Weekend Challenge: Neck Toner And FHP Preventer
This Weekend Challenge focuses on the muscles in the front of the neck, which have a distinct influence on posture, balance, breathing, and other aspects of bone health. As its name indicates, this exercise helps to prevent and correct a specific aspect of posture: Forward Head Posture (FHP), a growing problem in today’s society and often a precursor to kyphosis (Dowager’s Hump).
Despite their importance, neck muscles are typically overlooked in the typical exercise routine. So this weekend, we’re going to hone in on the front of the neck with a simple exercise you can do just about anywhere.
Let’s get started!
The muscles in your neck may be small, but they support a big load: your head! The average weight of a human head is 10 pounds, so it’s no light task to “keep your head on straight.”
The position of your head leads your entire spine, and that means your shoulders, torso, and hips are affected. And it’s up to your neck muscles to keep your head in the correct position regardless of whether you’re standing, sitting, or walking.
If your head is too far forward, such as occurs when leaning forward to type on a computer, tap out a text, and many other daily activities, the task becomes more difficult, and your neck must strain to hold your head in an unnatural, forward position. Neck pain, stiffness, headaches, shoulder pain, and other problems can develop.
If the problem becomes chronic, then the thoracic vertebrae between your shoulders begin to grow accustomed to the forward-leaning position, and the stage is set for kyphosis.
In order to correct FHP and hold your head in the proper position, your neck needs to have strong yet supple muscles to keep your neck vertebrae flexible and stable. There are many other aspects of bone health (and overall health) that are influenced by strong neck muscles, such as:
Being able to take deep, alkalizing breaths is essential for your bones. A correctly positioned head and neck keep your trachea and chest open and your torso upright, allowing your diaphragm to draw in plenty of air. Your diaphragm can’t work properly if you are bent forward, as is the case with FHP. And amazingly enough, research shows that FHP actually increases fracture risk. You can read more about the connection between FHP and fracture risk at the following link:
This leads us to the next point, which is…
Savers are well aware of the connection between bone health and posture. Strengthening the muscles involved in posture – including those in your neck – is the key to avoiding the dreaded kyphosis and a host of other problems associated with poor posture. In fact, poor posture increases your risk of sustaining a fall that could result in a broken bone. That’s because posture affects balance, our next point.
Wherever your head goes, your body tends to follow. So if your head is too far forward from your center, you’re in a state of compensation; your body must use muscles normally involved in movement to stabilize you and hold you upright. Thus, you’re much more likely to fall. Additionally, a bent-forward body and drooping head make it difficult to see what’s in front of you, increasing the chances of tripping or stumbling over an object or being unable to see a handrail or similar aid to catch your fall.
Like the rest of your body, your spine follows your neck’s “lead.” As mentioned above, the thoracic vertebrae at the top of your spine are the first victims of poorly positioned cervical (neck) vertebrae. They begin to collapse forward and may even succumb to compression fractures. The rest of the spine is affected, too, and low back pain and poor pelvic alignment can result as the spine attempts to correct its position.
Given the vital importance of the neck muscles and their far-reaching influence, it may surprise you to see how simple this Weekend Challenge is.
- Kneel down on the floor on one knee. The other leg should be bent at an approximate 90-degree angle, foot flat on the floor.
- Place your hands behind your head and pull up slightly with the muscles on both sides of your waist. Think of elongating your waist.
- Look upward slightly with your eyes, and then slightly tip your head back to lengthen the muscles in the front of your neck.
- Keeping the back of your neck elongated (not pressed or curved back), lift your chest and lean your torso back slightly (just a few inches). You should feel a comfortable strain in your front neck muscles. Hold this for a second or two.
- Come back up to the starting position, pause for a few seconds, and repeat about five times (as long as you are comfortable).
- Switch legs and repeat another set of five.
- If you feel any pain in your lower back, stop – you’re probably leaning back too far. You should not feel any discomfort in your low back.
- Don’t be alarmed if your front neck muscles feel strained – remember, these are not muscles that are used to being worked.
- However, if it hurts or feels too uncomfortable, stop.
- You should feel the muscles in your upper back between your shoulder blades working as well.
- Rather than thinking of tilting your head back, focus on lifting your chest up to move your head back.
To round out your regular bone-smart workout, we suggest you try these four Weekend Challenges:
Now you have a complete “neck workout” at your fingertips! Feel free to implement these moves into your daily or weekly exercise habit, or do them on their own. Your bones will thank you either way!
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Have a great weekend!