Neck Strengthening in the Crosshairs of Concussion Prevention

Sports Illustrated posted a fascinating story on its Website yesterday about the increasing role of neck strengthening in college football as a way to prevent concussion.

The article focused on Syracuse University and its Head Coach Doug Marrone.

“After a season in which 11 Syracuse players — more than 10 percent of the active roster — suffered concussions, Marrone and his staff underwent an offseason of study and change,” wrote Michael Cohen. “He decided that increasing the size of his players’ necks might help reduce the number of incidents; more strength supporting the head could absorb the blow, he reasoned. It a hunch spawned by the daily neck workouts he endured during his playing days at Syracuse under Dick MacPherson in the early 1980s.”

The article  continues: “Several experts in the medical and weight training fields agree that Syracuse’s new additions to the strength and conditioning program are positive steps, but they note that significant revisions are needed to maximize results. They said the program currently lacks the specific neck-strengthening tests that yield the most telling data, which experts hope could one day be measured at the NFL combine. They want to spur a change in philosophy that utilizes more machine-based workouts and less manual resistance in order to guarantee uniform training among all athletes.”

Syracuse’s initiative and successful results, at least in terms of neck size, was the “result of isometric neck work, weighted neck work and flexion and extension of the neck, all which were a focus of Hicks’ workouts. Four times per week, Syracuse players experienced some type of exercise that targeted their neck or trapezius, a triangular-shaped muscle between the spine and the shoulder blade.

“Part of the workouts relied on manual techniques in which Hicks used his hands and legs as resistance tools against each player. Other times, players paired up and worked together after (trainer William Hicks) demonstrated techniques.

“Various other tools supplemented the manual resistance training. Hicks made use of harnesses and neckbands for additional resistance work, four-way neck machines that allow players to work their neck against weight and a HALO, a metal ring with an inflatable bladder. HALO is worn on the head to improve a 360-degree range of motion. But the backbone of Syracuse’s program is the hands-on training, similar to what Marrone experienced during his playing days, which focuses on the circumference of the neck. And it’s this approach that experts have called into question.”

Not So Fast

The most prominent expert in the field, Dr. Robert Cantu, is conducting a study with research partner Dr. Dawn Comstock that analyzes neck strength and the likelihood of concussions across a variety of high school sports.

Cantu summarized the early findings.

“I thought clearly we would find a correlation between bigger, fatter necks and lesser concussions, but we didn’t find it,” Cantu told SI. ” … Some individuals with taller, slender necks surprisingly had greater strength than other individuals with shorter, fatter necks.”

He went on to say that size of the neck does not always correlate to its strength.

“You’re ultimately going to have to measure the strength to know what it is when you start and to know what it is when you reach a given level,” Cantu said.

To  read the entire article, visit:


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