Mike 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: Before the advent of the neck machine I used Manual Resistance for training. If you read the old Strength and Health article, “A Strong Neck and Powerful Jaw,” you become aware of the need for and development of Manual Resistance. Strong men were exercising with self-imposed resistance, adding a partner to assist was a very natural occurrence.
The introduction of Manual Resistance was and is a good thing, but has limitations; quantification of results, poor spotters, poor application of technique and really, in actuality, upon reflection a menagerie of other issues that interfered with optimal results.
I still believe in manual training as an assistance exercise and a method to promote further fatigue upon completion of a barbell or machine movement. I feel it is also necessary for an athlete to learn manual resistance to be able to strength train when a facility or particular equipment is unavailable.
What I didn’t like about manual training was when it came to the front of the neck, even with a towel, the athletes sputum on my hands, especially during the flu season, was problematic.
The development of the Neck Machine was figuratively and in instances literally a game changer. I ended up with a dozen neck machines in the facility. As I learned and came to truly understand its importance I became a neck fanatic.
So, why is it important to train this area?
Playing a contact sport can cause ‘whiplash.’ If you have a small cylinder or small neck there is potential for more bend during the collision. If the cylinder is bigger there is less bend, so a pencil sized cylinder (neck) of the same material (neck muscle) bends more than a big round ‘can’ sized neck. The larger cylinder, without question, will dissipate more force. It is a simple reason for training, easy to understand, even if someone hasn’t taken physics.
Also, remember neck muscles wrap around the spines vertebrae, vertebral artery and spinal cord. If you want to safeguard this vital area bubble wrap it with muscle tissue. My job as the strength coach was to protect the athlete and keep the athlete on the field. They don’t forget their helmets at practice and I wasn’t going to forget their necks in training.
The neck musculature can be broken up into two distinct functional units: the muscles that extend and flex the head and the muscles that extend and flex the cervical spine. This is where training the neck gets a little tricky, to paint a picture let’s use the arm as an example: Holding a dumbbell and flexing from your elbow with your hand fully supinated exercises the bicep. Holding the same dumbbell and keeping your arm straight, bringing the dumbbell parallel to the floor exercises the anterior deltoid and does very little in developing the bicep.
The neck is no different, there are several functional units of musculature that move the head and spine differently and you don’t always treat them as one entity. Can you imagine trying to thoroughly train the bicep or tricep without ever flexing from the elbow? If you want to fully exercise the neck, particular head movements and neck movements must be made.
You can train the capital muscles of the head or you can train the muscles of the cervical spine. Knowing this and paying attention during exercise increases the volume of the neck. Of course you need the right exercise tool, a device that allows you to differentiate.
Here is another thought about neck muscles. When someone strains by lifting an object, such as performing a power clean. squatting with a barbell or trains on a machine, you can readily see the muscles of their neck contract. The rigid organs called bones, function to move and support the load. Your neck holds the bones of the upper torso in place, providing support. This allows other groups of your musculature to transfer force and attend to the displacement of the object. When you press a weight it is more than your feet becoming the base for lifting, it is your neck muscles holding your clavicle as a base of support, as well. Therefore, we can say a strong neck helps move the load.
You need to overload the muscles of the neck to grow, to stabilize, to transfer force, to contract quickly as you would any other muscular group in your torso. To think the muscles of the neck will simply adapt to their ultimate capacity during a workout by training on objects that do not directly and maximally attend to the neck tissue is contrary to the cellular function of the musculature.
As part of a neck building program you must include elevation. In other words, you need to include shrugging or pulling. The problem with the shrug is that most people can lift more with their traps than they can hold with their hands. Pendulum equipment solved this and came up with a unique strength curve on the 5-Way Neck Machine shrug to address this situation.
On a neck machine you must be able to address training the musculature of the head, as well as the musculature of the cervical spine and not necessarily together. This requires inclusion of a range limiter with adjustments in the right spots to address the stated issue of functional muscular units, so you may target specific regions such as the deep neck flexors: the longus capitis and longus colli.
Pendulum created a head, neck and shrugging training device with an antimicrobial face pad for maximizing development, rehabilitation and allowing for the inclusion of aggressive neck training such as drop sets and short arcs.
Most importantly, as you ‘coach up’ your athletes with experiences that enhance fitness, strength and ‘team chemistry’, above all protect your athlete with head, neck and jaw strength protocols and allow them to not only compete at the highest level but keep them safe….Get their necks Strong.
Pendulum Neck Machines
Enhance the ability to move the head quickly
Lower subconcussive forces
Increase balance and athleticism
Increase blood flow to and from the brain
Enhance the ability to cool in heat-related conditions
Protect and strengthen the shoulder
Return to play safely
Protect the Athlete Ultimately do the Right Thing