Located in Sterling, VA (703) 421-1200

The Neck Machines and Exercises at Total Results - by Matthew Romans

An often overlooked and under-addressed group of muscles in the human body is that of the neck. Your neck muscles are responsible for holding up your head (which weighs ten to eleven pounds), and greatly influence your posture. Weak neck musculature (combined with excessive sitting and looking down at electronic devices) can cause the head to drop lower, which can eventually lead a lordotic curve in the thoracic region of your spine, and can be responsible for recurring tension and migraine headaches. Working to strengthen your neck musculature is absolutely critical to maintain good posture and protect against injury; this is important for everyone, but especially for people participating in combat sports (football, boxing, wrestling, martial arts), the elderly population, and those with a history of neck injuries.

The two major muscles of the neck are the sternocleidomastoid, which originates on your sternum and inserts on the mastoid process of the temporal bone of the skull, and the trapezius, which is a kite-shaped muscle that originates on the occipital bone of your skull and inserts into the clavicle (collarbone), acromion process, and the spine of the scapula (shoulder blade). These two muscles perform all of the gross motor functions of the neck, which include lateral flexion (tilting your head from side to side), rotation of the head (as in looking over your shoulder), cervical flexion (tilting your chin towards your chest), and cervical extension (as in looking straight up).

Most "trainers" and exercise enthusiasts simply ignore the neck musculature. It's probably best that they do, because most exercise protocols seem to make matters worse. The neck muscles are collectively very strong, but they are delicate and can easily be injured. At Total Results, we pride ourselves on being able to improve function and strengthen the muscles of the lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine, and we have worked with clients that have a variety of spinal issues. Our exercise protocol is the only one that is safe enough to address the musculature of the neck, and we have a few different ways to do that.

We have two different four-way neck machines. One is made by Super Slow Systems (located in our front exercise room) and has a fixed head pad, no back pad, and has a timing crank to customize the resistance curve for each client (just like we have on the Super Slow Systems Leg Curl machine). Our other neck machine (located in the back exercise room) is manufactured by MedX, which features a horseshoe-shaped swivel head pad and has an adjustable back pad. It also comes with a footrest to minimize tension and unnecessary involvement of the lower body. While both of these machines allow us to perform lateral and cervical flexion, we almost exclusively use them for cervical extension, as that area of the neck needs to be addressed the most.

The seat height is adjustable, and we can even use an additional elevation pad if necessary. The seat should be set so that the base of the neck is aligned with the axis of rotation, and the back pad setting should allow your arms to be extended with the heels of your hands in contact with the handlebars. This ensures that your pelvis is contained in the seat. If the head pad slides on your head during the movement, you are not properly aligned. The exercise begins when the client gently increases the pressure on the head pad through the back of the head to initiate movement. The client should visualize trying to press the back of their head down towards their butt, pause in the most contracted position, and then change directions. The lower turnaround should be performed so that the plates gently touch, but the musculature should not be unloaded. A squeeze technique will be performed on all repetitions beginning with the third. Once muscular failure has been achieved, a thorough inroad should be performed for an additional five to ten seconds. After the exercise is completed, the client should ease off the effort and stand cautiously to avoid getting dizzy or light headed.

If performing a regular dynamic movement is contraindicated due to a previous injury, we can also perform the cervical extension exercise as a Timed Static Contraction. This can be done on either of the machines, or with manual resistance provided by your instructor. For clients that tend to suffer from exercise-induced headaches (EIH), we often perform the cervical extension exercise early in the routine to both strengthen and relax the neck muscles. This is an effective strategy to prevent EIH. As mentioned earlier, strengthening your neck in general, and specifically performing cervical extension will go a long way toward minimizing tension headaches, improving posture, and alleviating impingement in the cervical vertebrae. Start reaping the benefits today with Total Results!

Posted June 28, 2019 by Tim Rankin