The sternocleidomastoid is an important neck muscle that performs several functions requiring two different stretches and two different exercises for strengthening. The SCM muscle has two parts, the front and the back portion; also this muscle rotates, extends and flexes the neck to the side. More than one stretch and strengthening exercise are necessary to make this muscle flexible and strong.
The neck retraction exercise is a stretch that targets the SCM. To perform this exercise, pull your chin back so the neck aligns neutrally with the spine. The neck retraction is also a posture exercise, because you should always center your neck over your shoulders. This exercise combats the postural deficiency known as forward head posture, a common problem whereby people extend their neck forward by jutting the chin. This tightens the SCM. To do this stretch, align your chin parallel to the floor and pull your head back. Hold the chin retracted for 20 to 30 seconds.
The side neck and rotation stretch lengthens the SCM muscle in a different manner than the neck retraction. This stretching exercise lengthens the SCM through bending the neck sideways and rotating it away from the side you are stretching. To begin, stand up tall and retract your neck. Then, tilt your head to the left and rotate your chin to point upward to the right until you feel a stretch on the right side of your neck. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
The wall side neck bridge strengthens the SCM through lateral flexion, or sideways bending. This exercise uses your body weight as resistance and a wall as an object for the SCM to push against. To begin, stand with your left side against a post or wall. Place the left side of your head against the wall. Hold hands behind your back. Then, step your feet to the right slightly so that you can lean diagonally left against the wall with your feet touching and legs straight. This is the starting position. Next, push against the wall to tilt your neck to the left and move your body to the right. Repeat on the other side.
The wall front neck bridge uses a wall and your body weight to strengthen the SCM through a forward flexion instead of a sideways bending of the neck. To perform this exercise, place a small cushioned mat against a wall at chest height. Do not use a pillow or something that your skin will slip on. Step your feet back with your legs straight and lean forward to place the top of your forehead against the cushion. Hold hands behind your back and straighten your back in line with your legs. Then, extend your chin toward the cushion, which causes your back and hips to move backward. Your forehead rolls downward and your nose touches the mat.
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