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Lateral Neck Flexion And Leverage

Training the head and neck is complex and leverage must be managed. In head and neck exercises we often use our traps and torso to accelerate and decelerate weight, either consciously or unconsciously, interfering with development. Coaches therefore teach proper form of exercise to achieve a desired amplification of force by putting us in appropriate leverage advantage and disadvantage positions to maximize muscular output. 

We elevate our traps by shrugging to protect our cervical spine, which keeps our head and neck from going to far into extension. We also use our traps to assist in accelerating our head and neck forward into flexion, protective actions that are reflexive in nature. These movements can readily be seen through the example of a loud noise occurring. Upon hearing a strange sharp noise you quickly shrug to assist in ducking your head and the quickly elevated traps protect the head and neck from being whiplashed backwards.

We also use our torso to move our head in space, this allows us to fully flex the muscles of the head and neck while dodging anything that is about to make contact with our countenance. Against a load on a neck machine it is very difficult to have lateral flexion of the head and neck without lateral flexion of the spine accompanied by some rotation, this is simply how our structures move as we contract our muscles.

In studies on training the neck, it has been found that the greatest electrical activity in the targeted musculature is achieved sitting.  But though this is the effective position, coaches know that even in a seated posture and properly addressing the leverage of the traps and torso ...... it is the arms that are often used to what in the 'exercise world' has been labeled as 'cheating'. 

Bryan Fitzpatrick is the Associate Strength & Conditioning Coach for Football and Coordinator of Speed/Agility Development for Navy. Bryan has coached at Penn State, the Minnesota Vikings and West Virginia before arriving at the Naval Academy. Bryan is extremely sharp and recently talked about a training technique that he uses with the Midshipmen to teach form, address leverage and get the most out of lateral neck flexion when using the Pendulum Neck Machine.

Bryan simply takes a dowel or PVC Pipe and creates the shape of a goal post with the arms before beginning lateral flexion (an approximately 40 degree movement). The face pad's work arm is placed in the fourth hole on the cam of the Pendulum 4 or 5 Way Neck machine. When the exercise begins the pipe may tilt a few degrees during the movement as the torso begins to flex - which is normal - yet the coach has the trainee keep the pipe as close to parallel to the floor as possible. 

The athlete trains several weeks with the acquired posture. Once picture perfect form is obtained and the weight has been increased the athlete understands how it feels to train lateral neck flexion with the desired motion.  Accomplished, the trainee alters his or her style by holding on to the bottom of the seat pad to stabilize the torso.  Using both arms to stabilize the trunk and depress the traps (not assist in the motion) allows lateral neck flexion to become the incredible neck developer that it is. 

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                                 A great way to teaching the skills of Getting Strong.

Topics: Head/Neck/Trap/Shop, Pendulum 5 Way Neck, Pendulum 4 Way Neck, Neck training

Deep Neck Flexors

The deep cervical neck flexor muscles longus capitis, longus colli, rectus capitis anterior, rectus capitis lateralis are not only important neck stabilizers and postural muscles, but impaired and/or delayed activation of these deep cervical flexors can cause headaches and/or neck pain and lead to a reduction of the tissues size (atrophy).

There are more muscles in the neck than degrees of freedom. The degrees of freedom refers to the number of ways we can move our head and neck in space. Having more muscles than movement allows us to substitute, that is, assist an action with muscles that are not deemed to be prime in an action. A simple illustration would be, waking up in the morning with a ‘stiff neck’ and though having discomfort, still have the  ability to function, moving the head and neck while the injured area recovers throughout the day.

Being able to substitute as muscles recover post strain or injury is a wonderful aspect of human function, but it is also imperative that we return our structures to normalcy once traumatized. Continual alteration of normal neural flow can and will lead to atrophy of the affected area and a lingering alteration of neural pathways. These deep cervical flexors are keys to neck pain relief and restoration of muscular activity and structural posture -- their function must be addressed.

The craniocervical flexion test (CCFT) is a clinical test of the anatomical action of the aforementioned deep cervical flexor muscles. The craniocervical flexion examination tests the isometric endurance of these inmost muscles and looks at their interaction with the superficial cervical flexors.

In a study in the 2016, Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, researchers used this test and electromyography and found that “Individuals with smaller deep cervical flexor muscles exhibited increased activity in the sternocleidomastoid during the CCFT.” The sternocleidomastoids are much more powerful and assist the weaker musculature in movement. It is also known that those with ‘neck pain disorders’ alter their neuromotor control and movement strategies and have reduced activity in the inner cervical flexors, factors that lead to substitution.

Neck trauma is commonplace whether it be due to aggressive participation in sport, occurrences such as whiplash, concussions or be it neglect. This reformed neuromotor control, increased activity in the superficial flexors and atrophy ensures that strength training must be done.

Include in the athletes training protocol a 10-15 degree movement that flexes the head.  This head action is a short distinct movement that is disassociated from a neck exercise. It is done by placing the neck pad work arm in one of the last four holes on the Pendulum 4 or 5 Way Head and Neck Machine's cam. Once the weight is set the athlete performs the exercise by flexing the head leading and pulling with his/her chin.

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The Pendulum 4 and 5 Way Neck Machines were designed to be able to address head and and neck movement to properly train the complex region of the upper spine.

Topics: Head/Neck/Trap/Shop, Pendulum 5 Way Neck, Pendulum 4 Way Neck, Neck training

The Importance of Training the Head, Neck and Jaw

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. The following is an article that he wrote for the NCAA on the "The Importance of Training the Head and Neck."

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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. 

Topics: Head/Neck/Trap/Shop, Pendulum 5 Way Neck, Pendulum 4 Way Neck, Neck training

Neck Pain And Your Athletes

Athletes often have neck pain, yet we do not always understand the effect it has on performance. BioMed Central Musculoskeletal Disorders Journal, "Evidence for a general stiffening motor control pattern in neck pain: a cross sectional study.", describes how neck pain can effect us in many ways.  Athletes need to play at a high level and they, as well as their coaches must be in tune to it's effect on the execution of skill. 

Neck pain effects flexibility and 'conjunct motion'. Flexibility or range of motion is associated with mobility - conjunct motion is the smooth timed transitions that our musculature makes to perform movements. Pain inhibits the underlying passages of muscle to muscle contractions, which effects how our skeletal system operates. A simple test administered by researchers is to have subjects with neck issues stand on a balance pad versus healthy individuals performing the same task. Those with neck problems have more difficulty with motor control and maintaining posture.

There are other adverse problems associated with neck pain that effect performance, such as slower neck movement velocity, increased head steadiness and more rigid trajectory of head motion patterns.

When an athlete receives neck trauma they must get treatment from the trainer with regularity and make sure their neck strength also returns to it's original level. There is more musculature than 'degrees of freedom' in the head and neck region. Degrees of freedom represents our ability to move our head and neck in all the various ways that we normally can. Having more muscle than degrees of freedom allows for substitution of the injured musculature by other groups of head and neck muscles to perform the same movement - but not quite as well.  When an athlete returns-to-play even though only experiencing minor degrees of pain athleticism may be less then optimal. Like any region in the body each muscle must heal and regain strength so that we are no longer substituting and have normal conjunct motion.

Keep accurate records on the Pendulum 4 and 5 Way Head and Neck machine and if an athlete is ever injured make sure they can return to their previous levels of strength - Get Strong and Keep Strong.  

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Topics: Head/Neck/Trap/Shop, Pendulum 5 Way Neck, Pendulum 4 Way Neck, Strength

Don't Miss The Best Clinic Of The Year

In 2015 in the Journal of Medicine Science and Sport researchers found that if you suffer a concussion the risk of a lower body injury is twice as great for months, a year or even longer.  In 2016 this information was once again reiterated in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

On June 25th and June 27th Kim Wood, the NFL's first full time strength coach provides a clinic that is designed to share techniques that will reduce sub-concussive forces that can cause head and neck injuries. Also, the clinic provides the most current research and newest techniques to train the head, neck and jaw from a wide array of professional coaches. 

It will be held in Pallet 23 Event Space, 3932 Spring Grove in Cincinnati. Pre-registration on footballstrength.com. The clinic begins Friday, June 24th at 7 p.m. and Saturday June 25th at 9 a.m. The cost is $25 which includes both sessions.

Register now: space is limited.

Some of Kim Wood's barbells. Kim provides a clinic that you do not want to miss!

Topics: Head/Neck/Trap/Shop, Pendulum 5 Way Neck, Pendulum 4 Way Neck, Clinics, Announcements, Success

Best And Most Important Clinic Of The Year

In 1931 Paul Brown was the head coach of the football powerhouse Massillon High School in Massillon, Ohio. He lost only 10 games in eleven seasons and was hired as the head football coach at Ohio State University, where in 1942 his team won the National Championship. Paul Brown followed this by winning three NFL Championships as the coach of the Cleveland Browns.  Brown then co-founded the Cincinnati Bengals and became their head coach in 1968. His storied career included inventing the face mask, developing the taxi squad, running the draw play and installing a radio transmitter in the quarterbacks helmet. In 1975 Paul Brown made a lasting impact on the physical development of athletes, hiring Kim Wood as the NFL's first full-time strength coach. 

Kim Wood maintained the position for 29 years and his influence on the exercise world is unparalleled. Kim has built world leading companies, influenced equipment design and program implementation, he continues to fight performance enhancing drugs and has preserved the history of weight training with his vast collection. Wood's philosophy as a coach was effective simple and direct, "Prepare each athlete for the rigors of the game and get the most out of every repetition that is done."

Each year Kim runs America's best Strength Clinic

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Kim Wood's Study.....Photography by Ed Cicale

In 2015 in the Journal of Medicine Science and Sport researchers found that if you suffer a concussion the risk of a lower body injury is twice as great for months, a year or even longer.  In 2016 this information was once again reiterated in the American Journal of Sports Medicine. The clinic is designed to provide and share techniques that will reduce sub-concussive forces that can cause head and neck injuries and thus reduce the risk of injury throughout the entire body.  Also, the clinic provides the most current research and new techniques to train the head, neck and jaw from a wide array of professional coaches. 

The clinic is important enough that professional football players, major college strength coaches and writers from Sports Illustrated, ESPN Magazine, NFL.com and the local newspapers have all attended.

It will be held in Pallet 23 Event Space, 3932 Spring Grove in Cincinnati. Pre-registration on footballstrength.com. The clinic begins Friday, June 24th at 7 p.m. and Saturday June 25th at 9 a.m. The cost is $25 which includes both sessions.

Register now: space is limited.

Topics: Head/Neck/Trap/Shop, Clinics, Neck training, Success

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.

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Jaw Strength Villanova

Topics: Head/Neck/Trap/Shop, Pendulum 5 Way Neck, Pendulum 4 Way Neck, Neck training

Manual Resistance

In 1978, 76 strength coaches attended the first National Strength Coaches Association convention in Lincoln, Nebraska, many of these coaches were part time employees.  Manual Resistance was introduced to the college and professional strength and conditioning coaches in 1979.  Dan Riley was the head strength coach of Penn State University and a speaker at the NSCA, during his presentation he showed film of his players training, selected exercises were done with partners and without the use of weights which he deemed manual resistance. 

With colleges and universities previously uninvested in strength training and tremendously limited facilities manual resistance was a great way to augment training for the newly founded position of strength and conditioning coach.  It gave coaches an avenue to accomplish work with limited strength training tools.  In 1982 Dan published Maximum Muscular Fitness which discussed the art of manual partner training.

Since the 70's and the advent of diverse weight training technologies many have stepped away from manual training and built great weight rooms with different types of exercise devices that make manual training no longer necessary.

West Virginia Neck Program

Manual resistance still has value as it allows a coach to teach athletes movements that the athlete may not be able to do away from the facility or if their facility is lacking.

The issues you must keep in mind if Manual Resistance is part of your program:

  • We have a concussion crisis in athletics. The absolute best tools for strength training the muscular that lowers subconcussive forces are the 4- Way and 5- Way Head and Neck Machines.  Manual resistance can be used to augment these exercises or used when these devices are not available but the 4 and 5 -Way Head and Neck Machines should be priorities in your facilities.
  • When training manually all athletes must understand the rules and not only perform the exercise themselves but be able to teach, as well as administer the exercise to others. 
  • Once an athlete understands how to perform manual resistance it requires the same effort and motivation as if trying to improve on a bench, squat, clean or any other strength training exercise.
  • When training manually to progressively overload it requires some strength measurement to track progress.  A circumference will give you information but fluctuates in regards to time of day, body composition and other physiological variables.
  • Remember when training manually around the head and neck athletes should have clean hands especially during flu season.
  • After a head or neck injury you need strength values for return-to-play.  The athletic trainer and physician use strength levels of the shoulder and knees for return-to-play but without a neck machine and previously obtained strength results one can only guess about the levels needed to resume activity safely.

 

Manual Resistance Rules

1). Each athlete must know and understand the rules.

2). The Lifter begins each exercise with the goal of 6-8 reps. This requires pacing, in other words, the first repetition is not an all out effort. The effort must be increasing for every subsequent repetition.

2a). The Spotter should allow the lifter to perform each repetition at the same pace or speed of movement. This will require different amounts of pressure by the spotter during the rep (because of leverage). The lifter will feel as though the resistance is similar at all joint angles (the resistance will feel smooth).

3). The lowering phase of every repetition should be slower than the raising phase. A guide in learning manual resistance is raise the involved limbs up in 1-2 seconds or at a 1-2 count and lower them in 4-5 seconds or at a 4 or 5 count.

3a). The Spotter must make sure that they feel more force by the lifter during the lowering phase of each repetition.

4). The Lifter should continually contract their target musculature during the raising phase and the lowering phase of every repetition.

4a). The Spotter must give feedback to the lifter to ensure there is always a constant contraction on every repetition performed. The spotter should identify any relaxation or loss of force by the lifter during the movement.

5). The Lifter should pause with pressure against the spotter's resistance at the top of every movement. Pausing with pressure and no relaxation is extremely difficult.

5a). The Spotter should insure the lifter is applying force at the top of the movement. The spotter must feel if the lifter is relaxing. The spotter must ease slowly into the lowering phase of the exercise. Slowly easing into the lowering phase or decent is extremely important.

6). The exercise is completed when the athlete reaches momentary muscular failure.

Pendulum 5-Way Neck Machines


Topics: Head/Neck/Trap/Shop, concussions, Manual Resistance

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.

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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

 

Topics: Head/Neck/Trap/Shop, Pendulum 5 Way Neck, Pendulum 4 Way Neck, Neck training

Preventative Sports Medicine

The Pingry School is located in Martinsville, New Jersey. Doug Scott is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach. The hallmark of any strength and conditioning program is Preventative Sports Medicine and the Pingry School exemplifies this.

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Doug Scott discusses the Pingry School neck training program to a group of coaches


Beginning in the 6th grade physical education classes, all students begin neck exercise as part of their normal fitness routines. The purpose is not to neglect the structures that are important in posture, balance, movement, strength, cooling, oxygen uptake and protecting the student athlete by lowering concussive forces.  Having total body strength by including a neck protocol prepares young students for their participation in sport.

The following routine over time significantly changes these young students strength and readies them, male and female, for the comprehensive head and neck training program awaitng them in high school.

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Laying on their backs the students are instructed to make a goal post with their arms and keep the back of their hands on the floor during each of three different exercises.

1). Neck flexion - bring the chin to chest and hold for each repetition.

2). Neck protrusion - raise the head vertically off the floor in a straight line sticking out the chin .

3). Side of neck - raising the head off the floor and tilting the ear to the shoulder and returning to neutral.  Each side is trained.

A great way to Get the young Strong.

Topics: Head/Neck/Trap/Shop, Pendulum 5 Way Neck, Pendulum 4 Way Neck, Neck training, Strength Training