One of the truths about having a kid — other than the fact that you never have time to exercise — is that you’re always looking down: Looking down to help those little feet navigate the stairs. Looking down to be sure there are no toys about to be squashed as you walk across the living room. Looking down to kiss that small head goodnight.
And the trouble with looking down is that every time you do, it’s a reminder of the layers of fat accumulating around your neck. Call it a double chin, sagging jowls, moon face, or just basic neck fat — there is nothing appealing about feeling like your head is resting on a bowl of jello. Getting rid of it, though, isn’t easy. “This one of the hardest locations to lose weight,” admits Shaun Jenkins, senior trainer manager at Tone House in New York City. “But in do time, with rigorous training and prudent eating habits, that fat will disappear.”
As you’ve likely gathered by now, there is no such thing as spot-specific exercises for fat loss. You can’t crunch your way to flat abs on a diet of fries and ice cream, and even the strongest biceps won’t pop if you’re packing an extra 40 pounds. So the first step in losing neck fat is going to be shedding some overall weight.
Still, let’s assume you’ve lost a few extra pounds: The unfortunate truth remains that genetics plays a role in which areas of your body you carry fat in, and for some unlucky dudes, the neck is the spot. In that case, if you’re eating right and it still sporting the double chin, the right moves could help you tone and add definition to your neck. Doing these exercises may be easier than you think: “I would not recommend using any machines for neck exercises,” says Jenkins, who adds that guys might consider working with a pro to strengthen this area, given the delicate nature of this part of your body.
How delicate? Well, your neck is made up for 20 small muscles, according to the Cleveland Clinic. They reach from your jaw down to your shoulder blades and serve the purpose of stabilizing your head while aiding with everything from chewing to nodding. On the front side, the sternocleidomastoid is one of your largest neck muscles, beginning behind your ear and stretching to your collarbone. It helps you extend your neck and control your jaw movements. On the backside, you have five transversospinalis muscles that move your head forward, backward, and tilt it. Your longus capitis and longus colli muscles on either side of your neck help you twist your head from side to side.
Strengthening each of these 20 muscles can help you tone the overall area, minimizing the appearance of neck fat (again, assuming you get yourself on a health eating plan and follow an overall exercise routine to help you shed excess weight). And because these muscles tend to be an afterthought in most workout routines, just a little bit of love can go a long way to conditioning them.
Start with these moves, which are basic and gentle enough to be performed at the end of every workout (make sure your body is warmed up first).
Neck Fat–Busting Exercises
Look Left, Look Right
How To: Stand in a neutral position, spine straight, head forward. Keeping your shoulders square, twist your head to the right to look over your right shoulder, back to center, then left over your left shoulder, then back to center. Do 20 reps x 2 sets.
Look Up, Look Down
How To: Stand in a neutral position, spine straight, head forward. Pressing your shoulders down, raise your chin up toward the ceiling as high as you can, then back to center. Lower your chin as close to your chest as possible, then back to center. Repeat up-and-down movement for 20 reps x 2 sets.
How To: Stand in a neutral position, spine straight, head forward. Without moving your upper body, jut your neck and jaw out in front of you as far as it will go. Hold for two counts then relax and return to start. Do this 10 times. Then, pull your neck and chin in and back as far as you can (as if someone is threatening you and your head is recoiling). Hold two counts and relax back to start. Repeat 10 times. Do two complete sets.
How To: Starting in a neutral position, lower your chin to the floor, then turn it to one side, followed by raising it to the ceiling, then over to the other side and back to the floor. “You can perform these counterclockwise, then clockwise,” says Jenkins. Do 20 full circles to one side; then 20 to the other.
How To: Stand in a neutral position, spine straight, head forward. Tilt your head to the right side of your body, keeping your face forward. Take your right arm, reach up over your head, and place your right palm flat against your left cheek. Apply pressure/resistance with your right hand and you engage your neck muscles to return your head to an upright (neutral) position. Do 10 tilts to the right, then switch sides and do 10 to the left (reaching your left arm up and over and applying pressure with your left palm to your right cheek). Do 2 sets.
Push and Pull
How To: Using a resistance band, tie ends together, then hook to a wall at head height. Face away from the wall. Keeping tension, place band around your forehead. Without tilting or straining your neck, take baby steps away from the wall, pressing your forehead into the band to keep moving forward. Stop when the tension is too much to maintain your form, and hold for 10 counts. Return to start. Do 3 sets.
Keeping the band around your head, turn so that you face the wall. Without straining, begin to take small steps backward, using your neck muscles to press the back of your head into the band. Stop when you can no longer maintain good form. Hold 10 counts. Return to start. Do 3 sets.
Weighted Shoulder Shrugs
How To: Stand in a neutral position, spine straight, head forward. Holding a medium-weight dumbbell in each hand, arms by your sides, hike your shoulders toward your ears. Relax back to start. Do 10 reps x 2 sets of shoulder shrugs.
Wide-Grip Pull Ups
How To: Stand facing a pull-up bar. Grab the bar with an overhand grip, hands wider than shoulder-width apart. “This will help strengthen surrounding muscles for the appearance of a wider neck,” says Jenkins. Do 8-10 pull ups x 3 sets. (Use the assisted pull-up machine if you need it.)