In last Thursday’s post about the neck, I mentioned some considerations we should have with the neck in strength and conditioning. But where does that leave us in the way we write our program and how do we go about training the neck?
I think the answer really depends on what type athlete/client you’re dealing with and the sport he plays. Some sports like wrestling and football will need some extra consideration for the neck because of the nature of the sport. But that doesn’t mean, you should do some stupid stuff that have far more injury risk than benefits; things like neck harness extensions and neck bridges are, in my opinion, a perfect example of risk vs benefit ratio that’s way too high.
The first way to go about neck training with any type of athlete/client is definitely to teach proper neck position. A drill that I like a lot and that’s also pretty simple is the chin tuck against the wall. It’s really a good place to start to learn the right position and to know how it should feel.
When performing this drill, you want to tuck your chin while pushing the back of your head against the wall; you also want to keep your jaw closed and push your tongue against the roof of your mouth. It will feel very awkward at first, but this is the packed neck position you want to have when lifting, especially when you’re handling heavy loads. Another reason I really like this drill is because when you tell someone to tuck their chin this is usually what it’s going to look like:
This is obviously wrong because it brings the cervical spine into flexion, and this is exactly the type of position we want to avoid. Your athletes and clients need to be able to make the difference between pulling your head back (packed neck) and tucking down (picture above) to get in the “double chin” position. By using the wall and forcing the athlete or client to maintain contact with his head, it will force them to pack back instead of tucking down.
Once the right chin tucked position is mastered and the deep neck flexor muscles can be properly engaged, you can use chin tuck variations to reinforce the packed neck posture in different positions. The quadruped chin tuck is a good example. By taking the wall out of the equation, you can’t rely on anything to find to find the right position and it requires more proprioception. Here’s a video from Eric Cressey that demonstrates the quadruped chin tuck:
But all these exercises are still just activation drills that reinforce the proper packed position.
When able to get the right packed neck position, you’ll want to integrate that into conventional lifts. Being able to maintain the proper position under heavy loads is going to be pretty challengeable to most at first.
So the first thing with the neck is to able to get that packed neck position and then be able to integrate it with conventional lifts. In some cases (wrestlers and football players, for example), you might need extra neck work because of the demands of the sports, but this would be the topic for a whole different blog post.
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