Multiple Teams · Why all athletes must strengthen the neck

I learned about the importance of training the head and neck musculature early in my career. As a high school coach in the mid-1970s, our staff attended several spring football clinics at Penn State University. Dan Riley, who was the head strength and conditioning coach, would always emphasize strengthening the neck region in his presentations. I came away with a better understanding of why Riley put a premium on neck training, as well as some practical information on the administration of properly performed, partner manual resistance techniques.

At the time, addressing catastrophic cervical injuries was the main impetus behind Riley’s focus, and rightfully so. Combined with proper head positioning when blocking and tackling, and not making the head (especially the crown) the primary point of contact, the message was that neck strengthening could add another layer of protection to the cervical region.

It was during my high school coaching tenure that the NCAA and the National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations (NFHS) adopted rules to discourage head-first tackling and blocking techniques. I can attest to the fact that these techniques were taught and encouraged prior to that time. “Stick him,” which referred to leading with the head, was a phrase that could be heard during every football practice and game, at every level.

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