Tuesday, July 26, 2011
New Approaches to Neck Specialization - Charles A. Smith
New Approaches to Neck Specialization
by Charles A. Smith (1952)
In a previous article on neck development, I dwelt on the function of the muscles and gave exercises that developed size and strength. These movements are used in the main by professional wrestlers to give the neck not only power but endurance . . . muscle stamina in addition to mere bulk. One can never begin to compare the special muscle needs of men like Bert Assirati with His 24-inch neck . . . Ad Herman who had a 23-inch neck . . . Ivan Samukov, 22 inches . . . Ivan Padoubny, 22 inches . . . Kola Kwariani, 22 inches – with the type of neck musculature that lifters and bodybuilders require. The necks of wrestlers serve a special purpose. They are weapons of defense and offense. Take men like Assirati or Kwariani who have necks of immense size and power . . . each can, by “feeding” his neck to an opponent, place him in such danger that until the victim wakes up, he never knows what hit him. A flip of the neck and head and the opponent is thrown . . . or in a tight corner with dirty work afoot, either of these men could batter an adversary’s face to pieces. Just as an icebreaker needs incredibly powerful reinforcement in the bows . . . armor and concrete to help the ship smash through thick ice, so the professional wrestler has a neck that is larger, more muscular and more powerful than the neck of any other athlete.
The bodybuilder or weightlifter does not need a neck that assumes disproportionate size as compared with the rest of the physique. Such a type of neck development is expected in a Mat Man but would look grotesque on a physical culturist. There was a time a few years back when you could glance at two athletes and tell which one of them was an Olympic lifter and which was the bodybuilder. Olympic men all have good, thick, powerful necks. They have that certain forceful appearance that goes with the athlete who is constantly active. There is an emanation almost . . . one might say an “aura” of vitality and virility.
The superior neck musculature of the lifter is due to the constant use of the trapezius muscles during snatches, cleans, and the violent static contraction of the sterno cleido mastoids during presses and heavy jerks. As you have seen from the previous neck-training piece, and as you can again determine from the #1 Chart in this article, the size and influence of the trapezius muscle is profound. It runs halfway down the back to the base of the skull, and it is at once obvious why snatches and cleans contribute so greatly to the thickness of the upper back, shoulders and the neck.
In previous articles I have given the various types of muscular contraction and for the sake of clarity and reference, I will repeat them. Concentric contraction is when the muscle SHORTENS under normal action . . . i.e., when origin approaches insertion, as in the case of the two hands curl. Eccentric contraction is when a muscles LENGTHENS against resistance, i.e., in the case of the Zeller curl when the weight is lowered from the shoulder but is resisted or “controlled” down until the arm is at full stretch. Static contraction is when the muscle contracted without ANY resistance . . . i.e., in the case of muscle control movements . . . or as pointed out in a previous lifting article, when a lifter crouches too long over a clean (legs) . . . or when a traffic cop holds his arm out at the shoulder level to direct traffic. It is this violent contraction of the muscles without any direct application of resistance, in combination with the action of the trapezius, that gives the Olympic lifter his outstanding neck development. Presses, all overhead lifts, snatches, cleans, both from the normal and the hang position, jerks and lowering the weight to the clavicles are the contributing movements that are productive of neck size in weightlifters. These are the reasons why you never see an Olympic man with a scrawny neck.
The case of the bodybuilder presents different problems. There are many bodybuilders who fail to look the part of a strong man when dressed because of a thin neck, or a neck that appears to be underdeveloped when compared with the rest of their physical appearance in clothes. My estimation of many great physique stars dropped considerably when I compared their neck musculature with the remainder of their physiques. Many bodybuilders lose valuable points in physical excellence because they resemble “Annie Laurie” – the gal in the Scots song whose “neck was like a swan’s.” But modern bodybuilders are catching up with the Olympic men because of the increasing use of the exercise bench.
Bench presses activate the muscles of the neck and shoulder girdle. The Sterno Cleido muscles are again used in static contraction, caused by the pressure of the head and neck on the bench. You can pick out this type of neck too . . . when standing face-to-face with the bench presser, the neck is very wide, thick across the front. But when you stand at th guy’s side and get a side-look at him, the neck has little thickness from front to back. In other words, he is “all front.” There is no need for this because the neck muscles are among the easiest to develop, responding quickly to the stimulus of exercise.
The neck that is well-developed has thickness, size and a certain amount of definement, and is the mark of a really powerful man. It is possible for you to get quite a build from a tailor! They tell you that clothes make the man, and so they do until you get into training togs, and then the well-cut suits and thickly padded shoulders don’t mean a thing. People see you for what you are. You can disguise all manner of physical defects under clothes but you can’t conceal the fact that your neck is SKINNY, and many a first class physique is spoiled by a stringy, scrawny set of sterno cleido muscles and thin section of the trapezius as they run up from the shoulders to the base of the skull.
Let me simplify this statement a little. It is true that the ordinary two-hands press will give you a good pair of deltoids and the effects of the exercise will be felt chiefly on the lateral section of the muscle. But to get the MAXIMUM development, you have to work the muscle “in isolation,” solely by itself that is, as much as possible. To do this you have to use movements such as the lateral raise standing for the entire lateral head . . . the forward raise with barbell or dumbbells for the anterior section, and the press behind neck, or the dumbbell raise to the side when the trunk is bent forward at right angles to the thighs, for the posterior deltoids.
Thus, specialization is merely determining the action of the muscle by itself and then compiling a schedule of movements that “functions” the muscle as strictly as possible. The muscle must work fully over a complete range of contraction, and as far as you are able, unallied with any other muscle group. While we can agree that sheer size and power for their own sakes are in certain instances desirable, we cannot subscribe to these qualities in the case of weight trainers. Not only do these men need size and power, but they also need proportion in order to insure that the other sections of their musculature don’t suffer by comparison.
When it comes to developing the neck, we have pointed out that barbells are somewhat limited. Used in conjunction with the so-called “free” movements given in the previous neck-training article, they do, however, provide the means for a complete neck development. I would suggest that you take one or two exercises out of that preceding chapter and add them to the routine that I will give you. You will then have a program that is able to provide a complete development without adding too much bulk. Your neck will look powerful, defined without that disproportionate thickness possessed by wrestlers. With each movement indicated, tense the neck and, after the exercise, massage the muscles, rubbing them up and down vigorously with a rough wash cloth.
The first exercise is the Shoulder Shrug. Hold the barbell in front of the thighs with a fairly narrow grip. Lock the arms at the elbows and keep them locked throughout the exercise. Shrug or raise the shoulders as high as you can, making every effort to touch the ears. When you have shrugged to the limit, squeeze the shoulder blades back and press back the head against the trapezius muscle, getting a strong contraction of the muscles in front of the neck. Hold for a slow count of two, lower, and repeat. The shoulders can also be circled from front to back and vice versa. Another version of the exercise that provides good work for the trapezius is holding the bar at the backs of the thighs instead of across the fronts. Start off with a weight out of which you can get 10 comfortable reps and increase gradually to 20-25. Force out every repetition and visualize the action of the muscles you exercise.
The next movement is a “towel” exercise. Place a towel around your jaws as in the illustration. The material should run around the neck and the jaws, over the chin. The ends of the towel are grasped by your training partner who stands at your side. Assuming that he is standing at your right side, you turn your head, or TRY to turn it from right to left. Your partner holds the ends of the towel tight and allows only sufficient movement to let the head turn. You will find it best to hold the chin rather high so that the jaw is more or less on a level plane. Squeeze out as many repetitions as you can.
The famous wrestlers bridge has been used by most mat men to produce coordinated effort between the muscles of the neck and trunk. It is, needless to say, a fine neck exercise and should be used by all bodybuilders. It is one of the few movements possible with a barbell. Study the illustrations closely so you get the correct position to assume. A pad should be placed under the head. The barbell can be held either across the hips or at arms’ length overhead. Keep the head steady on the pad or mat and push up with the feet, arching the back and getting the feet well back of the knee joint. Lower and raise the body by motion from the neck only, allowing the head to roll over the mat from the forehead to the back of the neck and repeating the motion. It would be best to practice the movement without weights until you are able to perform it correctly. Then start off with a barbell held across the hips. From here progress to holding the bar at arms’ length directly above the head as it bridges on the mat or pad. Take it easy with this exercise until you have managed to build up some extra size and strength with the other movements.
One of the most popular pieces of equipment for neck development is the Head Strap. In fact, it is the only single apparatus that will permit the neck to be exercises in all its complicated movements. Illustration 4 shows you one way to make use of the head strap. Most bodybuilders make the mistake of using too much weight in the exercise. It is best to use a light weight at first until you get used to the movement and then you can go ahead and gradually use more and more weight. Another common fault is the use of the upper trunk and shoulders. In all head strap movements use only the neck.
Also a head strap movement. Take your position on the bench as in the previous exercise. Hold the head well forward and allow it to fall as low as possible. Your chin should almost be on your chest. From this position turn the head sideways and UP then down to commencing position again, describing a complete CIRCLE of the head. Don’t forget to let the head go as far up, down, and to the sides as you are able. Rotate the head from left to right, and then in the reverse direction.
The final movement in this neck specialization bulletin is one that must be used at the end of the program to flush the muscles and keep them warmed up for a while. It will help prevent stiffness and maintain neck muscle suppleness. Kneel down on a mat and place your forehead on it. Thrust up with the legs so that the body and thighs are in the position shown in the illustration. You can either hold your hands behind your back or else use them to keep balance. Rock backward and forward across the top of the head, pushing forward on the toes, then thrust back again with the neck muscles. Make a conscious effort to tense the neck muscles as you rock backwards and forward. When you have completed the final movement, stand up and rotate the head for a while, then take a hot shower. It is wise when following a neck routine to drop from the program every month or so. The neck can get large very quickly and unless you are training with a view to a wrestling career, you will not need to keep on such a strenuous routine for any considerable periods. If a neck is too big it will tend to reduce the broad appearance of the shoulders. Outsize necks look good in the men who have the shoulders and chests to set them off. Not all bodybuilders have the length of collarbone or development of deltoid that could take care of any tendency to make the shoulders appear narrower, though following a neck specialization course for too long.
In concluding this article I would once again sound a warning . . . proportionate development should be the aim of every weight trainer. While the muscles INDIVIDUALLY can look outstanding they should not appear grotesque but pleasing in appearance, and members of ONE HARMONIOUSLY DEVELOPED WHOLE.
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