Is It Possible to Exercise Your Neck?
Good news: Yes. Bad news: It might not actually undo the unflattering damage cause by looking at your phone too much.
How often do you think about your neck? Like, maybe when you wake up with a crick in it from sleeping wrong, but basically never, right? Which is weird, because our necks do a lot of work every day. Your head weighs 10 to 11 pounds, and your neck was designed to hold that weight no problem. Except we're effing everything up and we don't even realize it.
Americans spend two hours and 51 minutes per day looking at their smartphones. There's a whole host of issues that come with that, not least of all the fact that you're literally changing the anatomy of your neck. (Related: My Neck Injury Was the Self-Care Wake-Up Call I Didn't Know I Needed)
Research shows that for every inch you drop your head forward you double the load on your neck muscles to the sum of 60 additional pounds of force. "It really changes the way the neck, the muscles, and the bones sit," says Tanya Kormeili, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and clinical instructor at the University of California, Los Angeles.
"Think about your body when you're looking at your phone: You're essentially holding your neck, shoulders, and cervical spine in a misaligned isometric contraction," says Adam Rosante, a celebrity strength and nutrition coach. "Do this long and often enough and you can strain them and start to develop muscular imbalances which give you that perpetually hunched look and leads to neck, shoulder, and upper-back pain."
Even worse, all that looking down can affect the skin underneath your chin, causing it to sag and look fuller or jowly. That's typically something that comes with age. "Gravity takes a toll-as we get older, our collagen production goes down, along with our ability to tighten and firm the skin naturally, and the tissue becomes more lax," says Dr. Kormeili.
But more and more young women are now dealing with "tech neck," a fuller-looking jaw and lax neck skin because of how often they're out of proper alignment, she adds. (Related: 3 Ways Your Phone Is Ruining Your Skin-and What to Do About It)
Strengthening the 26 or so muscles in your neck can help maintain proper alignment, says Rosante. "You should perform exercises that strengthen the main functions of the neck: flexion, extension, and lateral flexion," he says-especially since research shows that neck flexion posture is the most common cause of pain in mobile device users. Upper-back exercises can also help combat rounded shoulders and further correct your postural alignment. (These yoga poses for "tech neck" can also help.)
Try working these four exercises into your daily routine:
1. Supine Flexion
Lie faceup on a bench with your head and neck off the end. Maintaining a neutral spine, tuck your chin back. From here, tilt your head back and then return to neutral. That's 1 rep. Perform 2 to 3 sets of 5 to 10 reps. Rest for 60 seconds between sets.
2. Prone Extension
Flip over to lie facedown on a bench with your head and neck off the end. Tuck your chin back. From here, tilt your forehead down and then extend your head back past neutral. That's 1 rep. Perform 2 to 3 sets of 5 to 10 reps. Rest for 60 seconds between sets.
3. Lateral Flexion
Lie on a bench on your left side with your left arm hanging off the top of the bench (the edge of the bench should be tucked under your armpit). Maintaining a neutral spine, tuck your chin back. From here, take your right ear to your right shoulder and back to center. That's 1 rep. Perform 5 to 10 reps, then turn over and repeat on the other side. That's 1 set. Perform 2 to 3 sets, resting for 60 seconds in between.
4. Band Pull-Aparts
Stand tall with feet hip-width apart holding a light to medium resistance band out in front of you with tension at shoulder-width. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull the band apart, finishing with your arms out at a T (imagine that you're trying to crush a grape between your shoulder blades). Return to start. That's 1 rep. Perform 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
Unfortunately, though, if you're already noticing saggy neck skin, "there's no clinical data to prove that strengthening your neck muscles will undo the damage," says Kormeili. "The skin has nothing to do with the muscle, it's a completely different layer on top of it."
There are two ways to make that neck skin look tighter, though: "One is to build more collagen and the other is to tighten the superficial muscular aponeurotic system (SMAS), a fibrous musculature area in the face," says Kormeili. Both of these can be done now with noninvasive procedures, she adds. Ultherapy, for example, shoots ultrasound waves deep into the tissue to stimulate collagen production in the SMAS. Kybella, on the other hand, is an injection that permanently kills fat cells in the area and forms scar tissue, which causes tightening-and can help get rid of a double-chin situation that exercise can't fix. (More on that here: The Best Anti-Aging Skin-Care Treatments for Your Neck)
But the most obvious way to combat "tech neck" is also the easiest: Stop looking down at your phone so much. If you're on it, bring it up to eye level when you can. And when you're not on it, stand up tall so there's no curve in your spine between the top of your head and your shoulders. Good posture goes so far.