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The Most Important Exercise

In March of 2014, The American Journal of Sports Medicine published, Effect of neck muscle strength and anticipatory cervical muscle activation on the kinematic response of the head to impulsive loads, they concluded "Interventions aimed at increasing athletes' neck strength and reducing unanticipated impacts may decrease the risk of concussion associated with sport participation."  This has important meaning for male and female athletes across the age spectrum for them to achieve greater neck strength and always improve their skill. By doing so they will be more accomplished in the anticipation of bracing for impact (anticipatory cervical muscle activation) and can reduce the magnitude of the head's subconcussive and concussive forces if incidences do occur.

A concussion (MTB, mild traumatic brain injury) and a variety of head and neck injuries are occurrences and risks associated with many of the sports that we play.  On October 1st, 2017, The Journal of Biomedical Engineering published, The Role of Neck Muscle Activities on the Risk of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury in American Football. Knowing neck strength is an effective preventative strategy in reducing sports related concussions, researchers wanted to examine the 'why' strength changed the head's kinematic response? They looked at four different muscle activation strategies - no muscle response, a reactive muscle response, a pre-activation response, and response due to stronger muscle strength to compare the effects of neck muscles on the risk of sustaining a concussion. "Simulation results indicated that active responses of neck muscles could effectively reduce the risk of brain injury." Increased neck strength can decrease the time to compress the neck and guard against the traumatic effects of injury. This study reaffirmed the aforementioned 2014 research.

As it turns, performance aside, this is why we strength train, to build our musculature to protect us as best we can during competition. Without question the number one and most important area of our body to train are the muscles of the head and neck. And if we are to look at training for performance -- remember as an athlete or coach, 'Where the head goes the body will follow', decreasing response time of neck muscles allows the body to move faster. Having quick responsive musculature throughout the system and a comparatively slower head and neck musculature is counterintuitive. 

Make head and neck training a priority to keep athletes safe and Get Strong.

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 The Pendulum 5 Way Head and Neck Machine

Topics: Pendulum 5 Way Neck, Pendulum 4 Way Neck, Neck training

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

Neck Muscle Strength

On January 31, 2014 the American Journal of Sports Medicine published an article on neck strength titled, Effect of Neck Muscle Strength and Anticipatory Cervical Muscle Activation on the Kinematic Response of the Head to Impulsive Loads. The findings indicated that male and female athletes could potentially modify risk factors for concussion by developing neck musculature. It was shown that having greater neck strength when bracing for impact reduces the magnitude of the head’s kinematic response.

The anticipatory act of bracing for a violent collision is important in protecting oneself from the effects of whiplash, yet bracing in itself is a common occurrence.  When you run, neck muscles contract before your foot hits the ground. The process of running is inherently bouncy as our muscle tendon units act as springs to propel us up and forward. This aerial phase neck muscle contraction is in anticipation of the ground reaction force.  Ground reaction force causes a vertical acceleration of the head that actually pitches the head forward at foot strike.

The human head uses a self-stabilizing system that does not rely on muscular reflex to control the pitching action during running. Reflex alone cannot control the action of the head once ground strike occurs – having fewer than then 10 milliseconds to control the up and forward action of the head is not enough time for our natural reflexes.

Our head, which is pitched forward upon landing, also rolls and yaws. This requires contractions of neck extensors, as well as flexors and a downward swing of an arm that dampens vertical acceleration. Each arm constitutes about eight percent of total body mass, roughly the same relative percent as the 5 to 6 kilogram runner’s head. If you consider the head in running as the primary mass then the downward swing of the stance side arm becomes the counter mass accelerating in the opposite direction, thereby dampening the skull’s oscillation. The athlete then alters their running form by bending and swinging his or her arms in movements with the appropriate power and speed to counter these varying vectors of force.  Changing the mass or active stiffness of the arms through strength training and not addressing the mass and/or muscular system of the head and neck can be problematic. The coach and athlete will spend countless hours trying to achieve a particular running form that cannot truly be corrected unless they address the musculature that is controlling the movement of the skull.

There is another issue that the neck must attend to during running. When we land during sprinting we avoid falling down by utilizing the muscles of the lower back and hip – particularly the largest muscle of our body, the powerful gluteus maximus – to decelerate the trunk. As the trunk accelerates forward and then backward the head and neck accelerates backward then forward. Try this at home: Sit in your car and accelerate quickly forward then step on the brake. Vehicle acceleration provides example that the more the trunk pitches the more the head reacts. Increasing the strength and/or mass of the trunk and not addressing the strength and/or mass of the head and neck adversely effects athleticism.

As mentioned, the head also rolls and yaws during running, usually towards the stance side foot at foot strike.  Once the runner is in the aerial phase one leg quickly swings forward while the opposite leg is thrust behind the body, causing angular momentum around the vertical axis. We counteract this by swinging our arms in an opposite phase to the legs to have an equal and opposite angular momentum. The neck must not only rotate in the opposite direction of the trunk but quickly prepare for being thrust vertically and forward upon landing.

The human brain is encased in a rigid skull and covered by a muscular scalp which is surrounded by three layers of membranes and floats in a protective cushion of cerebrospinal fluid. Though protected, brain trauma can occur with sudden acceleration or deceleration within the cranium. Control of head stabilization is one important line of defense for protecting the brain from perturbation.   During activity, it remains relatively stable as we integrate information about the head and body from our eyes, vestibular system and proprioceptors of the neck. For athletes involved in any sport with an associated head trauma risk, protecting the brain from excessive subconcussive forces through strength training head and neck musculature for bracing is the first job of a strength and conditioning coach.

For any athlete to excel in sport, they must train the structures that decelerate opposing masses. This means that athletes must have head and neck training as part of their exercise regime. The head and neck muscles are countering arm swing, trunk pitch and rotation, as the arms are countering head pitch, leg swing and trunk movement. Developing one area and neglecting another is not conducive to optimal athletic development or performance. Train the entire system. 

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 Make Neck Training an Integral Part of your Program

Topics: Pendulum 5 Way Neck, Pendulum 4 Way Neck, Neck training

Whiplash And Neck Strength

The relationship between whiplash and cerebral concussion is known. Concussive trauma can occur when the head and brain shake quickly back and forth ending in injury. Whiplash injuries are common in sport yet more prevalent in daily transportation, as an auto accident occurs every minute of every day. The auto industry is relentless in studying whiplash to protect us against collision. Recently researchers looked at sized matched males in studying car rear impacts. Males who had greater vertebral dimensions had a more stable cervical spinal column capable of resisting inertial loading of the head and neck complex during automotive rear impacts. 

Muscle and bone are linked genetically, molecularly and mechanically. Bone is remodeled throughout our lives and a decrease in physical activity and circulating hormone levels is considered a significant factor. Loss of muscle mass and strength contributes to the changes in bone. Smaller muscles propagate less bone strain during muscle contraction and larger more.

Muscles subjected to increased loading, as in weight training, pull on your bones and over time lead to stronger and bigger bone tissue. The greater the loads you lift the bigger the bones. Rear impacts are commonplace in sport.  Strength training the head and neck gives athletes a more stable cervical spinal column. 

Train the head, neck and jaw to resist inertial loading and reduce the severity of whiplash while playing sport or driving to practice.

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Get Strong On The Pendulum Head and Neck Machine

Topics: Pendulum 5 Way Neck, Pendulum 4 Way Neck, Neck training

Start From Neutral

When training neck flexion start the exercise from neutral. In the neutral position the machine will be providing tension before the exercise begins. This means the lifter will have to push the face pad forward several inches and hold it with good posture before initiating the rep. Once in the fully flexed position of the repetition the lifter should always pause to recruit as much tissue as possible. While holding the movement paused in a fully contracted position all available fibers become active. 

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Below is Darl Bauer Assistant Director of Strength and Coaching of the West Virginia Mountaineers. Each athlete is in a neutral contracted position awaiting Coach Bauer's exercise initiation command. 

Neutral to Pause to Get Strong.

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Topics: Pendulum 5 Way Neck, Pendulum 4 Way Neck, Neck training

The Blind Side

Research regarding neck training in athletics comes from many fields.  Whiplash is a common unwanted occurrence in sport. Whiplash refers to a series of neck injuries caused by or related to a sudden distortion of the neck, whereby the head and neck suddenly accelerate and are “whipped” back with deceleration. This action can cause damage to the supporting muscles, ligaments and other connective tissues in the neck and upper back. In athletics the term is often referred to as 'blind-sided', that is a hit on the athletic field while being vulnerable and unprotected. 

Neck injuries in athletics transpire, yet are slight compared with what occurs while we are moving daily through life.  The National Highway Traffic Administration estimates that there are 5.25 million traffic accidents in United States each year with 2.9 million suffering light or severe injuries. When you total up auto, sport, work, falls, etc. it is estimated there are at least 3 million new cases of whiplash per year - understandably much of the known research on neck trauma is unrelated to sport yet very applicable to it.

It is known in the automotive world of science that rear-end collisions typically cause more cervical spine damage than frontal or side collisions. An interesting 2015 study, "Analysis of Neck Muscles at a Simulated Rear-end Impact in Healthy Subjects."  found that "A high force capacity of anterior neck muscles has preventive value to reduce the consequences of whiplash accidents." Knowing this as a coach it makes perfect sense that by strengthening these muscle we can protect the athlete from the 'blind-side'.

Make sure neck training is an integral part of your sports program and is as important as any other exercise that you do........... for safety on and off the field of play.

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Train the anterior neck muscles when Geting Strong.

Topics: 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

Small And Powerful

The multifidis muscle starts at the sacral bone at the base of the spine and extends upward to the second cervical vertebra. The multifidis takes pressure off the discs and it's strength adds stability to the vertebral column. Though small it is the most powerful muscle that supports the region. 

Studies show that the size of the multifidis and the risk for head and neck injuries are associated in contact sports. Once a neck injury occurs there is a rapid degeneration of the cervical multifidis and MRI's show a fatty infiltration into the tissue. The muscle must be kept thick and strong along the entire spine and rehabilitated like any other region of the body post injury.

If you contract your shoulder muscles dynamically or isometrically there is an increase in thickness of the multifidis which serves to protect the head and neck. The muscle will thicken regardless of force direction to the shoulder or arm. This is a wonderful way our body safeguards us from excessive trauma - when an appendage is hit the cervical spine stiffens.

Take advantage of this small, but powerful muscle and make sure all athletes train and rehabilitate the multifidis....... Get Strong

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West Virginia Strength Coach Darl Bauer Neck Training Athletes

 

Topics: Pendulum 5 Way Neck, Pendulum 4 Way Neck, Neck training

Training The Upper Trap On The 5-Way Neck

The cervical spine consisits of seven vertebra numbered C1-C7. The back of the head or skull is called the 'occiput' and is numbered C0.  The occiput sits on the first vertebra of the cervical spine (C1), which is called the 'atlas'. The juncture between these two bones is called the 'occipito-atlanto joint'.

The second cervical vetebra (C2), is called the 'axis'.  The junction between atlas (C1) and the axis (C2) form the 'atlanto axial joint'. The axis is unlike the other cervical vertebrae, as it has a fingerlike projection called the 'dens' that protrudes through C1, so the atlas can rotate around it somewhat like an axle of a wheel (though the movement is far from a complete rotation).

The bones C0-C2 include the aforementioned joints and ligaments, but unlike the other cervical vertbrae have no discs. The lower cervical have intervertebral discs that do not allow for lateral flexion.

As a coach you can use this imformation to help identify when an athlete is maximally contracting during an upper trap movement. Since the occipito-atlanto and atlanto axial joints do not have discs they have the ability to move to opposite sides of lower segments.

The best movement for the upper trap is a one arm shrug. When the athlete reaches peak contraction the upper cervical vertebra can and will pivot on the dens and the athletes head will turn away from the elevating shoulder shrug action. The muscles of the upper cervical region at C2  have an individual specialized arrangement and when fatigue occurs and the upper trap is truly targeted the head will turn without any coaching. If the head does not turn the athletes form is incorrect or there is not enough effort. You only need to observe, asking the athlete to tilt their head would be a poor coaching cue, as the head tilt occurs naturally. 

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One arm shrug

Training the Upper Trap on the Pendulum 5 Way Neck

Topics: Pendulum 5 Way Neck, Pendulum 4 Way Neck, Neck training, Strength Training