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June 10, 2021 9 min read

If you’re interested in bodybuilding then you know how important it is to build your muscles proportionately. Nobody wants biceps the size of a truck and a pair of chicken legs groaning under the weight of a barrel-sized torso.

Every part of your body needs a little bulk if you’re going to be spending a significant amount of time in the gym, even your neck. 

Building a thick trunk for your head is an art form that’s easy to get wrong, so we’re going over the mechanics of building a thicker neck, some pitfalls to avoid, and the best exercises you can add to your routine to push you closer to your goals.

Trapezius Muscle Anatomy chart

Neck Muscles

Before you set out to train any single part of your body you need to first understand all of the intricacies of the muscles that make up the area. Your neck, in particular, is doubly important to understand because it’s as strong in some areas as it is easy to injure.

Building a thicker neck is about understanding which muscles you can work out without worry, which ones to avoid, and how you can most effectively build a frame you can be proud of.

Trapezius Muscles

Your traps are a huge pair of muscles that extend along the length and width of your upper back. In technical terms, they extend vertically from the occipital bone (the lower part of your skull) to the lower thoracic vertebrae (the part of your spine that makes up the second section of your back).

They also extend laterally from the edge of your spine to the scapula. This makes a trapezoidal shape, which is where the name of the muscle comes from. Your traps are primarily used for moving your scapula and as general support for your arms. Your traps, functionally, are broken down into three major parts.

The upper area of your traps is the part of the muscle group that focuses on supporting your arms. A lot of your lateral movement and the ability to resist forces pulling your arms away from your body comes from this area of your traps.

The transverse region (the middle area) of your traps works with your biceps to keep your scapula attached to your body. The transverse region of your traps also works to allow you to retract your scapula. This is why your shoulders move back when you’re pulling a weight towards yourself like when you’re on the rowing machine.

Finally, the lower region of your traps medially rotates and depresses your scapula. This gives you the rotational range of motion your scapula has and allows you to bring your scapula closer to your body. This function in particular is most prominent when in conjunction with other movements in your upper body. 

Most of the work your traps do is concentrated around your scapula and your back, but because they run so far up your neck and shoulders, these muscles serve a cosmetic role in bodybuilders (or average gym-goers) by giving them a thicker neck. If you can build up the strength and mass of your traps you’ll be on a one-way trip to a tree trunk neck. 

The Platysma

If you’ve ever felt like you’ve strained the front of your neck, but you weren’t sure where the pain was coming from, it was probably the platysma. This is a broad, thin sheet of muscle found under your chin and along the upper area of your pecs. The muscle fibers of the platysma cross over your clavicle and work their way up towards the sides of your neck. 

The platysma at its thickest portion is responsible for depressing your lower jaw. You wouldn’t be able to keep your mouth shut without it. Every time you’ve tried to grit your teeth, the platysma is there providing support. It’s also there to help you with facial expressions.

The platysma pulls your lower lip down and allows you to angle your mouth when you’re surprised, angry, or sad. It’s not the most major player in this part, but you’d have an incredibly difficult time without it.

Building Your Neck

Your neck muscles are just like any other muscle group. Building a thicker neck is all about building muscle mass, burning fat so your muscles can shine through, and finding the perfect ratio of work to rest. 

Building Muscle

Building muscle is a mysterious process if you haven’t taken the time to learn about how it works. Luckily you have us. Your body builds muscle mass through a process called muscular hypertrophy. This happens in response to your muscle fibers tearing after being pushed up to and beyond their limits.

This is why we lift. We lifting to challenge our muscles until they hit their breaking point. When this happens your body identifies a problem and sends nutrients to repair those broken bridges. 

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When your body sets out to replenish your broken muscle fibers, it builds them back stronger than before. It also takes note of the areas you’ve been using consistently and increases their capacity for storing glucose (the primary fuel used in your body). 

All of this is a resource intensive process, your body needs protein to use as building material to rebuild your busted fibers. It needs glucose to power these processes and it seeks out a surplus to store locally so you can work out for longer stretches without tiring out.

You should make sure you’re feeding yourself plenty of protein and a reasonable amount of carbohydrates so your body can accommodate the growth and energy expenditure that happens during your workouts.

Burning Fat

People obviously have a particular image in mind when they talk about building a thicker neck. We want more muscle definition and a natural taper that creates the image of someone that spends a lot of time in the gym. A thick neck, then, needs to be made from muscle that's allowed to show itself off when you flex.

Burning fat is a key aspect of building a thicker neck that isn’t often talked about. If you can keep your overall body fat down, then you’re going to have a much easier time showing off the neck muscles you’ve been developing over the weeks in the gym. 

Fat burn is something that’s going to have to come from your workouts as a whole, you can’t target an area and blitz fat away like sensationalist magazines would have you believe. Burning fat is all about burning more energy than you put in your body.

If you’re setting out to build a thicker neck, then you need to closely examine your diet and the intensity of your workouts.

Your workouts should be focused on building your traps upwards and outwards while supplementing the effect on the front half of your neck. Building muscle on the slope between your shoulders and your head will drastically change your silhouette with less effort than you might think. As long as your efforts are focused in the right place, the results will follow.

athlete does an exercise in the gym with dumbbells

The Thickening

Once you’re armed with the knowledge, building a thicker neck is pretty straightforward. Start by picking three or four of these exercises and dedicating two days a week to beefing up your neck and the surrounding area.

1. Weighted Shrugs

  • Start in a standing position with a dumbbell in either hand. Make sure your core is set and your spine is in an upright but neutral position
  • Raise your shoulders by contracting your traps 
  • Squeeze your traps for a few seconds at the top of your shrug 
  • Slowly return your dumbbells to your starting position
  • Repeat for between 8 and 10 reps per set

2. Shoulder Squeeze

These are an exercise you can do with or without equipment. If you’re not able to spend as much time as you’d like to in the gym, these are an exercise you can pull off while you’re at work or before you wrap up your day without having to totally shift gears. If you want a little extra challenge, however, you can perform this exercise with resistance bands to push yourself further.

  • Start by standing with a neutral but straight posture 
  • Bring your scapulas together slowly and squeeze your traps for a few seconds
  • Slowly release and return to your neutral position

3. Push-ups

These are some of the most widely recognized exercises on the planet. Push-ups cover a wide number of muscles under their umbrella. Integrating push-ups into your routine is an excellent way to hit a lot of hot spots and jack up the efficiency of your workouts.

  • Start on the floor with your hands fully extended beneath you about shoulder-width apart
  • Keep your core set, your legs straight, and your back flat
  • Lower your body towards the floor until your nose is about to touch the surface below you
  • Push against the floor to press your body back into your starting position

4. Lateral Neck Flex

This is another exercise that’s perfect if you don't have any equipment.

  • Stand up straight and look straight ahead without tilting your neck 
  • Tilt your head to the side, bringing your ear as close to your shoulder as you can without raising it to meet your ear
  • Hold for a few second 
  • Slowly return to the starting position, looking straight ahead, and repeat on the opposite side

5. Neck Rotation

Neck rotations are a low-impact way to increase the strength and flexibility of your neck muscles without incurring too much stress or running the risk of injury. If your neck is prone to seizing up after an awkward night of sleep, neck rotations might help with that along with beefing up your frame.

  • Start by lying down on your back with your knees slightly bent while your feet are flat on the floor. Avoid pressing your lower back into the floor
  • From a neutral position, turn your head to one side until you feel a stretch in your muscles and your head is facing as far in one direction as you can
  • Hold that position for a few seconds
  • Return to the starting position and repeat for the opposite direction
  • Repeat about 5-7 times per side

6. Tongue Twister

This exercise is part stretch and part gentle exercise for the relatively weak platysma. This exercise is perfect for strengthening the front and underside of your neck without damaging this easy to tear areas of the body. 

  • You can do this sitting or standing, whichever is most comfortable
  • Push your tongue against the roof of your mouth directly behind your teeth
  • Push up on the roof of your mouth with your tongue while humming a neutral tone to activate the muscles on the front side of your neck
  • Continue for about 15 to 20 seconds at a time and repeat about 5 times

7. Upright Rows

Upright rows are great for building up your traps. They’re easy to do, they don’t take a lot of equipment, and as long as you aren’t constantly eroding your shoulder joints, then you have nothing to worry about. We suggest using dumbbells or an EZ bar to mitigate the potential harm you can incur from upright rows. 

  • Start by standing upright and setting your core
  • Grab your weights with your palms facing inwards
  • Pull the weight up towards your chest, bending your elbows and keeping your hands in front of your torso
  • Hold at the top of your lift for a few seconds
  • Lower the weights in a controlled fashion back to your starting position

Sticking Your Neck Out

Getting a thicker neck is about working out a wide range of muscles. In fact, most of the muscles you should be working out aren’t truly a part of your neck. The muscle that’s most widely understood to be your “neck,” the platysma is so thin and delicate you shouldn’t really be putting too much strain on it. There are a few things you should be doing to ensure that your quest for a thick neck bears fruit.

Work Smarter

If you’re going to be spending your time and resources on building a thick neck, then the single best thing you can do for yourself in the quest is taking the time to seriously revisit the list of muscles that make up your neck so you’re not wasting your time building muscle on thin parts of your body that don’t actually add to the silhouette of your neck. 

Don’t waste your time on exercises that won’t actually build up your neck if you’re going to set out with this goal in mind. It seems obvious, but if you’re working out willy-nilly up there, you’re going to be spinning your wheels for a while. 

Everything in Moderation

If you hurt your neck you’re going to be out of commission for a while. Even the most basic exercise is going to be an uphill battle if you can’t move your head freely. You’ll very quickly discover how interlocked with the rest of your body your neck is if you pull something. Don’t overload yourself. These muscles aren’t massive and they’re not hard to build up. 

Rest and Relaxation

Building muscle is as much about recovery resource-intensive as it is about the actual workouts. Building muscle in your neck is no exception. In fact, since your goal here is about putting on as much muscle mass as you reasonably can, it stands to reason that you should be focused primarily on effective rest days.

Make sure you put in the work on neck days so your body has something to rebuild, but don’t push your neck and shoulders so far that you’re chipping into your progress before you even start.

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Final Thoughts

Building up a thicker neck is one of the best ways to make yourself look as strong as you feel. As long as you’re smart about the exercise you choose to do and you don’t push yourself too far, it’s relatively easy to build up that part of your body into a shape that feels like it reflects your strength.

Take it one week at a time, choose your workouts carefully, and with a little dedication and the right amount of rest, you’ll be there faster than you can shrug.