Training the Neck Dynamically?

The below question came from a Hall of Fame Track Coach in Long Island who I am honored that he believes I can somehow be of help to him.  There are many, many folks out there that none of us will ever hear of in the Internet community, but they are far more brilliant and successful than many “big names” out there.

……can a 4-way neck machine be a safe way to train this area for those who are involved in contact sports or simply have a general interest in getting strong as an ox (but never to the exclusion of joint health and quality movement, of course)? While there are likely many directions in which to take the topic of neck training, my primary curiosity is directed towards the relative integrity of training the neck dynamically in flexion/extension and lateral flexion/reduction (adduction), and in particular on one of the machines designed in this manner (although I suppose this would also apply to any manner of loading for this area, whether it came from cables, bands, neck harnesses, or what have you).


Coach, I do not see any appropriate use for the 4-way neck machine.

I would view the neck much in the same way that I view the lumbar spine.  It requires full range of motion in all directions in the upright posture, however, training those movements with repetition and/or resistance is a recipe for injury and dysfunction.

In considering athletes or lifters that have a big neck, that 1) the hypertrophy may not (and likely doesn’t) equate to beast-like stability such as maintaining posture in a lift or collision, and 2) they may have gotten that hypertrophy from static strengthening such as wearing a helmet for hours and years upon end.

Please don’t discount the value of “packing” or “pressurizing” the neck.  This chin tuck position can have amazing effects in single lifts and dynamic performance.  I believe it will also optimize neck-to-eye coordination in allowing the eyes to guide patterning.  The “strength” that is derived from ideal neck and eye position is from awesome static posture, not dynamic isotonic training with a machine or head harness.

I would recommend isometric neck strengthening in neutral upright only if the individual can adequately reach their chin to chest, look backwards to 75-80 degrees, and turn sideways and reach the chin to mid-clavicle.  If they can not do any of the above, I would look away from strengthening and closer to manual therapy, breathing, or low-grade postural training such as Brueggers positions and movements with bands.

  • August 22, 2010

Leave a Reply 21 comments

Jon Reply

Thank you! I think I’ll put this up on the wall in the weight-room next to the neck machine that’s taking up floor space that my boss won’t let me throw out.

Charlie Reply

Maybe you can jimmy it to use for triceps extensions?

Can 2 guys tag-team Zercher it? That would be good conditioning.

Jeff Cubos Reply

Charlie.

This may be far fetched but I am willing to throw it out there for the sake of my personal growth and learning.

RNT for the cervical spine…

What do you think? Theoretically, it seems like a good idea for contact sport (much like the RNT of lumbar spine / core for ADLs) but have you considered this?

If so, I’d like to know what methods you use.

If its not a good idea or is simply a waste of time, I would like to know as well.

This was just a random thought that entered my head upon reading the post above.

Thanks

Jeff

Jeff Cubos Reply

PS. I guess chin tucks against a disc may be a form of RNT for the C-spine, no?

Stan Blanton Reply

Charlie,

I’m now embarrassed to admit that I have such a machine in my garage gym. So my question is whether I can, in good conscience, offer it up for sale, or if it is my duty to throw it on the scrap heap without so much as the inkling of a second thought.

Normally if I am in possession of any sort of equipment in excellent condition and not planning on using it any longer, I attempt to sell it, but after a dose of your usually brilliant wisdom, I not only feel foolish for ever having put it in my gym in the first place, but I feel rather slimy for even contemplating offering it up for sale to an unsuspecting prospective buyer who is not yet privy to your superb insight.

Seth Rudin Reply

Hi, Charlie. Based upon this post, is it safe to say that you’re not a fan of when coaches recommend stretching for the neck, either? It sounds like if you don’t have access to the necessary ROM, then you’ll need more than stretching to restore the function, and if yo already own it, then keeping it doesn’t have anything to do with stretching. Or is this way off base?

While I got (hopefully I wasn’t reading in lines that weren’t there) the feeling that as far as neck movements go, we should save the various planes and ranges of motion for when they are bound “to happen” as part of life or sport but not actively seek them out, particularly in a training setting. But if I recall from the Cobra Pose discussion, extending the neck at a certain point in that movement is warranted and appropriate, so this leads me to believe that I am somewhat confused as to when various motions at the neck are indicated and when the only concern should be maintaining a neutral alignment.

Charlie Reply

Jeff – Are you considering using a band to create a neutral posture out of a c-spine that rests aberrantly? Aside from the potential insensitivity of putting a band around someone’s neck or forehead, I would not go here initially. My assumption is that the neck is outside of neutral because of tone, and I think it would be a crap shoot to expect an RNT to act as a MET to correct alignment.

It doesn’t sound like a complete waste of time, but it doesn’t strike me as ideal or similar to the popular RNT techniques we see in global movements.

Charlie Reply

Jeff – RNT to me if far more than pulling on a band. Add some driven stimulus and expect a response. So yes, a chin tuck may be the RNT for someone with a motor control deficit. That may be the reset button if there are minimal to no mobility restrictions.

Charlie Reply

Stan – Maybe you can donate it to an underpriveleged gym or Boys Club or something. The level of wrong with that “exercise” is probably outweighed these kids getting in the gym and staying out of trouble.

Also keep in mind that as long as folks make an adult/educated decision, that is my message. Someone that does 800 crunches but knows it is not good for the spine is something I can respect. It certainly doesn’t bother if someone has no idea. What bothers me greatly is when people don’t believe the information. That I don’t have much patience for.

Charlie Reply

Seth – Indeed I am also very linear on stretching the neck. I do not recommend it. If the neck is “tight,” it is a protective mechanism. Trying to outrun the brain’s tone of the cervical musculature will just make it worse. Release the tone and follow up with elimination of the reason the brain put the tone there in the first place, and there should be very little need for stretching.
Also consider that stretching is for increase length. Do we need increase length in the neck? It’s not like a hamstring or hip flexore where an increased length can lead to a better stride.
I am very close to saying never stretch the neck. I mean if you need to relieve acute pain or spasm with stretching, do what you have to do, but I do not think a tight neck will do well with stretching long-term.

Assuming cervical range was appropriate, the neck extension in the Cobra position is guided to drive the lumbar spine’s extension. It is a mobility drill, and with the breath, it would become an inner core driver. It is an extension movement pattern where the neck is a very much a part of.
If the person could not properly extend in the neck, the mobility drill would not be indicated.
Neutral packed neck position would be for more of a stability drill such as the DL or Birdog.

Jeff Cubos Reply

Charlie.

Actually, I had never thought of using a band on or around the head/neck (and I’m glad I didn’t). I’m more used to the typical Jull type protocols for the c-spine.

I was just asking because of my work with hockey players and know that some concussion researchers are adamant about neck strengthening. How they do so, they rarely explain.

Charlie Reply

Jeff – There is no secret to a strong neck. Strong total body lifts with neck in neutral means if you can keep your neck there during the movement, you will keep it there during impacts.

Mike T Nelson Reply

To be devil’s advocate, you could argue that with the high importance of all the nerves in the c-spine that neck strength should be a priority.

Granted, many do it in screwball ways.

A simple thing (as mentioned) to get them to lift in a neutral spine. You will see that almost instantaneous, the neck will form a better alignment as soon as they are done with the first few reps. Try it.

Rock on
Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

Charlie Reply

No one is saying neck strength is not valuable. The message just like the lumbar spine is that strength is in the form of staying still or deceleration. There is no devil’s advocacy there.

Jeff Cubos Reply

Thanks Charlie!

Jeff Cubos Reply

PS. Bang on with respect to “stretching”.

Much like c-spine manipulation. Funny how patients walk in asking for c-spine manipulation (believe it or not) when they in fact have a lack of stability, control, etc of this region secondary to T/S dysfunction.

Correcting the T-spine, working on breathing, and an emphasis on restoring static and dynamic c-spine neutral and viola…

Charlie Reply

Often too, cervical and peri-scapular musculature are locked long where 1) they aren’t going to stretch when the are so toned, and 2) they are already elongated, often to a maximal length.

Mike T Nelson Reply

So if I read that right, you are looking to make sure you have a full ROM i the neck before training, correct?

Is there ever a point where you would do more dynamic exercises since more injuries happen in a dynamic fashion?

rock on
Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

Ian Mills Reply

Charlie,

I am a skeleton athlete and my neck can never get strong enough in the off season until I am back on the ice doing run after run. At the beginning of the season, my neck turns into concrete from all the G-force and takes about 40 runs before its back to “normal” condition. Are you suggesting that I should stick with manual therapy instead of trying to stretch to relieve the tension?

The thing with trying to condition my neck to be in top form at the start of the season is that I would be dealing with that stiffness/soreness all summer instead of just in the season.

Neck Strengthening I would do is holding sliding form lying on a bench with a 5kg weight hanging from a strap around the back of my head. Much like the lumbar spine in a deadlift, my neck kills me for days after doing an exercise like this but it is the only stress that mimics actual sliding.

Any help from you or Jeff would be much appreciated

Mad Dawg Mills

Charlie Reply

Mike – Yes, I think full neck ROM is something that we should be looking for as a prereq for training. I am not ready to say don’t train without the neck, but rather it should be a high priority to achieve concurrently.

Regarding training dynamically, as usual, I am fearful semantics will prevail.
If you mean that because people hurt the neck within ranges of motion, then we should train/prepare those ranges of motion, that is, also as usual, completely inappropriate. The reason the neck is injured with range is because for that particular movement, there was not enough stability or ability to control that motion within neutral. So training neutral as best as possible will prevent outside of neutral challenges as much as possible.

Certainly there is a tremendous welcome to OA mobility training, however, these should not be included in full-body conditioning training.

The neck should never be training for conditioning with aggressive repetition or load.
Quick jerked movements in the name of vestibular training are very appropriate. Active range to repattern newly acquired soft tissue mobility is appropriate.

Charlie Reply

Ian – Yes, I would suggest manual therapy followed by self-ranging drills instead of cranking on the tone/stiffness that develops in your neck.

Interesting that you mentioned DL along with the static hold.
It may be increasing the strength and tolerance to the DL that can improve your neck stability in the skeleton.

First off, I would highly suggest no movement or exercise should “kill you for days.” You are now having to recover from something that is designed to improve your performance and durability for the special skill, the Skeleton. I would ask you to take the neck and the 5kg out of the equation and just think about this for a moment. You have to do something to make the Skeleton better. Should that something “hurt” you for 5 days? And is it even working if you need stretching or manual therapy to recover from the Skeleton? If duplicating the stress isn’t helping, maybe it’s not the best idea.

All that being said, for the type of stability you have in the neck, you may always provoke it from your special training. That’s okay because that is the terminal goal. Skeleton is pretty radical, and perhaps the anatomy or length of your neck precludes great recovery all the time.

I would recommend packing the neck (chin tuck) during all of your strength and stability training. Keep it where you want it on the sled. The more agile and powerful you are with loads and speeds with the neck kept in the right place, the more stable it will be when you really need it.

As for the iso-holds, can you try it with less weight so you can keep the appropriate neck muscles contributing properly?

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