1. This Guy Freakin’ Rules!

His name is Kelly Starrett, and he’s a Physical Therapist who works with the San Fransisco Crossfit community. Subscribe to his Youtube page immediately and never look back. He’s got a ton of knowledge, he has a great attitude, he’s a natural speaker, and he posts a new video every damn day on flexibility/mobility/soft tissue work. Here’s a video from the other day:

2.  Flexibility Quote

I came across this quote in my Strength and Conditioning: Biological Principles and Practical Applications book the other day regarding flexibility:

Flexibility requires integration with other movement components to produce skilled movement……flexibility is useless without strength, and vice versa. For example, training muscles to be extraordinarily strong with the intent of improving performance and preventing injury does little good if those muscles cannot move through an appropriate ROM, cannot be summoned by the nervous system at the proper time and with the proper tension, and are not inhibited by antagonistic muscles. In other words, a strong muscle is useless if it doesn’t “fire” at the right time and in the right amount. The same can be said for flexibility. Increasing a person’s ROM is useless if that increased range is not under exquisitely precise nervous control and the muscles controlling the movement are not strong enough to control the position…..flexibility is not as simple as ROM about a joint. Flexibility, or motion around a joint, is under the control of numerous factors; changing one without consideration of all the others is folly and often results in dysfunction. Increasing flexibility without simultaneously increasing strength in the new range, nervous control, stamina, and other factors invites puzzling failure. The challenge of the future is to discover how the integration of these factors produces skilled movements. This will require a breakdown of academic turf barriers, and new and broader training of exercise and sport scientists so that integration of systems becomes the focus.

You better give me some freakin’ credit for typing all that out, and for finding this picture of Van Damme! This quote mirrors what many top S&C coaches such as Nick Tumminello, Jeremy Frisch, Mike Boyle, and Eric Cressey have been saying for quite some time. There are a lot of bullshit “stretching specialists” out there who only know passive stretching techniques (there was one at the gym by my house in Scottsdale) and they think that it’s the cure-all for everything, but active stretching beats passive stretching any day of the week in my book for plenty of reasons. This isn’t to say that there’s not a place for passive stretching, just that active is superior for most purposes. Here’s a warm-up that will work on simultaneous gains in mobility and stability so you increase flexibility and keep the gains:

3. Why All the Books on Motivation?

These days all sorts of coaches are reading motivational and inspirational books. I’m more interested in reading books and journal articles on Strength & Conditioning or Physical Therapy. Don’t trainers and coaches realize how much knowledge is out there and how little the average person knows? Are we so unmotivated that we have to constantly read books to keep us focused?

In all fairness, I should probably be reading books on marketing, motivation, etc. as this would probably lead to increased revenue. To be honest I’ve never read a single book by Ryan Lee or Thomas Plummer. I actually prefer reading about molecular adaptations to various forms of exercises and the like. At the end of the day we all need to make a living, and the better you are at marketing yourself the more money you’ll make. Moreover, staying positive and motivated is important when you train, coach, and teach other people as no one likes being around a negative jerk. So it’s definitely valuable to read these books, but in my opinion you should always be reading two books at once: one that’s scientific and one that’s for pleasure or personal growth.

4. Neck Packing

Neck packing is a more recent trend in strength & conditioning and I’m aboard. It involves cervical retrusion and capital flexion which is a fancy term for “making a double chin.” This position is probably the best set up for exercises involving a hip hinge such as deadlifting, bent over rows, bent over rear delt raises, standing YTML’s, and kettlebell swings. I first learned of it through Charlie Weingroff, but I’m not sure if he came up with it or if he learned it from someone else.

After much thought and consideration, I believe this to be the safest and possibly the most “power-transmitting” way to pull. I’m not sure about Olympic lifting, but definitely for the exercises mentioned above. Remember that this is a new concept and it takes time for ideas to spread in S&C so don’t go around judging other coaches and trainers if they don’t yet teach “neck-packing.” And don’t go around trying to pack your neck when you tie your shoes, make love, or do yard work.

The last thing I want to say about neck packing is that it’s hard to tell if you’re doing it right. Sometimes I think I’m doing it right but when I watch myself in a video I’m still extending my neck a bit. For this reason I recommend filming yourself and making sure you’re doing it right.

Here’s a video that discusses this concept:

20 Comments

  • shama says:

    Nice one Bret especially the link to youtube videos. secondly, whatever you said about flexibility is what we been saying for a long time right? the challenge is to find ways to work through the stiffness some of our clients exhibit when asked to do simple flexibility mobility exercises with out going through sort of a labor pain. reading your as well as the stuff Ben Bruno puts across will keep coaches like me glued to the comp. its a conspiracy really!!!!!!

  • Kelly is the man and makes the whole issue of mobility fun and interesting at the same time. Funny how so many people are quick to dismiss the crossfit community when there are many many experts like him moving it to ever increasing heights

    • Bret says:

      Kelly is the man! I don’t bag on much these days – I’m just happy that people are moving around and not sitting around watching tv all day long!

  • Mario says:

    Wonderful commentary (as per usual!) I especially appreciate the write up on Flexibility/Stability/Strength. This is fundamentally what M.A.T. practitioners have been saying for quite some time.
    I would also very humbly suggest Roskopf’s technique has indeed fulfilled the search for a technique in which “Increasing flexibility without simultaneously increasing strength in the new range, nervous control, stamina, and other factors invites puzzling failure. The challenge of the future is to discover how the integration of these factors produces skilled movements.”

    Not to come across as dogmatic, I simply haven’t seen anything else (not to say it doesn’t exist)which addresses the concerns mentioned in the quote from “Strength and Conditioning: Biological Principles and Practical Applications”

    Any experience with M.A.T. Brett? I came across it about a decade ago and really haven’t looked back.

    Keep up the fantastic work! I look forward to your blog posts regularly!
    M.

  • Pete says:

    I second your recommendation of Kelley and the Mobility WOD. He has a knack for clearly explaining how to get in there and make some change happen with your soft tissues.

  • Marc says:

    Hi Bret,

    Thank you for posting the video on neck packing. You mentioned that the neck packing is good for hip hinge pulling movements.

    Is the neck packing something I should do with Chin-ups and Pull-ups? I see a lot of videos of people going into extreme cervical extension when they do chin-ups.

    How about squats?

    I hope you have a speedy recovery from your biceps injury. After reading about your experience I will longer do an alternate grip on deads.

    Thanks,

    Marc

    • Bret says:

      Thanks Marc,

      I’m not sure. I haven’t tried them with chins/pullups. And given my biceps situation I can’t experiment with them. I’m trying to mimic the motion right now and it seems worthy of experimentation.

      I don’t think you should neck pack with squats though. Or good mornings. Something about them makes me wonder…perhaps the cervical retrosion but not the capital flexion???

      Go ask Charlie Weingroff! He’ll have an answer for you. I just don’t know. Sorry to not be of more help.

      Bret

  • Teresa Merrick says:

    Good article on neck packing, although I’m not sure why you picked the word “retrusion”. The Merriam-Webster online definition for retrusion is “backward displacement; specifically: a condition in which a tooth or the jaw is posterior to its proper occlusal position”. “Cervical retraction” might be the better way to label “make a double chin”.

    Essentially, a person should maintain a neutral neck alignment as though someone had driven a pole down the back through the top of his/her head. I work to do that on nearly all exercises. Interesting to see how much head/chin forward jutting happens even on lat pulldowns unless you’re paying attention.

  • Good stuff Bret,

    I am all for moving better, but I am not a fan of creating pain to do it. Yes, I know all about “sticky tissue” but just because something is stuck, does not it is time to release it. We need to make sure that whatever we did, it made us better, no worse!

    The body puts tissue down for VERY specific reasons and getting rid of it (especially working through) pain may not be the best idea. As always, no disrepect to Kelly and his video at all and if you tested it and it worked—awesome!

    Neck Packing

    Being a stickler on words, I don’t like the word “packing” since it applies lots of tension and compression to keep it there. I do like the term “neutral” though.

    I am not Dr. Charlie, but I have used neutral neck on myself and athletes for over 3 years now. I find for most, it helps quite a bit.

    If you look at anatomy, you will see many many nerve roots in the cervical area. If the body percieves an issue at the nerve root, it will “shut down” some of the muscular function to protect it (arthrokinetic reflex that I first learned about from Dr. Cobb).

    Many shoulder issues can be fixed by pressure checking the base of the neck, esp C3/4 area. Ditto for some low back issues due to a poor functioning lat (associated to a nerve root issue). The lat insert low via fascia to help stabilize the low back.

    Here is a video where I show you a simple test for neutral head alignment and pullups in 3 easy steps. Many of used this programm to drammatically increse their pullups in record time.

    http://extremehumanperformance.com/blog/3-steps-to-adding-muscle-and-strength-to-your-back-with-pullups-and-biofeedback/

    Hope that helps a bit! Heal fast on that arm Bret!
    Rock on
    Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

    • Mario says:

      With you on this one Mike! Pain is not to be ignored or accepted as a necessary evil. Which is why I’m not a huge fan of the passive stretching modalities espoused by many or our peers.

      Short of internal imaging scans how can anyone determine what the issue for joint occlusion or barrier to ROM is? We might better serve our clients/patients by allowing the body to first recognize stability thereby potentially creating an environment where the body will naturally eliminate said barriers before we indiscriminately put force through the joint.

      A quick muscle test of the various sub-occipital’s usually gives us a pretty solid picture of the condition of the C-spine before we engage in any activity.

      Still, I can’t see a problem with trying to keep a ‘neutral’ spine when loading. Although I do take slight umbrage with the term ‘neutral’ as in my experience this means different positions per individual and not some arbitrary measure.

  • Ted says:

    Bret, your youtube video on flexibility is not available in Germany. Do you have an alternative link where the video contains no copyrighted music? Thank you!

    All the best, and VERY nice post, as usual.
    Ted

  • Rachel Guy says:

    Good post. Hip mobility/stability video is a good simple and effective guide!

  • Marianne says:

    Bret,

    On the neck-packing thing, can I ask, even when given no direct instruction on the head and neck positioning during an exercise, why do you think that people’s natural action seems neck extension?

    When I watch and train people, and even when I learned the exercises myself, it was almost automatic that my head stayed up on some exercises, mainly the DL though, due to the direction I was pulling. Like the body follows the head?

    I was just curious if you knew why?

    Just thinking out loud when I write this, as usual. Unless it has to do with the trainee mimicing the trainer.

    Anywho, nice article! And I will be trying the double-chin-maker(DCM)( oh come on, that’s a way better name than “neck-packing” LOL)

    M

  • Jimmy Smith says:

    Bret,
    Good video on neck packing. I picked this up from Pavel Kalar years ago. Great movement for both rectus capitis anterior and posterior activation, which are severally “shut off” in various instances.
    Jimmy Smith

  • ty murds says:

    So funny that you posted this yesterday, my cousin and I were deadlifting on Wednesday and were working on keeping our chins tucked! It certainly does take some getting used to, but I can really feel the difference in the movement.

    One question I have however is packing the neck during bent over rows. I understand this is another major hip hinge exercise, but I’ve heard over the years that looking up helps you move more weight (never understood the reason.) In practice, this seemed to be true for me. Not that tucking your chin was bad or anything of that manner, but for whatever reason it would help move more weight.

    That being said, I can certainly agree with you that it can be dangerous to put the cervical spine in such a position. What are your thoughts on this?

  • Hi Bret, thanks for the informative video on neck packing. It was actually something my friends and I were talking about recently as they saw me do it whilst I was squatting and began to make fun of me! I never really made a conscious effort to do it, i just sort of do it because it feels “right.”

    I also agree that it may help with power production, if I perform the neck packing when I’m in the hole while squatting I can feel the contribution! What do you think the mechanism behind this is? Concurrent activation similar to jaw clenching? I plan on doing a mini lit review on it and post it as a topic on my blog.

  • Rob says:

    Brett

    Awesome man thank you.

    I have learned SO MUCH from this blog about treating my injuries, improving my training and so much other stuff I just wanted to say thanks.

    Gotta do some foam rolling I have been neglecting tonight. saw this video, going to make me do it now.

    Thanks man..great info.

    Rob

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