We cannot say it enough: exercise is critical the overall health of your body. With 26 muscles in your neck and three massive muscles in your back, exercising your neck and back may be one of the most important routines to integrate into your workout routine. Before we dive into some of our favorite exercises, we strongly recommend that you consult with your physician or physical therapist before beginning any exercise program. Modifications may be necessary for specific spine conditions. Do NOT ignore pain. If you feel increased pain or pain spreading around the area, do not continue the activity.
An exercise program specifically focused on the neck and back muscles should incorporate both strengthening and stretching exercises.
For Neck Strengthening:
- Shoulder Scapular Squeeze: “Squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times. Only squeeze hard enough to encourage good posture, not to create pain or discomfort. Perform this exercise 2 times per day.”
- Wall Push-Up or Push-Up: “Start with feet approximately shoulder width apart. Place hands against wall slightly below shoulder level and elbows straight as shown in the picture. Bend elbows while keeping head in a neutral position. Repeat 10 times with 1-2 sets. Perform this exercise 2 times per day.” A properly done push-up works over 6 muscle groups. Check out proper technique here.
For Neck Stretching:
- Chin to Chest: “Begin each exercise with your neck in midline position. Your head should be centered and not tilted forward, back, or to the side. You can do this exercise while either lying flat on your back or sitting up. Gently bend your head forward while bringing your chin toward your chest. Stop when a stretch is felt in the back of your neck. Hold position for 20 seconds. Return to starting position. Repeat this four more times for a total of five repetitions.” Chin to Chest helps to relieve tension in the neck caused by day-to-day activities like poor posture and driving.
- Ear to Shoulder: “Begin each exercise with your neck in midline position. Your head should be centered and not tilted forward, back, or to the side. You can do this exercise while either lying flat on your back or sitting up. Gently bend your neck in attempts to touch your left ear to your shoulder. Stop when a stretch is felt in the right side of your neck. Hold position for 20 seconds. Return to starting position. Repeat above stretch four more times. Gently bend your neck in an attempt to touch your right ear to your shoulder. Stop when a stretch is felt in the left side of your neck. Hold position for 20 seconds. Return to starting position. Repeat above stretch four more times.”
For Back Strengthening:
- Bent-Over Rows: “Place your right knee on a weight bench. Lean forward and put your right hand on the bench. Grab the dumbbell in your left hand. Keeping your back flat, pull your left elbow up toward the ceiling while squeezing your shoulder blade to your spine.” Bent-over rows works about 10 muscle groups. It is incredible for training the upper back and can lead to improved muscular strength and endurance.” Video instruction available here.
- Hip Bridges: “Lie on the ground and bend the knees, placing the feet flat on the floor hip-width apart. Press the feet into the floor, keeping the arms by the sides. Raise the buttocks off the ground until the body forms a straight line from the shoulders to the knees. Squeeze the buttocks with the shoulders remaining on the floor. Lower the buttocks to the ground and rest for a few seconds. Repeat 15 times and then rest for 1 minute. Do 3 sets of 15 repetitions.” Despite its name, hip bridges works your glutes, one of the biggest muscles in the back.
For Back Stretching:
- Knee-to-Chest: “Lie on the back on the floor. Bend the knees, keeping both feet flat on the floor. Use both hands to pull one knee in toward the chest. Hold the knee against the chest for 5 seconds, keeping the abdominals tight and pressing the spine into the floor. Return to the starting position. Repeat with the opposite leg. Repeat with each leg 2–3 times twice a day.” The knee-to-chest stretch helps to elongate the lower back, relieving tension and reducing pain.
- Cat Stretch: “Get onto the hands and knees with the knees hip-width apart. Arch the back, pulling the bellybutton up toward the spine. Slowly relax the muscles and allow the abdomen to sag toward the floor. Return to the starting position. Repeat 3–5 times twice a day.” The cat stretch lengthens the back, making it stronger, and easing tension in the muscles.