room, especially with professional sports. The main issue with the machines of the past is that they're limited in their application, they take up a lot of space, and it's not possible to train multiple athletes at the same time unless you have a massive facility.
The Iron Neck is not only a better tool in terms of actual performance and results, but it takes up no space, you can easily train multiple athletes at once, and it's much cheaper.
When it comes to who's using the Iron Neck, there are some pretty big names. In the NFL, you have teams like the Carolina Panthers (my hometown team), Atlanta Falcons, New England Patriots, Houston Texans, New Orleans Saints, and Indianapolis Colts. In the NHL, you have the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, etc… At the collegiate level, you have teams like Clemson, Stanford, UCLA, Georgia Tech, Baylor, and UAB. Outside of those sports, the Iron Neck is used by UFC, Indycar, Formula 1, New Zealand All Blacks, D.C. United, etc…
So, all that to say, the Iron Neck has been widely accepted at the highest levels of the strength community as a valuable tool.
Here's a quick video of Craig Fitzgerald discussing the Iron Neck. Coach ‘Fitz' is one of the best S&C coaches in the game. He coached my alma mater (University of South Carolina) during our most successful football run of 33 wins in 3 seasons (I miss those days). He then went on to coach the Houston Texans and he's now with the Tennessee Volunteers.
- The benefits of the Iron Neck are well documented and they include prehab, rehab, strength prep, and injury prevention, among others.
- The overall design of the Iron Neck is better than the harnesses and oversized 4-way neck machines that have historically been used.
- The quality of the actual unit is strong. It's lightweight, durable, and generally just well made.
- It's easy to set up. Once you have it set to your head size, you really only need to use the chin strap (and pump).
- It takes up barely any space at all, making it great for every type of space (especially home gyms).
- Priced between $325 and $625, the Iron Neck is pretty expensive. I personally recommend getting the Varsity ($425) so you can have some level of rotational resistance.
At the end of the day, the Iron Neck is a pretty simple device that accomplishes a lot. I for one really appreciate the innovative approach that takes neck training to the next level. The device is miles better than anything else on the market currently.
Here's my bottom line on the Iron Neck: If you're looking to train your neck, rehab an injury, prevent an injury, and/or mitigate the damage caused my ‘text neck'… AND you have a budget that supports it… I would definitely recommend the Iron Neck. I think it serves a clear need and I find that it fits into anyone's training style.
If you have any questions about the Iron Neck in general, please leave a comment below. Likewise, if you own the Iron Neck and want to chime in with your own thoughts, please do so!
As always, I appreciate any feedback.
The bar is loaded,