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Pick up “Show Your Work!” by Austin Kleon (I bought it for six bucks)

The Slave Driver of the Head and Neck

There’s no bigger insight into someone’s behavior than the head and neck. But what drives the head and neck?

If you want to be a great movement coach, you need high empathy and knowledge of anatomy. What is someone feeling and how does that feeling affect the structures of the body?

I’m not even talking about empathy in the obvious sense of human interaction. Will it help you seem like less of a robot? Sure. Will more people like you? Probably. But the hidden power of empathy for coaches is in decision making.

Imagine the basketball coach who keeps telling a kid to stay low out of a cut. The coach repeats the same words — over and over — throughout the season, but the kid does not respond.

Most coaches would say this kid is unathletic, unteachable, or disobedient.

But what if that kid cannot physically move his body that way? Maybe he just eats too much food before practice and pops straight up out of a cut because his hip is impinging in the bottom. I say this with 100% certainty of possibility.

If this coach wants to improve, he should know basic nutrition, biomechanics of the hip joint, and the anatomy of the thorax and abdomen. And, perhaps most importantly, he cannot assume anything.

This example and the hip joint is a starting point, but what about the head and neck? It’s the same, just in a different part of the body. I make better coaching decisions now that I’m paying attention to my clients’ head positions.

If someone has a rib cage that’s riding up, I’ll look to see what’s happening at the pelvis.

If someone has a slight head tilt when moving their arms, I’ll look to see what I can change at their thorax.

If someone is constantly looking down, I’ll challenge them to look straight ahead.

If someone is popping up out of a cut, I’ll look to see if their head and neck can bend.

The complexity of the joints in the head an neck make this undertaking difficult, but the sternocleidomastoid is the best place to start. This is the single muscle with the greatest ability to affect the head and neck because it’s relatively thick and has huge moment arms. It is, therefore, a strong mover in all three anatomical planes of motion.

As if the physics wasn’t enough, remember that the brain is always preoccupied with what the head is doing. Don’t believe me? Here’s a short list of what’s on the agenda for today:

  • Movements produced by the SCM
  • Movements kind of produced by the SCM
  • The thorax during respiration
  • Forward head posture
  • Swayback posture
  • Snapchat after workouts
  • Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
  • Asthma
  • Vision
  • Airways
  • Fatigue
  • My flourishing artistic abilities
  • Relative motion of joints
  • Entropy
  • Basic angular physics
  • How the head can move the feet
  • …and a bunch of examples

I’m here to help you dissect this topic piece by piece. I’ve included references for those who want to dive deeper. Each section of this post is meant to lead into the next one, but I’ve supplemented the writing with many pictures in hopes to make this article clearer and more engaging. If you want, you could get away with skipping around.

Given the positive feedback received on my post over the serratus anterior, I knew the present article had to be written.

Let’s start off with generalities.

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Tight calves ALL THE TIME. What should I do?

A friend of mine recently reached out for help with her tight calves.

When your calves are incessantly and outrageously tight and tender to touch, what is there to do?

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Controlling Extension: Is it really all that bad?

One of my distance clients from outside of the country asked a really, really good question in between his thesis working hours. The concept is so important that I thought it warranted its own article.

How do you know what positional errors to allow your client to make? How do you know what you should write in their program? You have to know about controlling extension.

His original prompt was:

What is actually the concept of controlling extension? Is it when someone is still extended and tries to not let it get worse during an exercise? Will this not feed into this pattern?

Let’s dive into it.

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Do you have any really great IT band stretches?

A friend reached out the other day asking me if I have any great IT band stretches or hints for rolling out the IT band. She wanted to know prior to beginning her training for a half marathon.

So I am of the belief that stretching the IT band does nothing because it never changes things over the long term. The number one way I address it is by addressing pelvic positioning. You’ll usually see glutes that don’t allow the hip to come back into the socket. The primary attachment of the glute is the IT band. Also of consideration is the tensor fascia lata (TFL). If the hip can’t stay seated in the socket, you’ll also notice an overactive TFL. Both of these lead to IT band tightness and both of these are left unaddressed by IT band stretching. It can assist your program, but it alone is not enough. The learning component of the new position or “tone” is just not there.

Here’s an example of a tight IT band, an exercise I prescribed this particular client, and the results of it afterward. Look at hip position and how her head an neck don’t move reciprocal and then DO move reciprocally some of the time.

A key talking point here is that the exercise I give each person is generally different. There are some I could just give everyone, and I might still do that if I want to “play it safe” or “cover all my bases” if I think the client has the patience for it. Just about all the time, however, I am evaluating each person and giving them an exercise based on what I deem they need. Faster results means more time for the cool stuff.

Header photo credit: Allen Tucker

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