Articles

2017 Fall Sports Training

Multi sport training
Whether it is the court, field, pitch, mat, or the ice during the fall, you want to make sure you’re ready to perform at your peak level.

No matter your sport of choice, you want to be the best you can be. Are you getting the results you want from your current training program? Sure you’re probably seeing some progress, but we want to see you exceed expectations.

Some Tough Questions for You:

You’re strong as an ox, but are you moving well?
Is the same routine, done the same way REALLY the best approach?
Are you consistently getting stronger, faster, and more powerful?
How long is it taking you to recover after a tough workout or a close game?

What if we told you we can develop a custom workout, specifically designed for your position that would make you stronger, faster, more powerful, and help you recover quicker?
Would you be interested then?
We’ll venture a guess that you’ll answer with a resounding YES!

When its late in the game and the game is on the line, are you the “go-to” player, or just another player in the game.

At the Athletic Strength Institute we want to make you exceptional.

Fall sports kansas city
Call us today to get started. We’ll lay out an approach that will make you better. Our proprietary Fall Strength, Speed, and Agility Academy is designed to gets results.

Don’t just get in the game, revolutionize your game.

Click to download the Fall Training Guide,
fall-sports-performance-back.

ASI Athletes in The News

Congrats to Emily Venters, an Athletic Strength Institute athlete, for setting a new personal record by winning the Rim Rock Classic. We’re super proud of her and her hard work.   Read the full article here.

Venters, a two-time Class 6A state champion, led for the entire race and gradually went faster to increase separation from the rest of the pack. She said the biggest difference in her running this season is her health. Gone are the shin splints that bothered her over the past few years, which meant she never had to stop her training.

rim-rock-classic

 

Drew Cook, one of our athletes also competed in the Rim Rock Classic and had a strong showing with a time of 17:35 and a 5th place team finish overall.

cross country lawrence high

Good job guys!

We can help you get these results as well. Contact us today to get started.

Trey Moore Lawrence High Football

Lawrence High School Football: Trey Moore

Lawrence high school football

Last season when the Lawrence High School Lions faced the Shawnee Mission Northwest Cougars Trey Moore suffered a season ending injury when a hit broke his left scapula.

This past Friday the Lawrence High Lions faced the Cougars in their home-opener and first game of the season. However, the outcome for Trey couldn’t have been any different.

On Friday night Trey rushed for 168 yards and 3 touchdowns and scored another on a 20-yard pass. Congratulations, Trey, on an incredible first game of your senior season.

If you have been paying attention to our YouTube channel, you’ve probably seen some videos of Trey working out at the ASI facility.  The important thing to note about the approach we have taken with Trey is  twofold:

1) Injury Rehabilitation: We have been working with Trey to get him healed, stable and ready to progress to the next level. We believe that no matter what the reason for being in the gym, without a strong foundation you aren’t positioning yourself for future success or injury prevention.

2) Performance: Granted its a small sample size, but if your last performance is the one you are measured by, we’d say Trey is doing VERY well! This is just the beginning of the results we expect to see from Trey. Because he has a strong foundation combined with the other drills and exercises we have developed for him, he is progressing at an incredible rate. He’s able to recover quicker and he’ll stand a better chance to stay healthy and durable all season long. For more on injury prevention, check out these two blog articles.   Preventing Concussions and Structural Balance Assessments.

We’re always excited when one of our clients has success between the white lines. Call us today to see what we can do for you or your athletes.

Stay Strong!
Chris.

Hurdle Jumps for Explosiveness

Plyometrics for Explosive Power

Next time you go to the gym, do us a favor and really observe the people that are lifting weights. Take a close look at how the move. Don’t necessarily pay attention to how much weight they are lifting or how many reps they can bang out. If you spend enough time hanging around the bench press area, more than likely you’ll see a group of guys that move some serious weight.

But are they explosive? Is that guy repping 245lbs a ridiculous amount of times explosive? Probably not.

Big and strong is great and it looks good in the mirror.

Becoming more explosive is something that should be a high priority for all athletes and high performers.

The combination of strong, flexible, and explosive turns you from average into a bad mother trucker.

 plyometrics for explosive power Save a few sports, strength without the combination of speed and explosiveness won’t do you much good. Unless you are in a very specialized sport, being insanely strong without moving well doesn’t make you a high level performer. The more versatile you are…in any sport, the more advantage you have over your competition.

When it comes to developing explosiveness, there are tons of exercises out there that can help you accomplish this. At the Athletic Strength Institute one of our go to movements is hurdle jumps. We like this exercise a lot because its simple and extremely effective because it does an excellent job of firing up your central nervous system and can technically be a “full body” exercise, although its primarily focused on the lower body. Plyometric hurdle jumps are one of the staple movements we use when we are putting athletes through our NFL Combine Training regiment.

Ok, great, I’m sold. How do I do them?
How to perform Hurdle Jumps

• Set up 3-5 hurdles 2-3 feet apart. In the example we are using 5.
• Start with feet together, shoulder width apart.
• Take a small step towards the 1st hurdle and leap over it with both feet
• Make sure you land on both feet and explode over the next hurdle
• Repeat this until you reach the final hurdle

Tips: When jumping aim to get your hips as high as possible. At this point pull your knees up to your chest when clearing each hurdle.
This is a fluid motion, meant to be performed in quick succession. There shouldn’t be a pause mid way through the process.
As we mentioned earlier, the minute your form suffers…you’re done.

Sets: Perform 3 sets or less if your form suffers. Because the nervous system takes longer to recover than the muscular system, rest 2 minutes between sets.

How Many Should I Do?

Do enough to be effective, but don’t go overboard. Typically with our athletes we do about 3 sets of these. Make sure to push yourself and challenge yourself, but when your form starts to suffer its time to call it quits on the hurdle jumps. This is a demanding movement and because of the nature of it, you can seriously injure yourself if your form degrades too much.

A little background on plyometrics:

A plyometric exercise comprises of three phases:

  • Eccentric phase:  This is also referred to as the landing phase and involves the pre-loading (energy is stored) of the agonist muscle group.
  • Amortization phase:  This is the transition phase between the concentric and eccentric phases. It’s important that this phase occurs as quickly as possible or it reduces the stored energy from the eccentric phase and lowers effectiveness.
  • Concentric phase: This is the take off portion of the movement where all the stored energy is used to produce force.

Why are plyometric movements important?

  • Enhanced performance – No matter what sport you are involved in, the explosive and compound movements of plyometrics will increase your performance. They help make you stronger, quicker, and more explosive.
  • Build muscle – Due to the demanding nature of these movements, you can quickly build muscle because you are primarily working the fast twitch muscles in your body.  The fast twitch fibers are the largest and strongest in your body.
  • They can be their own workout- If you are lacking equipment of a normal gym, you can still get an extremely effective workout with minimal equipment.

We use a form of plyometrics with all of our athletes. If you have questions or want to learn more about implementing plyometric into your fitness regiment, give us a call or shoot us an email.

Stay Strong
Chris.

Cupping Benefits and Cupping Therapy

Cupping and the Olympics

Olympic swimmer
It’s that time of year where the pageantry and excitement of the Olympics grabs hold of us for a few weeks. At the Athletic Strength Institute we have been watching quite a few of the events in Rio.  We have been paying particular attention to men’s swimming and the amazing accomplishments of Michael Phelps.

If you looked closely, you’ll notice that Micheal Phelps has been decorating himself with more than just Olympic Gold. He has appeared several times with noticeable, circular bruises on his skin.  These come from an ancient Eastern Medicine practice called cupping or cupping therapy that increases local blood flow bringing nutrients & oxygen to the area

Cupping therapy is something we use as part of our recovery protocol at our facility and is something we invite you to try for yourself.
Make an appointment with us to see what cupping can do for you and your recovery program. Below is an actual photo of the cups we use.

Cupping Benefits and Cupping Therapy

Benefits:

– No side effects (like western pharmaceutical drugs)
– Reduce Pain in muscles, tendons, ligaments & Joints
– Tremendously increases local blood flow, oxygen & nutrients to the tissue
– Negative pressure allows for deep tissue releases & improved ROM
– Boost Immune function
– Promotes relaxation & decrease stress
– Helps treat respiratory issues & Colds
– Improves Digestion
– Reduce hypertension, headaches & migraines
– Detoxification

Athletes primarily use for:

– Breaking up scar tissue, muscular adhesions & fascial restrictions
– Increases performance
– Reduce stiffness & muscle cramps
– Speeds up recovery time
– Neuralgia

Hopefully this offers some insight into the bruises some of our athletes are donning this Olympic Season.
As always, stay strong.

Structural Balance Assessments: Identifying & Preventing Injuries

Sports Injuries

sports injury preventionHave you ever been in the gym and put a little too much weight on the bar and felt that fearful “twinge”?

That tweaky feeling of “Oh no, I may have over done it?”

Then, boom it’s too late.

You did something and you’re injured.

Trust us, we’ve been there or we wouldn’t be writing this article. Even with the best intentions and best form…injuries happen.

Regardless of the reason, getting injured sucks! It sucks because it can keep you out of the game for who knows how long; it sucks because your progress and performance gains have come to an abrupt stop; it sucks because there is no telling how long you will be out of commission or when you will be able to return to play. The road to rehabilitating an injury can be a long and arduous one.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was an effective way to remain injury free and improve performance in the weight-room and on the field/court? If only there was a way to identify your weak links and where you are the most likely to be injured?

If only there was a way to prevent many sports related injuries? After all, it is easier to prevent an injury than to rehabilitate one and no one should ever become injured due to a poorly designed training program.

So What Can I Do To Prevent Injury?

One of the best things you can do is know where you are vulnerable and weak. For example, if you aren’t as flexible as you used to be and you know that your hamstrings are a bit on the tight side, recognize and be aware of this when you are working out.

How Can I Identify My Weak Links?

The short answer is a structural balance assessment. We find these assessments to be extremely efficient and here’s two reasons why:
– It helps identifying potential injuries before they become an issue
-Prevents “wear and tear” brought on by repetitive movements inherent in many sports

These assessments have been successfully used at every level of competition, from youth to Olympic, to keep athletes performing their best and injury free.

What is the Science Behind Structural Balance Assessments?

The concept of structural balance is that a muscle’s ability to develop force is a function of the strength of the opposing muscle group and its stabilizers. Many training and sports-related injuries are often the result of muscular imbalances – strength discrepancies between opposing and synergist muscle groups or even between limbs. These structural imbalances are often caused by a combination of the repetitive motions involved in many sports and/or a lack of exercise variety in training.

A Structural Balance Analogy:

Another way to understand structural balance to imagine you are building a house. In construction, the term “footing” describes the concrete support that the foundation is built upon. The footing also spreads the weight of the structure evenly over a wider area. The walls of the house are then built on the foundation. However, if the footing is poorly developed it compromises the stability of the foundation, which in turn, compromises the structural integrity of the entire house.

Each of the body’s joints are similar to the above analogy in that the joint is the house and the muscles and tendons controlling that joint are the foundation and footing. Viewed as a whole, if the stability of one joint is compromised it will affect the structural integrity of the entire body.

This is the proverbial “only as strong as the weakest link” axiom.

A joint is controlled by two primary sets of opposing muscle groups; one set of muscles flexes the joint and the other extends it. Synergistic muscles help the respective primary muscle perform its action. While one primary muscle group and its synergists are moving the joint, the opposing muscle group and it synergists are stabilizing it from the opposite side.

There is an optimal balance of strength between these muscle groups that control a joint, but if the muscles on one side of the joint are disproportionately stronger than the muscles on the opposing side it creates joint instability, which increases the risk of injury to that joint.

The take away point here is balance is important and vital to injury prevention.

Figure 1: Notice the difference between normal and imbalanced strength and its impact on a joint.

muscle imbalances

When the central nervous system senses joint instability, it reduces the ability to continue strengthening the muscles that are already too strong. This an effective safety mechanism the body utilizes to protect itself from injury.

However, this safety mechanism can be “overridden” by attempting to force the already too strong muscles to get even stronger — many injuries occur under these conditions. If you place more strain on the weakest link than it can tolerate, the chain breaks.

While unpredictable accidents will still occur, a thorough structural balance assessment can:

  • Identify muscle weaknesses that leave a joint vulnerable to injury and compromise performance;
  • Faulty movement patterns that cause misalignment of the body, which results in distorted movement;
  • Muscle tightness that can result in strained or torn muscles, and;
  • Provide the blueprint from which your initial training program is developed.

 

A structural balance assessment also provides a starting point for your training. Your initial training program is developed based on the results of your assessment and aimed at correcting your weaknesses, faulty movement patterns, and tight muscles through a progression of corrective and remedial exercises. This approach expedites your results and helps ensure continuous progress.

A thorough structural assessment should be the first step of anyone’s training program whether you are a competitive athlete from any level of competition, an avid CrossFitter, or someone who wants to look better and improve your health.

 


Upper Body Structural Balance Assessment

Predictor Lifts – movements that mimic motions commonly performed in sports
The upper body structural balance assessment is centered on two primary lifts that identify the strength relationships of the extensors and flexors of the upper body. The two primary lifts for the upper body are known as predictor lifts and indicate how well an athlete will perform in that sport. An improvement in these lifts corresponds with an improvement in performance. These lifts are different for each sport and chosen based on movement patterns that closely resemble those commonly seen in that particular sport. For example, the predictor lifts for a football lineman would be different than those for a mixed martial artist, etc.

Remedial Lifts – lifts that assess shoulder strength and flexibility
This assessment also utilizes two remedial lifts that determine the strength of the muscles that provide external rotation of the humerus (three of the four rotator cuff muscles – supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor; the fourth rotator cuff muscle – the subscapularis – internally rotates the humerus) and those that stabilize the scapula (primarily the trapezius-3). Research has shown that weak scapular stabilizers increases stress to the shoulder, increases compression of the rotator cuff, and compromises overall performance of the shoulder complex.bench press exercise

Put another way, an athlete needs a stable base to effectively move their limbs. If they don’t have this solid base it will limit the amount of weight they can stabilize in primary pressing exercises. It will also only be a question of when they will develop some sort of injury, not if. These injuries can range from something like shoulder impingement to serious injuries like a torn a rotator cuff muscle.

For example, if too much time is spent on the bench press and the pectorals and the anterior deltoids (front part of the shoulder) become disproportionally stronger than the rotator cuff and muscles of the mid- and upper-back (rhomboids, trapezius-3, etc.), progress in the bench press will stop due to the muscular imbalance between the muscles that control the front and back of the shoulder and stabilize the shoulder blades. If progress is forced in this situation some sort of shoulder injury is right around the corner.

 

What is the History of Strength Ratios?

shoulder and back exercisesMany elite Olympic weightlifting programs have established strength ratios between the Olympic lifts and their assistance lifts to guide an athlete’s training. Similarly, the normative data for the upper body structural balance assessment has identified certain strength ratios between muscle groups.

The upper body structural balance strength ratios were compiled over a 30-year period by identifying how some of the best athletes in the world performed in the predictor lifts and in their sport, with the least incidences of injury.

The upper body strength ratios were developed with the Bi-Acromial (or Close-Grip) Bench Press as the central lift. What you can perform in this lift determines how much weight you should be able to use in other exercises that are applicable to achieving structural balance.

 

Figure 2 details the percentages of the one rep max used in the Bi-Acromial Bench Press an athlete should be able to perform in other lifts when structurally balanced.


Predictor LiftPercentage of Bi-Acromial Bench Press
Bi-Acromial Barbell Bench Press100%
Parallel Bar Dip (including bodyweight)117%
Bi-Acromial Incline Barbell Bench Press91%
Supinated Chin-Up87%
Barbell Press Behind the Neck66%
Scott Bench EZ-Bar Curl46%
Standing EZ-Bar Reverse Curl35%
Poliquin International Certification Program, Level 1 manual

Figure 2. Optimal upper body strength ratios


 

Lower Body Structural Balance Assessment

The lower-body structural balance assessment looks for muscular imbalances in the ankle, knee, hip, pelvis, and lower back and identifies how internal and external forces affect how the body moves. This assessment also identifies imbalances between the left and right legs as well as from the front and back of the lower body.

The first part of the lower body structural assessment observes an athlete’s dynamic flexibility, or how specific muscles move a joint through its range of motion, and exposes the weaker sets of muscles controlling the joints of the lower body.

Movement Patterns:  A Deeper Dive

The term “movement pattern” describes the order in which the brain activates certain muscles to produce movement. As mentioned previously, when the muscles controlling a joint are out of balance it negatively affects how that joint works. If movement is distorted at one joint it negatively affects the sequence and level of activation of the other muscles involved in that movement. Disruption of proper movement distributed over a series of joints leads to faulty movement patterns.

Over time, these faulty movement patterns become ingrained in the central nervous system causing the body to be increasingly misaligned. Continued movement under these conditions leads to more muscular imbalances and further aggravates existing ones, and steadily degrades joint function to the point of injury.

For example, the barbell squat is universally recognized as the “king” of exercises and its use in developing lower body strength and power is well documented in strength and conditioning research. Lower back strength is critical to the performance of the barbell squat as it is a primary stabilizer of the trunk.hamstring pull

However, if the low back is the weak link in the chain of muscles used in the squat the ability to stabilize and protect the spine is compromised. In this situation if more weight is used than what the low back can safely support, the strain is shifted to other muscles that are not “equipped” to handle the increased weight, thereby changing the sequence of muscles activated and the degree to which they are activated.

Under these conditions reinforcing this faulty movement pattern and repeatedly adding strain to muscles that are not suited to handle it overstresses them and puts them on the fast track to injury. This is especially true of the low back.

The second part of the lower body structural balance assessment focuses on passive flexibility, or how flexible (or not) a muscle is at rest. A muscle contraction can be explained based on two factors: length and tension. When a muscle is at rest it is stretched yet still partially contracted, referred to as muscle tonicity.

Muscles have an ideal level of tonicity when they’re at their optimal resting length. A muscle at optimal resting length has the greatest potential to activate the most tension-generating sites within a muscle fiber. The more tension-generating sites a muscle has available for activation, the more forcefully it can contract.

A mweightlifting formuscle that is tight, relative to its optimal resting length, has a higher degree of tonicity at rest (hypertonic). At rest, a hypertonic muscle has fewer tension-generating sites available for contraction because many of these sites are already activate, which is what is responsible for keeping the muscle in a hypertonic state. If there are fewer tension-generating sites available for activation when a muscle is at its resting length, the weaker its contraction.

A pulled muscle, or muscle strain, happens when a muscle is overstretched. When a muscle is hypertonic (and tight) at rest it is “shorter” than its optimal resting length. Under these conditions it is much easier to overstretch the muscle and develop a strain-type injury.

For example, an athlete who has exceptionally tight hamstrings is at increased risk for straining/pulling a hamstring. Many hamstring strain-type injuries occur when an athlete is sprinting and the hamstrings of the swing leg act to “brake” knee extension, while the hip is in flexion, just before the foot strikes the ground. At this point the hamstrings are at their longest length and experience the highest forces. If the hamstrings are tight they will not respond well to the rapid lengthening or high forces involved with sprinting. If this imbalance of the hamstrings is not addressed, the risk of pulling a hamstring, or in extreme cases a tear, dramatically increases.

Why Should I Do A Structural Balance Assessment?

  • Identify muscle weaknesses that leave a joint vulnerable to injury and compromise performance;
  • Faulty movement patterns that cause misalignment of the body, which results in distorted movement;
  • Muscle tightness that can result in strained or torn muscles, and;
  • Provide the blueprint from which your initial training program is developed.

Undergoing upper and lower body structural balance assessments can identify your limitations and set you up for better long-term progress. They can also catch potential injuries before they become an issue and prevent against the “wear and tear” caused by the repetitive movements common to so many sports. You should never become injured due to a poorly designed training program.

It is true, you’re only as strong as your weakest link.
Contact The Athletic Strength Institute to learn more.

We are now offering personal training in Kansas CityOlathe, Overland Park, Leawood and Lenexa. 

 

Neck Training to Prevent Concussions

Strengthen the Neck to Reduce Incidences & Severity of Concussions
By Chris Dellasega, MS

The National Football League (NFL).  It’s the most popular, visible and widely followed sport in the United States, second only to soccer on a global scale. If you’ve been paying attention to the news feeds over the last few months, you’ve noticed the increase in discussions about concussions and the long term repercussion of concussion injuries. Hollywood addressed the issue in the 2015 movie Concussion, starring Will Smith.football concussion injury

Even soccer and basketball, traditionally non-contact sports, have implemented concussion protocols for athletes involved in on field collisions. It’s become very apparent that Hollywood, the NFL, FIFA and the NBA are aware of the seriousness of concussions.

Concussions are a growing epidemic among competitive athletes; even more susceptible are younger athletes at the lower levels of competition. There are a number of concussion experts – including strength and conditioning specialists, neurosurgeuons, and other medical researchers – that have theorized stronger neck muscles can help reduce the number and severity of concussions. There is now an ever growing body of scientific research and anecdotal evidence to back up this theory.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations participation in high school athletics has increased for the twenty-second straight year. As participation in junior and high school athletics continues to increase, so will the number of sports-related concussions unless effective concussion prevention programs are developed and implemented.

The problem is that many times athletes, parents, and/or coaches – those that can benefit the greatest from the implementation of this knowledge – don’t know how to properly apply what the research and evidence supports.

This naturally prompts the question:  What can we do about it?

The answer:  Prevention. The best way to deal with a concussion is to prevent one from occurring in the first place.  In the article below, we’ll show you some tips and tricks to lessen your chances of suffering from a concussion.

 

Concussions are a growing epidemic among competitive athletes; even more susceptible are younger athletes at the lower levels of competition. There are a number of concussion experts – including strength and conditioning specialists, neurosurgeuons, and other medical researchers – that have theorized stronger neck muscles can help reduce the number and severity of concussions. There is now an ever growing body of scientific research and anecdotal evidence to back up this theory.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations participation in high school athletics has increased for the twenty-second straight year. As participation in junior and high school athletics continues to increase, so will the number of sports-related concussions unless effective concussion prevention programs are developed and implemented.

The problem is that many times athletes, parents, and/or coaches – those that can benefit the greatest from the implementation of this knowledge – don’t know how to properly apply what the research and evidence supports. Therefore, this article also covers some basic neck training guidelines that can be applied immediately.

MRI

 

What is a Concussion?

Most concussions occur when there is an abrupt change in direction of the head. This is likely to occur when an athlete sustains a hit to the body resulting in whiplash or a sudden rotation of the head. A forceful and sudden change in direction can cause the brain to bounce or twist within the skull, which can stretch and damage the brain cells and result in chemical changes within the brain.

Someone doesn’t have to lose consciousness to have sustained a concussion. Some individuals will display the classic symptoms of a concussion, such as blacking out, or forgetting what happened immediately before the injury, but other people won’t.

It’s worth noting that after a concussion the brain is more susceptible to injury. Those who have sustained one concussion are typically more prone to another, especially if a new injury occurs before recovery from the previous concussion is complete.

What the Research Says

A study published in the Journal of Primary Prevention researchers measured 6,704 male and female high school athletes and found, “smaller mean neck circumference, smaller mean neck to head circumference ratio, and weaker mean overall neck strength were significantly associated with concussion.” A strong neck is critical to preventing concussions in male and female athletes participating in sports that involve contact, such as football, wrestling, soccer, and basketball.

The University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Neurological Surgery reports that, “The likelihood of suffering a concussion while playing a contact sport is estimated to be as high as 19% per year of play. More than 62,000 concussions are sustained each year in high-school contact sports.” The Center for Disease Control cites American football as the most common sport for males in which a concussion is likely to occur and soccer and basketball for female athletes.

In a 2007 study published in the journal Neurosurgery, researchers found that “stronger necks reduced the forces associated with a concussion.” Researchers observed head translational and rotational accelerations, upper neck responses, head kinematics and biomechanics, head displacement, head rotation, and neck loads on 25 impacts to the head using dummies wearing helmets.

The researchers noted that models with stronger “necks,” had a decrease in head velocity, as well as head injury criterion when compared to models with weaker necks. Researchers concluded that athletes with weaker necks are more susceptible to concussions because they are not capable of creating the internal muscle forces required to reduce head acceleration caused by a forceful hit. (Viano, Casson & Pellman)

concussion research
Dr. Robert Cantu, MD, the Co-Director of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, says “It’s just straight physics. If you see the blow coming and you have a very strong neck and contract the neck muscles, you have a much greater chance to have significantly reduced the forces the brain will see.”

Dr. Mickey Collins, MD, the Assistant Director of the Sports Medicine Concussion Program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, agrees. “We believe one of the best ways to prevent concussions is actually neck strength. Having a strong neck allows the forces of the blow taken from the head to be better transferred down through the neck and into the torso and may certainly help with this issue.”

Dr. Kevin Guskiewicz, PhD, the Chair of the University of North Carolina’s Department of Exercise and Sports Science program says, “We think a lot of it has to do with neck strength. We’re beginning to look at prevention methods that might allow us to strengthen the neck musculature, to try to teach kids how to prepare to take a hit if they get one because we know that to take an ill-prepared hit, where they can’t brace the head and tense the neck muscles, that the forces to the brain are worse than they are if they’re prepared for it.”

Mike Gittleson, the strength coach for the University of Michigan for over 30 years, is perhaps one of the most outspoken proponents of neck strengthening to prevent concussions.

Gittleson has spoken at conferences and to coaches all over the country about concussions since his retirement in 2008. He also says that many of the 300 plus schools that he has spoken at do not have any kind of neck strengthening program in place.

Greg Aiello, who heads the NFL’s head, neck and spine committee, says that while there’s not a league-wide neck strengthening program all teams’ strength training programs do include training the neck muscles.

Several strength coaches at the NFL level believe that if neck strength were tested at the NFL combine many coaches at the lower levels would begin instituting a neck-strengthening program.

Ryan Cidzik, the Director of Football Strength and Conditioning at the University of Memphis has written that, “We saw significantly fewer concussions – 50% less – during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Players who missed playing time due to a head or neck injury also decreased 50% over the past two years.”

In September 2010 the University of Eastern Michigan Eagles had 55 “occurrences of neck trauma”. In 2011 the Eagles had only 35 incidences of neck trauma and the team suffered only three concussions after implementing a neck-strengthening program.

 

Neck Strengthening Program Development

The neck is capable of performing a very complex number of movements. For the programs that do incorporate neck training many times their regimen consists only of 2 sets of 10 on a 4-way neck. While this is a step in the right direction it’s hardly adequate.

The neck muscles’ primary motions include:

  • Flexion (as in tucking the chin to the chest)
  • Extension (as in lifting the chin from the chest and tilting the head back)
  • Lateral flexion (left & right – as in touching the ear to the shoulder)
  • Rotation (left & right – as in looking over the shoulder)

 

Secondary motions of the neck include:

  • Upward diagonal rotation
(left & right – as in rotating the chin from the shoulder at an upward 45º angle)
  • Downward diagonal rotation (left & right – as in rotating the chin downward from a 45º angle; the opposite of upward rotation)

 

Because the neck is capable of moving in so many different directions and angles, a variety of exercises, methods, ranges of motion, and tempos can be used when developing the neck muscles.

Most researchers agree that neck-training machines should be the primary method of strengthening the neck because they offer a quantifiable way to measure and appropriately progress the amount of weight used.

The draw back, however, is that most neck machines work on a single-hinge pattern while the neck is a multi-hinge joint. The alternative method is manual eccentric-based work.

Manual resistance works well because the neck muscles have an “acceleration strength curve”, which means they can exert more force as the become fully contracted. Using manual resistance allows force to be applied in a way that matches the strength curve of the neck muscles, i.e. applying more resistance when the neck muscles are at their strongest (contracted) and less when they are at their weakest (stretched).

Splitting neck training into different training days makes it easier to devote the time needed to undertake a serious neck-strengthening program. For example, pairing flexion and extension exercises together on one day and lateral flexion and rotational exercises together on another day.

Some collegiate strength coaches have their athletes spend the first 20-25 minutes of their workouts training the neck. This ensures neck training is being treated as a priority and it’s done when the athletes are fresh. It also builds in accountability because the major compound lifts cannot be performed until all sets and reps have been completed for the neck.

neck strength
CLICK TO VIEW IMAGE FULL SIZE

Loading Parameters for Neck Strengthening

Reps & Sets

The muscles of the neck are generally comprised of slow-twitch muscle fibers. This means that they’re not very strong but are fairly resistant to fatigue. Therefore the rep range for most athletes would be in the 8-20 range.

Since the neck muscles are typically untrained in most athletes, significant results can be obtained even using a minimal number of sets. For most athletes, three sets for each of the primary neck functions are recommended to expedite progress.

Even one set of 15-20 reps is optimal when neck training is first introduced into an athlete’s program.

 

Tempo & Rest Intervals

Since the range of motion in neck exercises is relatively short, a tempo of 2010 is ideal for sports such as football and soccer. However, in grappling sports, where isometric tension is required, 3-5 sets of 4-6 reps on a 1018 tempo is optimal.

The neck muscles are relatively small and have a large vascular supply, which means they recover quickly between sets. For most athletes rest intervals of 60-75 seconds between sets are ideal.

As participation in junior and high school athletics continues to increase, unfortunately, so will the number of sports-related injuries. Many concussions at lower levels of competition may be avoidable if proper prevention programs are adopted as part of sports performance and strength and conditioning programs. The research and evidence is becoming increasingly clear stronger necks can help prevent concussions.

So, what are you waiting for? Get ahead of the game, strengthen your neck, and protect your head. The Athletic Strength Institute can help you with any questions.