Picture a pez dispenser opening up from it’s neck and giving you that sweet tasty candy. It’s great when talking about candy, but with movement, we want to stay away from being a pez dispenser. Take a look at our buddy Dave above. On the left he has a hyperextended neck and on the left he has a neutral neck position. During the article I am going to talk about why being on the right will benefit you much more than the left.
What is a "pez dispenser"?
When people squat, deadlift, row, etc. sometimes they have a tendency to lift their head excessively - hyperextending their neck. Some may think this helps with the lift or just don't know enough. Either way, it can cause injury and it doesn't look good. I've never seen anyone smile with a hyperextended neck - just take a look at our friend above on the left!
Why is this bad?
Let’s take the deadlift as an example, when setting up in the bottom we want a neutral spine and hips. When you have a hyperextended neck, the lumbar spine can begin to extend, and the pelvis dumps forward (anterior pelvic tilt). Once this happens, the hamstrings and glutes don’t work as well, which leads to the spine bearing more of the load. Which defeats the purpose of an exercise that can do wonders for the posterior chain.
Another example is the rowing machine. When people begin their pull, they immediately throw their head back. Most of the time they do this unknowingly, causing their spine to extend, thus taking the hips out of the pull - the main power source.
In terms of sports, think about a lineman run blocking, you don't see them throwing their head back to deliver the block - their neck is neutral to deliver the blow. Not only will they be able to see the defender, they will decrease the likelihood of injury and use their hips to explode through the opponent.
Not to say, neck and back pain can be debilitating. The more conscious we are while exercising, the less likely we will get hurt.
How can you fix this?
There are two easy fixes…
Double Chin: If you look in the mirror and create a double chin, you'll notice your neck will be neutral. While setting up for a lift, you can think to yourself, create a double chin, and most of the time it fixes the problem.
PVC Pipe: This is a popular tool used to help people get, and feel, a neutral spine in a deadlift. You simply take a PVC pipe, hold it to the back of your head, upper back, lower back, and hips. Then, descend into a hinge position while maintaining contact with the PVC pipe. If you hyperextend your neck, you will lose contact with the pipe.
To sum this all up, the spine is the center of stability for us. Without proper alignment, we lose that stability. Teaching quality position and consistently training in it, will lead to proper motor function. With proper motor function, we put ourselves in the best position to succeed in desired activities (sports, lifting, etc.).
So remember, don’t be a pez dispenser!