What’s good people, you might be wondering why the title of this post is the same as a Wu Tang classic.. well today I’m hitting you with a short one about something that came to my attention after reading Strength Training Anatomy (one of the best educational lifting books I’ve read).
It’s something that most of us are unaware of, and if left unchecked, it can mess with our training and our lives.
Most gyms nowadays are spacious, luxurious, air-conditioned palaces with gleaming mirrors all the way round for us hard-working gym folk to admire ourselves while we’re training.
Even the most humble, least narcissistic person in the room suddenly turns into Patrick Bateman when they’re doing bicep curls in front of a mirror. Veins popping out, sleeves getting tighter. Yeahhhh.
It’s natural. There’s not one guy on the planet who hasn’t been guilty of this at one point.
If there’s a mirror in a gym, you can bet there’s a guy somewhere checking himself out in it.
Apart from vanity being one of the seven deadly sins, this isn’t an issue in itself. However, if you’re hitting the iron (as you should be if you’re striving to be athletic-aesthetic), it can be a big problem.
Allow me to explain.
Along the neck (and all the way down the back) we possess vertebrae – small bones which make up our spine and from which nerves emanate.
These nerves fan out to the muscles in the different parts of our body, sending and receiving signals. The nerves from the neck vertebrae travel all the way down the arm.
Still with me?
I’ve previously talked about certain movements where good tekkers is of utmost importance and should not be compromised at any cost. Deadlifts and squats instantly spring to mind.
If you’re planning to go heavy on these movements, they need to be completed with picture-perfect form. Ghetto deadlifts can seriously f*ck you up.
In exercises such as deadlifts, squats, and bent-over rows, most smart lifters recognise the need for good back positions (i.e. neutral). However, not many pay attention to the position of the neck.
It’s usually on the lifts mentioned above (along with dips) where we throw our heads up to check ourselves out in the mirror.
This lifting of the head puts our neck in extension (picture below on the left), which is not a good position to be in while lifting.
(During something like bicep curls, it’s a different situation altogether, because you’re standing up and your head is facing forward, not extended in any way.)
Having the neck in extension during these movements can cause ‘spasms and contractions’ in the deep muscles of the neck, compressing the spinal nerves.
Over time, this might lead to nerve problems in the arm (aka neuralgia). Symptoms of neuralgia include:
- pins and needles
- severe pain
I used to be very guilty of checking myself out in the mirror constantly before reading the aforementioned book.
Although I never got the neuralgia, my neck always felt painful because of the strain of that position.
Working as a pharmacist, I’ve seen plenty of people who suffer from neuralgia and spend their lives popping nasty medication (like anti-depressants) just to be able to function..
Not for me Clive. Just ask anybody who’s ever had sciatica how peak it is.
What to do instead
When you’re setting up for a deadlift or bent-over row, focus on a straight(ish) alignment from head to tailbone (or even tuck your chin ever so slightly.)
For squats, looking forward is fine. For dips, tuck your chin slightly.
What other benefits does avoiding extension have?
Not only does improving your alignment keep you safe from injuries, I’ve also noticed another great benefit.
Not looking in the mirror actually improves my feel for the lift – the mind-muscle connection that Arnold and other bodybuilders always talk about so much.
I feel more aware of my body and less distracted. I know what’s supposed to be working, what’s supposed to be contracting. My execution of the lifts has improved so much – everything is more synchronised, tighter, stronger.
Stay safe and remember.. protect ya neck!
PS – November edition of Motivation Music out now!