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.