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The Ralph Cornwell Files

Ralph Cornwell is a Ph.D. candidate in health promotion/human performance at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Prior to pursuing his Doctoral Degree he was a collegiate strength coach.

He is currently developing a  protocol for strength training the musculature that protects the cervical spine.

Ralph explains, the upper trap is a neck muscle and to develop it you must treat it as such.


In the early 80’s two Medical Doctors from the University of Pennsylvania modelled the movement of the head and neck from dried skeletal material.

Head and SpineHead and Spine

They took the defunct skull, spine, and thoracic vertebral body of a remodeled cadaver and laid it prone on a table. Using wires, fake discs, and nylon pulleys that represented the origin and insertions of the dissected muscle that was removed. They reconstructed a working model of the head and neck.

Head and Spine

SpineThis is what they ultimately found that interested me. The  semispinalis cervicis and the capitis muscles were orientated in a direction that generated a pure extension force on the head and spine.  I had already known the semispinalis capitis was a massive powerful muscle that came into play during high force, and therefore was always an important part of my strength training.


Finding the upper trap works in concert with the cervicis and capitis muscles when you fixate or secure your upper arms, as in grasping an object has tremendous implications in training.

For those who have heard in the gym that training the traps with high pulls and shrugs is enough neck training to protect the athlete, hear this…….

When the upper limb is securely stabilized while holding on to  something, only then is the upper trap sufficiently involved in extending the head. When you are shrugging, because you are holding the bar, you can extend the head with your upper traps but there is no resistance, hence no development of  the upper trapezius muscles.


Also understand, the upper trap is actually a neck muscle. When the cervical spine has been positioned and secured, that is, when you are about to make a tackle, the trapizeus musculature becomes primarily a muscle of the upper arm. This means you better have strong semispinalis neck muscles because the upper trap is now working on wrapping up during the tackle.

Looks like you better include neck extension in your training. This does not mean stop shrugging…………Keep Shruggin’

Pendulum Neck Machine WorkoutPendulum Machine


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