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Neck Fatigue And Balance

Neck muscle fatigue produces abnormal sensory input to the central nervous system and affects our postural control, we use our vision to overcome these effects. Dynamic visual acuity is the clearness of the visual perception of an image, when our ocular system is impaired visual acuity degrades during head movements. 

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Training on the Pendulum 5 Way Head and Neck Machine

In the January Journal of Physical Therapy Science, researchers found that neck muscle fatigue negatively impacts dynamic visual acuity.  The cervical spine is the hotbed of proprioception and when measured by joint position error, acuity is seen to diminish after fatigue.

Experiments in studying neck muscle fatigue, not only produce significantly altered effects of balance, but perceived altered affects, as well. In the May 2014 Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, scientists discovered fatigue is more than a general convention and that particular neck muscle groups have varying effects on stability.

Since neck muscle fatigue has been shown to alter an individual's balance in a similar way to subjects who suffer from neck pain or people that have suffered a neck injury, it is essential that an athlete trains the entire system, which includes the muscles of the head neck and jaw. Coaches must make it clear to the athlete that neck muscle strength affects performance and athletic trainers must be cognizant that returning muscle strength to normal values post injury is not only an important part of the rehabilitative process, but is imperative

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To perform optimally during athletics Get the entire system Strong.

Miami University Synchronized Skating

MacKenzie Cutter is a Strength and Conditioning Coach at Miami of Ohio University, she runs a comprehensive strength and conditioning program for each of the University's teams that she is responsible for. The Miami University Synchronized Skating team has been our Nations best, they have won National Collegiate Championships in 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014. Neck training is a part of their program.

In the 1970s, colleges began introducing strength training into their athletic programs to enhance performance, as well as reduce injuries. Women, in general had a strong fear of becoming too muscular. Educators worked to dispel those fears and strength and conditioning programs are now commonplace throughout athletics. Yet wrongly conceived beliefs still linger today when it comes to training the muscles associated with the cervical spine. Neck training for the female, which increases the stiffness of the musculature rather than the size, is important not only to protect each athlete by reducing sub-concusive forces but perfect their balance and skill.

As great as these Miami synchronized skaters are, falls and collisions occur, protecting each athlete is paramount. 







Head and Neck Training

describe the imageMike Gittleson was the Director of Strength & Conditioning at the University of Michigan for 30 years and was a part of 15 Football Championships in that time. He explains, there are methods for lowering the risk and reducing the number of sport-related concussions across America.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) – which is used interchangeably with the term concussion – as a complex pathophysiologic process affecting the brain, induced by traumatic biomechanical forces secondary to direct or indirect forces to the head. A concussion or MTBI can be caused by a blow or a jolt to the head or body that disrupts the function of the brain.

There are methods for lowering the risk and reducing the number of sport-related concussions across America. Some of the factors are return to play, rules changes, the number of exposures, skill development, protective equipment and strength training to lower subconcussive forces. All of these considerations play a part in abatement of concussion. Exclusion of any one item affects the safety of the student-athlete. Each factor must be reviewed by the professional who, by using assiduity and diligence, can and will have a positive impact on risk.

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Preventative sports medicine is the hallmark of any strength and conditioning program. The first goal of a professional is to develop effective and practical ways to reduce the number of sports-related injuries.

In the 1970s, collegiate programs began introducing strength training into their athletic programs to enhance performance as well as reduce injuries. There was very little research on the subject of weight training and athletics and many misnomers about strength training in general. At the time, the majority felt strongly that the use of barbells and strength training devices would inhibit athleticism by bulking and stiffening the athlete. Women, in general, had a strong fear of becoming too muscular. Educators worked to dispel those fears and strength and conditioning programs are now commonplace throughout athletics. Though some wrongly conceived beliefs still linger today when it comes to training the musculature associated with the cervical spine.

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The benefits of muscular development are far greater than initially purported since the inception of strength training into intercollegiate athletics. One of the important functions of strength training has become the development of the muscle and tendon as a unit. The muscle-tendon unit attenuates and dissipates force. Developing a strong musculoskeletal system is what is needed to protect joints and reduce injuries. This attenuation and dissipation of force is not exclusive to particular joints in the anatomical system.

Dawn Comstock, associate professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health, collected data on 6,704 student-athletes in six sports: boys' and girls' soccer, basketball and lacrosse. Her results indicated that for every pound of improved neck strength, an individual reduces his or her concussion risk.

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Dr. Comstock from her years of injury surveillance points out the primary mechanism for concussion injury is athlete-to-athlete contact. The researcher then asked, "Did the athlete see the blow coming?" And she found that for the athletes who saw the blow coming – those who had a chance to activate their neck muscles – experienced less severe concussion.

The attenuation and dissipation of force and bracing before impact by activating neck muscles can lower subconcussive trauma. This is a great reason for training the musculature that moves the neck and supports the head.

There are many more reasons for an athlete to train this region of the anatomy. ‘Where the head goes the body will follow’ is an athletic axiom that coaches teach. Stand straight, place your fingers lightly on the nape of your neck. Without moving your head quickly move your eyes left and right. You will feel the musculature in your neck begin to contract. The eyes are not connected to the neck muscles but the brain is preparing the body for movement. Like our limbs it is important to move the head quickly. Training the head and neck will enhance performance.

The respiratory system’s process of inspiration and expiration involves much more than the diaphragm and the internal and external intercostal muscles. The scalene muscles in the neck are involved in almost every breath we take. The platysma and sternocleidomastoid are involved in heavy breathing. Injure or develop neck muscles and your body’s athleticism will be affected. 

Conventional wisdom suggests that strength training increases body mass index (BMI) in a positive way, but does it? BMI is a simplistic measure of body fat. It is calculated by dividing one’s weight in kilograms by the square of one’s height in meters. The derived results can then be compared to a chart of normative data provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). BMI is useful for the overweight and obese, yet it does have limitations. BMI may overestimate body fat in athletes and others who have muscular builds. The problem is this simple tool does not differentiate between fat mass and lean body mass. It has long been argued that heavily muscled, weight-trained athletes are healthy despite their BMI classification.

At issue is the athlete that increases muscle mass and vascularity significantly in all areas of the body but the neck region alters peripheral vascular resistance in an acute way. Peripheral resistance is a function of the internal vessel diameter, vessel length and blood viscosity. Having a large body and an undeveloped neck changes the force of the delivery system’s blood flow to the head.

The cervical spine’s associated musculature is regarded as an important proprioceptive organ for postural processes. The muscles are small with a high spindle density. You can think of this region as the hotbed of proprioception. Disturbances of gait can occur by interfering with, damaging, weakening or fatiguing the muscles of the head and neck. Training this region augments static as well as dynamic posture – our ability to balance.

The head and neck muscular system is a complex anatomical structure and has apparent muscle redundancy; that is, more head and neck muscle than degrees of freedom. It is been postulated that individuals exhibit a large variation of neck muscle activation strategies for accomplishing the same task intra individually, as well as between subjects. The health practitioner’s return-to-play protocol after a concussion, whiplash, nerve or muscle trauma must contain a measurable strength component to restore each muscle to normalcy, redressing this tendency to substitute by the injured athlete.

Head and neck muscles can be thought of as two distinct muscular units, the musculature that moves the head and the muscles that move the cervical spine. Each unit must be trained to maximize development and ongoing strength values collected. This aids in overall muscular fitness and post injury assessment in returning a student-athlete to their appropriate functional movement.

Injuries to the mouth, face and jaw are part of sport. Having a strong jaw helps in bracing, clenching against a mouth guard, and resisting the pull of the chin strap in helmets. Injured masseter muscles, strained temporalis, pterygoids, digastrics all must be rehabilitated and strengthened when damaged.

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To help lower subconcussive forces, protect the student-athlete returning to play, maximize performance and fitness, strength training of the head, neck and jaw must be inclusive when designing exercise programs.

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Neck Strength A Protective Factor

It has been surmised by trainers and strength coaches that strengthening the neck and activating the neck muscles to brace for impact reduce an athlete's risk of concussion during a collision by attenuating the head's kinematic response after impact.  As recent as 2014 research studies substantiated this.

In the 2014 Journal of Primary Prevention , Neck strength: a protective factor reducing risk for concussion in high school sports, researchers found that after adjusting for gender and sport overall neck strength remained a significant predictor of concussions concluding"for every one pound increase in neck strength odds of concussion decreased by 5%."

In the March 2014 American Journal of Sports Medicine the study, Effect of neck muscle strength and anticipatory cervical muscle activation on the kinematic response of the head to impulsive loads, concluded "Neck strength and impact anticipation are 2 potentially modifiable risk factors for concussion. Interventions aimed at increasing athletes neck strength and reducing unanticipated impacts may decrease the risk of concussion associated with sport participation."

Developing head and neck strength attends to a 'modifiable risk factor' to help protect an athlete in sport. Mike Joseph and his staff at the University of West Virginia run a comprehensive head and neck strengthening program. Not only does the program protect the student athlete, but increases their overall strength and athletic performance.describe the image

Assistant Director of Strength and Coditioning Darl Bauer coaching neck training

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Training neck extension on the Pendulum 4-Way Neck Machines


The results are impressive, ten days after this athletes neck measured 20.5" it measured 20.75".

Protect your athletes by Getting  them Strong.

Head And Neck Training In Kansas

Scott Holsopple is the Director of Strength and Conditioning for the University of Kansas. Scott has tremendous experience in the field of strength and conditioning. He coached at Florida when they won the National Championship in football, he was the head strength coach for Kentucky basketball and Marguette basketball and was an assistant strength coach for his alma mater Penn State University, as well as having a coaching stint at Notre Dame.`

Scott has eleven neck machines in his facility so that each athlete has an opportunity to maximize their strength.

Kansas Neck Machines

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Pendulum 4-Way Head and Neck Machines

A Strong Jaw

Strengthening your jaw to hold it in place during contact sports is a good thing. Being able to hold strong isometric contractions during an impact not only protects the jaw, but lowers the subconcussive forces associated with head injury.

The lateral pterygoid, anterior belly of the digastric, geniohyoid and platysma muscles are involved in jaw opening. The anterior portion, the thickest part of the platysma muscle depresses the mandible when you strain during effort leaving the mouth partially open. When you tuck your chin the powerful masseter muscles on the side of your jaw are neurally inhibited. The masseter muscle is a jaw closer, this means it is important to maximize openers, as well as, closers to hold the jaw in place since neural inhibition can reduce the number of muscles involved in a particular head movement. 

Jake Cox played football at Kansas and has a masters degree in Kinesiology from Stephen F. Austin. Jake is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Villanova University football team. Coach Cox runs a comprehensive head and neck program that includes exercise for the jaw.  He trains his athletes utilizing 6 Pendulum 5-Way Head and Neck Machines, Manual Resistance and Resistance Bands. The Villanova Wildcats protect their athletes by Getting them Strong.

Villanova Jaw Strength


Jaw Strength Villanova

Training The Upper Trap

Training the superior or upper portion of the trapezius can not effectively be exercised by shrugging or even high pulling.

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When you are shrugging, you are holding onto the bar to raise it, no matter how high you pull the bar you are still capable of extending the head with your extensors. Since there is no resistance to push against there is no overload and little development of  the superior trapezius muscles. 

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When you securely stabilize the torso while holding on to something and the resistance is placed on the occiput or back of the skull the upper trapezius can extend the head and be maximally developed.

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Fixating the torso during neck extension on the Pendulum 4 or 5 Way Neck augments the upper trapezius muscles.

Neck Muscle Strength And Cervical Muscle Activation

In the January, American Journal of Sports Medicine, Effect of neck muscle strength and anticipatory cervical muscle activation on the kinematic response of the head to impulsive loads. The authors concluded...."In male and female athletes across the age spectrum, greater neck strength and anticipatory cervical muscle activation ("bracing for impact") can reduce the magnitude of the head's kinematic response." 

Neck Stength Women

Neck strength and anticipating the impact are modifiable. All coaches attend to developing skill and all coaches should develop head and neck strength with their athletes to reduce risk and potentially lower the incidence of concussion.

Neck strength women

Brace for impact...Get Strong.

How To Train Your Neck

Chad Smith is a Head Strength Coach and a part of the High Intensity Team of the Hard Pressed Strength Training Facility in downtown Chicago.  Chad takes a moment to explain how to train the head, neck and traps.

There are the 8 essential movements every athlete needs to be doing to get the muscles that hold the skull or occiput in place and help dissipate the potential concussive forces:




Neck Flexion

 Neck Extension


Lateral Flexion


Head Flexion



One arm shrug


2 arm shrug

These 8 movements, at a minimum are the foundation of Head and Neck training. The utilization of a neck machine is recommended for maximizing the strength in this area. To get any muscle strong you need to overload with weight.  Many train the neck soley with bands or only utilize manual resistance. Consider the question when you strength train do you train your arms or legs solely in this manner, so why is the neck any different?  When you are in Chicago stop by Hard Pressed we would love to Get your entire body Strong.

Measuring Neck Circumference

Mike Joseph is the Director of Strength and Conditioning at the West Virginia University.  Head and Neck training is an important part of the Mountaineers strength program.  Darl Bauer is the Assistant Director, he gives us some insight into taking measurements of neck circumference in monitoring their program.  Darl explains... I measure once a month and have found that it is a great motivational tool, athletes love it when their hard work shows up with an increased neck size. 

West Virginia Neck Program

I have found even though I do the very best at measuring the exact same point each time that certain measurements seem to be flawed by my own human error.  Either I have pulled too tight, or not enough, or the athlete has flexed at the last second, something you must always control.

Neck Recording          describe the image             describe the image

If an athlete has lost fat their neck size may get smaller even though they are gaining strength.  For an athlete losing circumference it is upsetting and no coach wants their player to feel that their training program doesn't work, my response is always the same..."Are you moving more weight?  Then your neck is getting stronger."  And if you are less fat then the results are doubly great! Gaining strength and losing fat is the message that must be relayed to the athlete.

When you measure athletes early in the morning and then measure them in the afternoon the results may be completely different (up to a quarter inch higher). We dehydrate in our sleep and when we eat, what we eat, what activity we have done, and assessment accuracy all come into play.  Measuring the same time every day is ideal, but not in the collegiate setting.

I basically give a +/- .25 inches discretion to the measurements.  If they gain more than .25 inches then I consider that a substantial gain.  If they lose more than .25 inches than I consider that substantial loss and I put them on a 'high-risk' list, where they are required to do supplemental neck training on top of our current 'Neck/Trap/Scap'program.  It has worked very well.

Tracking circumference is a tremendous motivator and tool to assess your program and your athletes progress.  Train their head and neck musculature and Get  and keep them Strong.

neck machines Pendulum 4-Way Head and Neck Machines


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