Keep Your Head Up!

One of the most common technical cues that we as trainers convey to our clients is for them to “keep their head up,” to ensure that the cervical spine is in neutral during the vast majority of exercises, skills and drills we perform. 

A good analogy is to consider the head/neck/shoulders as the “roof” on your house and your feet as the “foundation.”  If these two body parts are misaligned, then every other body part which lies between the roof and foundation is likely to be compromised as well.

Our bodies structurally are mechanical marvels. We are stockpile of joints, ropes, and pulleys in terms of our structure. And voluntary muscles are capable of performing one task and that is to pull on a bone. Either to mobilize it or stabilize it. Therefore, if the bone is not in the optimal position in relationship to the muscle or muscle group that acts on that bone, then the muscle or muscle group’s force may be diminished.

This diminished force may lead to disfunction of the body’s ability to stabilize and to mobilize safely, effectively, and efficiently. Consequently, the body’s position is an essential component of positive physical fitness outcomes.

This week, consider the following guidelines regarding the position of the head/neck/shoulders during your workouts. As always, please consult your physician prior to beginning any exercise program.

  1. Set yourself up for success! Beginning at the top of the head, place your head/neck in neutral, eyes focused forward, rotate your shoulders back and down and then “pack” the shoulders into that position. Rib cage lifted, navel pulled toward the spine, pelvic floor pulled up and inward, and in standing positions, knees relaxed and the body weight equally distributed from the front to the back of the feet.
  2. When performing exercises such as squats/lunges, the head never drops downward. Your eyes should be focused forward, with the head/neck in neutral (think a natural extension of your spine). This is a common issue when clients are performing these exercises and seriously alters the position of the spine. Remember your head can weigh between 14-18 pounds as an adult. If you continually allow the head to fall forward, the anterior cervical muscles shorten over time, a pulling effect occurs from the anterior muscles shortening, causing the posterior cervical/thoracic muscles to lengthen in response. Over time, this can lead to thoracic kyphosis among other spinal deviations, many of which may be avoided with proper cervical posture. 
  3. Therefore, before beginning any movement pattern, check the position of the cervical spine and then check back in frequently with the cervical spine throughout the exercise to ensure your “roof” is in the correct position and eyes focused forward.
  4. Make certain that your exercise program emphasizes proper postural alignment consistently. Your trainer should be constantly reminding you to look forward, keeping the head/neck in neutral. And note that looking forward is relative. Therefore, if you are standing, head/neck/shoulders/hips/knees/toes all facing the same direction. However, if you are in a quadruped or prone position (i.e., all fours/kneeling/face down), you are still keeping the head/neck in neutral, you are simply gazing at the floor. If you are supine, strive to keep the head/neck in neutral throughout the exercise. Therefore, you may require a cushion to elevate the head if you have developed thoracic kyphosis due to the position of the thoracic spine in relationship to the cervical spine.

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