March 3, 2021

If you’re stuck at home and only have dumbbells on hand, you’d be happy to know you can still effectively build your neck muscles. In fact, even with no equipment, you can still get a great neck workout for strengthening and growing your neck.

Dumbbells allow you to add load to your neck without using manual resistance which keeps the loading constant and easy to track and measure. Further, if you have adjustable plate-loaded dumbbells like the ones I'm using in these pictures, you can use the plates instead of the dumbbell making the exercises more comfortable.

For this article, I’m assuming you only have dumbbells to work with. No bench or other pieces of home gym equipment.

When I’m demonstrating these, I am performing these exercises on a bench but you can perform them hanging off your bed or anything you can lie on that is elevated.

Another quick note, make sure you fold up a towel to place between your head and the dumbbell. Otherwise, these will be impossible with the pain of having a dumbbell on your head.

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So, let’s get into the 5 best exercises to build your neck muscles with dumbbells!

Dumbbell Neck Flexion

DB Neck Flexion
DB Neck Flexion Isometric

The dumbbell neck flexion targets the muscles in the front of the neck named sternocleidomastoid which is responsible for many movements of the neck including flexing the neck. These muscles extend from the chest through to the back of the jaw.

It is a large muscle and when it's developed, it thickens the neck from a front-on view. To perform this exercise, lie on your back with your head hanging off of your bench or bed.

Place your folded towel on your forehead and the dumbbell in an upright position on the towel. Lower your head slowly backward so your chin faces up the ceiling and slowly nod your head in a yes position bringing your chin back to your chest.

Perform 10-20 repetitions of 2-4 sets.

Dumbbell Neck Extension

DB Neck Extension
DB Neck Extension Isometric

The dumbbell neck extension is responsible for developing the thick spinal muscle columns at the back of the neck along with the upper traps. It also trains the smaller muscles deeper in the neck.

This is what will give you that thick neck look from the back. Just like the neck flexion, you will lie on your bench or bed but this time on your stomach. Place the towel on the back of your head with the dumbbell on top.

It’s a little more awkward to hold the dumbbell in this position but when you only have a dumbbell, this is the only way to load the movement.

Slowly nod your head in a yes motion. Perform 10-20 repetitions of 2-4 sets.

Dumbbell Neck Lateral Flexion

DB Lateral Neck Flexion
DB Lateral Neck Isometric

Again, we target and build the sternocleidomastoid (it really is a large muscle that performs many movements) to give that thicker neck look from the front.

Lying on the bench or bed, this time on your side, you will balance yourself with your hand on the floor. Your other hand will be balancing the dumbbell on the towel on the side of your head. This particular variation will feel like a circus act but it is worth it to train the deeper muscles on the side of your neck.

Slowly move your ear to your shoulder. Perform 10-20 repetitions for 2-4 sets.

Dumbbell 4-Way Neck Isometric

DB Neck Flexion Isometric
DB Lateral Neck Isometric

Each of these exercises can be performed isometrically. Meaning having muscle tension without the change in muscle length. Isometric contractions can lead to muscle growth but not to the extent as the above exercises that have the muscle go through changes in length.

However, isometric neck exercises are highly beneficial for overall posture and reducing the risk of concussions. Not to mention isometric exercises have an analgesic effect so if you are suffering from any neck pain, these should reduce that pain.

You will perform these neck isometrics in the exact same positions as the above exercises, except you’ll hold the top position for 10-30 seconds for 2-4 sets.

Dumbbell Shrug

DB Shrug Bottom
DB Shrug Top

While not specifically an exercise targeting the neck, the upper traps run up the back of your neck so training them can aid in building neck thickness. Further, larger traps can create a “shelf” to help reduce some of the range of motion when being punched or kicked in striking martial arts.

Because we are using dumbbells, you likely won't be able to load this exercise heavy enough for it to have strong muscle-building effects. So you should perform these with a pause at the top and bottom to maximize the tension on the upper traps.

Aim for 15-25 repetitions for 3-5 sets with a 3-second pause and squeeze at the top and a 2-3 second pause at the bottom.

You will be humbled with the load you can use when you really pause and squeeze hard at the top. Your traps will be very sore the next day.

A Dumbbell Training Program To Build Neck Muscles

Exercise

Set/Rep

A1) Dumbbell 4-Way Isometric

3x10 sec/side

B1) DB Neck Lateral Flexion

4x15/side

C1) DB Neck Flexion

3x12

C2) DB Neck Extension

3x12

D1) DB Shrugs

4x20

If you have more equipment available to you at home or at your gym, you can try these neck exercises. Further, if you have the budget and want to add to your neck training equipment for even more effective neck workouts, then see my highly recommended neck equipment list.

About the author 

James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international level teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.


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