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A Strength Coach On Strength Training

Gabe Harrington has a Masters degree from Michigan State University. He has coached at MSU, the United States Military Academy and most recently was the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Colgate University Patriot League Football Champions. Gabe explains that sometimes it is important to back off from something.

head and neck

Strengthening the muscles of the head and neck should be a part of any good strength program.  Training these muscles for strength and size (and therefore injury prevention) requires lots of hard work and effort.  The side effects include general muscular soreness and fatigue.  While this is normal and considered part of the process, there is a time and a place for everything.

Assuming your players have trained hard for many months and are now in two-a-day camp, it is time to adjust.  As a strength coach, you must take into account the new stresses on the body: wearing a helmet for several hours each day, contact (read collision), film study, and less than optimal sleeping conditions to name a few.

head neck training

When I was at Colgate University, I had spent several years refining my programming to achieve optimal techniques and loading cycles.  In my final year, I had come up with what I felt worked best for my players, given their environment and our coaches practice style.  Our camp program looked like this:


–          Get in the weight room EVERY DAY that there was only one practice. This helped to account for the two-a-day time slip, where three days feels like three weeks.  If your players come to the weight room as part of their daily routine, it helps to achieve a psychological sense of normalcy.

–          Being in the weight room with this frequency DOES NOT mean to lift every day.  We had a three workout rotation that was based on several factors: observations from the strength staff and athletic training staff from being at practice each day, talking with our coaching staff daily to anticipate the coming schedule as far as contact, etc.  And most importantly, talking with our veteran players to see how they were feeling and making adjustments accordingly.

–          The three workouts were: two different total body lifts (short and not too intense), and one accessory type workout performed circuit style involving shoulder pre-hab movements with 5-10lbs, bands, bodyweight, foam rolling, and stretching.  How these workouts cycled were based on the previously mentioned observation factors and never did we lift on two consecutive days.


–          Lift #1:  flexion and extension 1×10 on the Pendulum 5-way neck machine (at 45-90lbs), 1 arm shrug on the Pendulum 5-way neck machine ( at 70-115lbs)

–          Lift #2: dorsi flexion/tilt 1×20 on the Pendulum 5-way neck machine (at 45-55lbs), nods 1×20 on the Pendulum 5-way neck machine (at 90-115lbs), band upright row 2×20

–          Accessory workout: flexion, extension, rotation and combination movements with gravity being the only resistance x30 seconds each, blackburns x30 seconds, shrug/lat raise x30 seconds, external rotation x30 seconds

As can be seen, this is very light and designed to keep some volume of work on the musculature while not causing overload.  And more than anything, it helped our players stay healthy and feel good.

In contrast, in the summer program prior to camp our HEAD AND NECK training cycle looked like this:

–          Monday: Manual 4-way neck 1×12 (maximum effort), Barbell Shrug 3×12 (heavy to light, max effort all sets)

–          Tuesday: dorsi flexion/tilts on the Pendulum 5-way neck machine 2×20 (at 45-90lbs), 1-arm shrug 2×15 (at 45lbs), external rotations, and pull-apart variations with mini bands

          Thursday: 4-way neck on the Pendulum 5-way neck machine 1×12 (maximum effort), DB shrug 3×12 (light to heavy, max effort last set)

          Friday: jaw work focusing on the masseter 2×20 with bands, scapular elevation 2×20 (bodyweight), scapular depression 2×20(bodyweight)

This part of our program easily consumed more than one full hour (of the NCAA allowed 8 hours) dedicated solely to the head and neck.  The point is this, when you are in camp you don’t ask your players to squat at 85% of their one rep max, so why would you ask them to train their heads and necks that way?  However, before you back off from head and neck training, make sure you are backing off from SOMETHING.

pendulum Neck Training

Pendulum Neck


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