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First Retraction Then Flexion

 To Get the Most out of Head Flexion Retract your Head First                                             

When an athlete is about to have contact to the face it is very normal to shrug and retract the head and neck.  Retraction of the head and neck consists of two seemingly paradoxical movements; lower cervical extension and upper cervical flexion.  The lower cervical spine must extend to help move the head posteriorly to reduce the forces of contact or get out of the way of contact.  The upper cervical spine flexes as the athlete ducks his or her head.

Though the lower portion of your neck extends during retraction it is only a partial movement.  Full-length cervical extension in the lower segments does not aid in bracing as the shoulders need to be quickly elevated to use the trapezius muscles as a ‘meaty’ cervical collar to reduce head acceleration.  The traps are a place for the head to ‘duck behind’, so to speak.  Partial extension also allows the upper cervical neck flexors to further tuck the chin to maximally protect the head.

skullMovement between the occiput (Occ) and the first cervical vertebra, the atlas (C1), is called occipito-atlanto movement.  Occ-C1 allows for approximately 10 degrees of flexion although this joint has roughly 25 degrees of movement from flexion to extension.

Part of the bodyThe second cervical vertebra is called the Axis (C2) the axis is located just below the Atlas.  Atlanto-axial flexion represents about 5 degrees of movement.  With both full-length flexion and retraction, upper cervical segments of occiput, atlas and axis are positioned to allow a complete range of motion.  The number of degrees of movement with retraction of the head allows for 15-18 degrees of movement and often upwards of 20 degrees of muscular motion. 

Part of the body

What is important to the coach is that only in retraction Occ-C1 and C1-C2 are taken to their full end-range of flexion.  Thus, when training the head movement on the Pendulum 4 and 5 Way Neck machine let the machine push you first into retraction before you begin the full range flexion of the head.

Pendulum Equipment

To get the best results set the Pendulum neck in the seventh hole from the front of the cam and tilt your head back about 5 degrees.  This means your chin is entering the machine before your forehead touches the top of the face pad.  Slowly move your head to vertical and the Pendulum movement arm will push your head back into retraction.  Let your head retract into the ‘full end-range of flexion’.

neck cam

Leading with your chin contract your deep flexor muscles the longus colli, longus capitis anterior and rectus capitis anterior from the retracted position to Get Strong.

describe the imagePendulum Equipment

The Pendulum 4 Way or 5 Way Neck Machine

Pendulum Equipment


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A morning workout on the Pendulum Rack System at the College Strength and Conditioning Show in Fort Worth, Texas. The strength coaches are Staying Strong. The Pendulum Rack System