Specificity of resistance training responses in neck muscle size and strength

Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1997;75(5):443-8. doi: 10.1007/s004210050186.


This study examined hypertrophy after head extension resistance training to assess which muscles of the complicated cervical neuromuscular system were used in this activity. We also determined if conventional resistance exercises, which are likely to evoke isometric action of the neck, induce generalized hypertrophy of the cervical muscle. Twenty-two active college students were studied. [mean (SE) age, weight and height: 21 (1) years, 71 (4) kg and 173 (3) cm, respectively]. Subjects were assigned to one of three groups: RESX (head extension exercise and other resistance exercises), RES (resistance exercises without specific neck exercise), or CON (no training). Groups RESX (n = 8) and RES (n = 6) trained 3 days/week for 12 weeks with large-muscle mass exercises (squat, deadlift, push press, bent row and mid-thigh pull). Group RESX also performed three sets of ten repetitions of a head extension exercise 3 days/week with a load equal to the 3 x 10 repetition maximum (RM). Group CON (n = 8) was a control group. The cross-sectional area (CSA) of nine individual muscles or muscle groups was determined by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the cervical region. The CSA data were averaged over four contiguous transaxial slices in which all muscles of interest were visible. The 3 x 10 RM for the head extension exercise increased for RESX after training [from 17.9 (1.0) to 23.9 (1.4) kg, P < 0.05] but not for RES [from 17.6 (1.4) to 17.7 (1.9) kg] or CON [from 10.1 (2.2) to 10.3 (2.1) kg]. RESX showed an increase in total neck muscle CSA after training [from 19.5 (3.0) to 22.0 (3.6) cm2, P < 0.05], but RES and CON did not [from 19.6 (2.9) to 19.7 (2.9) cm2 and 17.0 (2.5) to 17.0 (2.4) cm2, respectively]. This hypertrophy for RESX was due mainly to increases in CSA of 23.9 (3.2), 24.0 (5.8), and 24.9 (5.3)% for the splenius capitis, and semispinalis capitis and cervicis muscles, respectively. The lack of generalized neck muscle hypertrophy in RES was not due to insufficient training. For example, the CSA of their quadriceps femoris muscle group, as assessed by MRI, increased by 7 (1)% after this short-term training (P < 0.05). The results suggest that: (1) the splenius capitis, and semispinalis capitis and cervicis muscles are mainly responsible for head extension; (2) short-term resistance training does not provide a sufficient stimulus to evoke neck muscle hypertrophy unless specific neck exercises are performed; and (3) the postural role of head extensors provides modest loading in bipeds.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Compressive Strength
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypertrophy
  • Male
  • Neck Muscles / anatomy & histology*
  • Neck Muscles / pathology
  • Neck Muscles / physiology
  • Physical Fitness / physiology