Use Your Head to Save Your Neck: 4 Ways You're Causing Neck Injury
There is a disturbing trend within our Breaking Muscle and CrossFit community. There are a growing number of neck injuries, strains, and pain. People keep asking, “How do I fix my neck pain?” My answer is, “Don’t even get neck pain." There is a direct correlation between poor form and posture and increased injury rates. So, follow along below to fix your issues before they become a serious problem.
This being said if you have a neck injury go see an appropriate professional. I’m a NSCA CSCS, CrossFit Certified Trainer, MovNat Certification Team Instructor, FMS Level 1 and 2 certified, and several other certifications, but I have no business telling you how to fix medical or orthopedic injuries. If your trainer thinks they know how to heal your injury, I’d be wary and seek the appropriate help.
There are four major offending positions present in the community that directly contribute to neck pain that you need to avoid:
1. Neck Offense #1: Pull Up Chin Reach
The pull up chin reach is the king of bad movement. In an effort for faster pull ups, shorter range of motion, and greater reps, people sacrifice neck positioning. If you are in the CrossFit Games and competing against Rich Froning, sure, do whatever you need to do. But it’s your choice as an athlete if you want to sacrifice positioning. It is your responsibility as a participant, athlete, and coach to learn appropriate form and maintain it throughout the workout. Not only will you get greater gains but you will also be able to train for a long time. A few extra reps are never worth an injury yet we see it constantly.
When you reach with your chin your neck extends too far, and in relation to your shoulders it puts too much pressure on your vertebrae as well as exposing your shoulders to potential injury. The neck does not exist in isolation. Rather, it is a part of your entire body, so if your shoulder or upper back is in poor position this can directly affect your neck. Moral of the story: keep your spine neutral and never sacrifice your position no matter the competition you’re facing.
2. Neck Offense #2: Deadlifting Gaze
The next great mistake is deadlifting form. We have been trained since we were young to keep an eye where we are going, from riding a bike to playing baseball. If you don’t look where you are going you can get hurt. In a deadlift you need to keep a neutral spine and look where you are - not where you are going to end up.
By looking up when you start your deadlift you expose your neck to a ton of pressure, but when the neck is kept neutral that pressure goes into your shoulders and upper back. When you are in that proper position you can effectively brace your spine and transfer force from your legs into the bar, not using the neck as part of your force transition. Keep your chin tucked when you pull and look forward at the top. Again your neck simply stays neutral. Your neck is not your core, and it just holds your head up.
3. Neck Offense #3: Head Through “the Window”
Push jerks are incredible at developing speed, hip drive, shoulder strength, and over all conditioning. The push jerk should not hurt your neck. People are taught to “shove their head through the window.” Please don’t do this. Yes, you want a good setup, an effective hip drive to move the bar, and to catch underneath the bar. You do want to lock out your arms and get a solid overhead position. You do not need to shove your head as far forward as possible. Again, focus on neutral neck position. Avoid overextending and the epic CrossFit lean forward to dive under the bar at any cost.
4. Neck Offense #4: Bad Posture
Finally the most offending thing people do is sit with terrible posture. I have written articles on posture and the importance of posture while sitting and standing. If you can’t sit and stand straight you have no business throwing weight around in the gym. Don’t fall victim to the computer or TV slouch and leave your neck in a tight unsupported position for hours at a time.
Moral of the story is to avoid getting injured in the first place. Nothing here is revolutionary or new knowledge, yet people are quick to sacrifice form for additional weight, reps, or to beat their buddy in the workout. Quality is king. Don’t forget that. Review the resources on Breaking Muscle for proper pull up, deadlift, push jerk, and posture. Train hard and keep your neck happy!