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Proper neck warm ups
Coaches need to take precautions with their players’ necks to prevent injury and ensure longer careers. Dr Sally Lark, a sports rehabilitation expert, explains the misconceptions and what you should be doing.
Rugby players suffer from poor neck motion compared to other athletes – and forwards are far worse off than backs. That’s the conclusion of my research studies, which suggest that the range of neck motion in forwards can be so bad that’s it’s similar to people suffering acute whiplash injury.
The range of movement in your neck deteriorates over time with age, but playing rugby exacerbates the problems.
As a rugby coach, you should help take care of your players by educating and training them in three vital phases: pre-season, pre-match and training, and post-match and training.
STRONG BUT NOT STIFF
Ironically, a stiffer neck is equated to a stronger neck, and forwards are thought to be better off with “stiff necks”, not (hyper)flexible necks for the scrum.
However, strength doesn’t have to occur at the expense of normal neck motion. And it’s still important that forwards can scan the pitch quickly.
Most of players’ strength training outside rugby training should be based on developing strength within a certain range of motion and not necessarily increasing flexibility. This is because stability is needed in the scrum and head-on collision tackles, which are characteristics of forward play.
There are plenty of neck-strengthening exercises to recommend to players. They can use weights or their bodyweight during resistance work. However, I’d strongly caution against two common errors made in training:
Don’t use exercises that hyperflex or over-extend the neck
Doing so puts the neck at the very edge of its normal range of movement, where it’s at its weakest.
For example, if your player is lifting a weight, he shouldn’t start the movement with his chin on or near his chest, or extended backwards.
Any exercise should start the neck in a neutral position, with the upper spine in line with the thoracic and lumbar spine.
Always build up the weight gradually within a strength-training session, even if you managed to lift a large weight in the last session. This is because there might be some small damage to the neck from playing or training that will be exacerbated by lifting a heavy weight.
Don’t warm up or warm down by circling the neck
The spine isn’t a ball and socket joint like the shoulders. Your neck will respond to sideways rotation and up and down movements.