Calisthenics Neck Training

by Robby Taylor on February 2, 2016

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Calisthenics Neck Training Danny Kavadlo

There are a few body parts that often seem limited in training options when working with nothing but your own bodyweight. Neck strength is one of those areas. Sure, you can get a reasonably strong neck from doing wrestler’s bridges and headstands, but these quickly become exercises of endurance, requiring sets of a minute or longer to continue seeing improvement.

Though some coaches would have you believe there are limitations to what can be accomplished with bodyweight training alone, the truth is you can get an extreme workout for every muscle in your body without anything more than a pull-up bar. You just need to be creative!

As practitioners of Progressive Calisthenics know, when you’re able to hold a basic plank for an extended time, you can start to train more advanced skills like the L-sit and the back lever in order to increase the intensity and decrease the time needed to build strength. Wrestler’s bridges and headstands are to neck strength what the plank is to core strength: just the beginning.

Calisthenics Neck Training Headstands2

Headstands are just the beginning!

Advanced Neck Strength
Essentially, you can break down advanced neck exercises into two categories: planking and hanging. The easier of the two is planking, which consists of 3 main variations. (I say easier, but keep in mind that all of these exercises are very difficult, so be careful and ease in slowly.)

It’s also worth noting that while these are first and foremost neck exercises, you will likely be surprised by how much work you experience with the rest of your body. The good news is that you can scale any of these exercises by placing a hand (or two) on the ground (or bar) for an assist.

Neck Planks
When practicing any of these variants, make sure to use a soft surface and/or wear a hat with some cushioning. The first variation is the front neck plank. Start by performing the negative portion of a push up. At the bottom, touch your forehead to the ground, brace your entire body, especially your neck, and push into the floor through your forehead. Then if you feel you are ready to, remove your hands so the only contact points you have with the ground will be your forehead and your toes. Try to maintain contact with your forehead as much as possible, minimizing any “rolling” that would result in more of the top of your head making contact with the ground.

Calisthenics Neck Training 3

The second planking exercise is a modification of the standard wrestler’s bridge; you could call it a back neck plank. From a wrestler’s bridge, move your head such that the back of your skull is in contact with the ground and your eyes are pointed upward. Forcefully push the back of your head into the floor. The only contact points will be your feet and the back of your head. Once you are comfortable with this, you can work on holding the position with your legs fully extended, such that the only contact points are the backs of your feet and the back of your head.

Calisthenics Neck Training 4

The final planking exercise is a modification of the side plank. Find a low surface upon which to rest your head at about the same level as when doing a side plank. Set your body up in a side plank position with the side of your head resting on the object. Brace your entire body, especially your neck, pushing the side of your head down into the object. When you’re ready, remove your arm, so that the only contact points are the side of your head on the object and the side of your foot on the floor.

Calisthenics Neck Training 5

Neck Hangs
Now on to the hanging exercises! The easier of the two is the back neck hang. Get yourself in the top position of a behind-the-neck pull up. From there, curl the back of your neck around the bar as much as you reasonably can, leaning your head back so that you are looking up. Find a good spot on the back of your head and use it like a hook to suspend your weight from the bar. I find it helpful for counterbalancing to arch your body, so your feet wind up reaching back behind you. With time and patience, you may eventually be able to remove one or both hands.

Calisthenics Neck Training 6

The harder of the two hanging neck exercises is the front neck hang. This one’s a real doozy! From the top of a pull up, with your jaw on top of the bar, curl your head down, driving your chin towards your chest, curling your body around the bar with your neck strength. If you can, remove your hands and hold for time. It will be helpful to hold your legs/arms out in front of you to counterbalance.

Calisthenics Neck Training 7

Although this is likely the hardest variation in the article, it may be the easiest to scale. With your jaw on top of the bar and one or both hands on the bar, you can perform curls essentially by nodding – cycle between the neck position of the front neck hang and an extended position, where you let the angle between your jaw and your neck open, bringing your chin up.

Get Neck-ed
Any or all of these exercises can be used to increase your neck strength far beyond what you would attain through basic neck bridges and headstands, without the need for silly head harnesses or other such gadgetry. Start working these progressions and get ready to say goodbye to that pencil neck. One day you might even find yourself doing a human flag on the top of your head like my friend Danny Kavadlo.

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Robby Taylo rDanny Kavadlo 8Robby Taylor, PCC, is a calisthenics enthusiast and personal trainer located in Denton, Texas. Connect with him on Facebook to find out more.

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One Rep Away To Undo Laziness

by Eric Buratty on January 26, 2016

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LeadPhotoOneRepBuratty

Laziness is a cornerstone of the many excuses people give for not staying active.

In an effort to reduce laziness, we commonly experiment with several workout strategies that offer us an exciting challenge and minimize boredom.

When we think about it, though, many proven strength training programs are boring cookie-cutter routines. These same workout templates have been around forever—as recycled/revamped set-rep schemes that are also available online for free.

If they work so damn well, what’s the issue?

Well, for starters, they’re hard to stick to.

This is because the physiological benefits from a strength training program over the short run aren’t always consistent with our psychological experience over the long run.

In other words, we all enjoy getting stronger by following those cookie-cutter programs until their linear progressions stop working.

Then we no longer experience the same level of happiness from our workouts.

Then anxiety, frustration and boredom settle in.

Then we lose interest and get lazy.

Then we find ourselves hopping around programs like a bunny that lost its energizer batteries.

EricBurattyChart

As we can see, it’s a hellacious cycle of unrewarding time and effort invested. This is what happens when our original goals become more important than our journey.

So . . .

HOW do we adapt our goal-oriented mindset to fit in with our process-oriented reality?

HOW do we embrace the method to our madness without letting our strength program become just another boring cookie-cutter routine?

HOW do we find balance between the physiological and psychological aspects of exercise without losing sight of what we originally set out to accomplish?

. . . We focus on performance.

Even on the most sluggish of days, the way we perform our reps still dictates the type of gains (or lack of gains) we receive. So, once we become more aware of our stronger and weaker days (over the course of weeks, months and years of experience), the key to boosting performance is then through executing variety in repetition.

Let’s go over how to apply some popular rep styles that further maximize performance and minimize laziness.

Please note that, to get the point across in the most objective manner possible, we’ll assume a total body workout emphasis with demonstrations of each rep style coming from the handstand push-up chain of progressions (i.e. pike push up – to target upper body) and the shrimp squat chain of progressions (i.e. foot elevated/Bulgarian split squat – to target the lower body).

ExerciseCollageKavadlos

FASTER “SNAPPY” Reps

This rep style is characterized by a maximum application of force on the acceleration phase of a range-of-motion. Imagine trying to launch off like a rocket or catapult when transitioning from the eccentric/lowering phase to the concentric/lifting phase–especially when our bodyweight resistance makes a movement (initially) feel lighter (until fatigue sets in, of course).

This rep style can be further divided into two subcategories: explosive/ballistic and plyometric reps. The key difference between these two subcategories is that explosive/ballistic reps are performed without “catching any air,” while plyometric reps involve a short but powerful time period off the ground.  From a physics perspective, explosive/ballistic reps demonstrate why force equals mass times acceleration (i.e. F = ma), whereas plyometric reps take things a step further to show why power equals force times velocity (i.e. P = fv).

FASTER Upper Body Demo 1 (explosive-ballistic)

FASTER Upper Body Demo 2 (plyometric)

FASTER Lower Body Demo 1 (explosive-ballistic)

FASTER Lower Body Demo 2 (plyometric)

Pros: Improves speed, explosiveness and fast-twitch motor recruitment—which means greater carryover to athletic skills that require considerable force and power production; Permits the use of momentum to support a smoother eccentric to concentric transition—which allows for a higher number of reps to be performed cleanly.

Cons: Decreases total body awareness—which can lead to injury when an individual hasn’t fully mastered a movement or progressed it appropriately; Does not simulate the amount of speed and muscle tension for setting PRs.

When to Use: Ideal for all fitness levels training in the 6-12 rep range (i.e. working with the lower level progressions of “the big six” from Convict Conditioning) – wherein the emphasis is on speed & power output first, muscle-building & size second, and strength third.

Beyond Calisthenics: For those who wish to supplement their calisthenics training with weighted movements, this rep tempo would be most appropriate for exercises like kettlebell swings and snatches, one-arm rows with dumbbells/kettlebells/barbells, as well as barbell push-presses and hang power snatches.

SLOWER “Grinding” Reps

This rep style is characterized by a deliberate application of constant muscle tension throughout the entire range-of-motion.  Imagine trying to flex the target muscles for an exercise as hard as possible—as if we’re doing a photo shoot for a fitness magazine cover—while executing a single rep for an exercise.

SLOWER Upper Body Demo

SLOWER Lower Body Demo

Pros: Increases total body awareness—which has implications for injury prevention—even if the rest of mainstream health & fitness media deems a particular exercise as being “unsafe;” Simulates the amount of speed and muscle tension required for setting PRs.

Cons: Decreases speed, explosiveness and fast-twitch motor recruitment—which means less carryover to athletic skills that require considerable force and power production; Does not permit the use of momentum to support a smoother eccentric to concentric transition—which will not allow a higher number of reps to be performed cleanly.

When to Use: Ideal for intermediate and advanced-level individuals training in the 1-5 rep range (i.e. working with the higher level progressions of “the big six” from Convict Conditioning) – wherein the emphasis is mostly on strength and precision in power output.

Beyond Calisthenics: For those who wish to supplement their calisthenics training with weighted movements, this rep tempo would be most appropriate for exercises like Turkish get-ups with kettlebells/dumbbells, heavy deadlifts and front squats with a barbell, goblet style shrimp squats (AKA airborne lunges) or Cossack squats (AKA side-to-side squats) with a kettlebell/dumbbell.

MODERATE “Recovery” Reps

This rep style is characterized by a fluid contraction/stretching of the muscles that may also target strength/stability at a specific point throughout a range-of-motion. Imagine the body as an oscillating wave of potential energy—such as a slinky going down a flight of stairs, a child riding a swing back and forth or Wile E. Coyote jumping off the Burj Khalifa building in Dubai with a bungee cord in an attempt to catch The Road Runner.

From a fitness perspective, we’ll have to fire a large number of rapid muscle contractions every second in order for our joints, tendons and muscles to remain stable under oscillating conditions. The more of these contractions we initiate per second while remaining in a stable equilibrium position, the greater our capacity is to recruit the muscles we need to stimulate contraction/growth or stretching/recovery.

There are a few different ways this can be applied:

Isometric Reps

Upper Body Demo

Lower Body Demo

Dead Stop Reps

Upper Body Demo

Lower Body Demo

Pulsed Reps

Upper Body Demo

Lower Body Demo

Normal Reps

Upper Body Demo

Lower Body Demo

Pros: Reinforces a graceful mastering of the positions and transitions throughout a range-of-motion—which can be helpful in overcoming sticking points and plateaus; Encourages healthy circulation and blood flow to muscles, as well as tendons and joints; Ultimately helps make PRs look AND feel easy; Minimizes the amount of muscle fatigue from eccentric stress—which allows the individual to perform more quality work

Cons: Not as energy-expensive as slow or fast rep styles—so they may not be the best starting point for individuals who are simply interested in taking off a few pounds

When to Use: Ideal for anyone interested in progressing high-tension movements like the family of backbends, forward bends, handstands/inversions, front/back/side levers and mid-section holds, as well as one arm or one leg variations for any of these movements—all while facilitating an individual’s original strength training goals

Beyond Calisthenics: For those who wish to supplement their calisthenics training with weighted movements, this rep tempo would be most appropriate for exercises like paused snatches or clean & jerks (i.e. Olympic lifts from floor or blocks), squats with a barbell on the front side or back side, kettlebell or barbell thrusters, cable bicep curls and close grip barbell bench press, as well as farmer’s walks with heavy weight(s) carried above the head, at the “rack position” or beside the torso.

Wrap-Up

At the end of the day, understand that going faster isn’t always better.

And neither is going slower.

We must get stronger and perform better in all rep ranges with their appropriate tempo to balance the physiological and psychological aspects of any workout program.

Since performance is both mental and physical, expect fluctuations to occur depending on sleep and nutrition quality. Learn to respect body along the way to keep those fluctuations to a minimum.

When energy levels are lower, take the intensity down a few notches, and just have some fun without any formal workout structure.

When energy levels are higher, kick the intensity up a few notches, and add in some structured work sets to earn that breakfast, that holiday meal or that dinner out with family & friends over the weekend.

When in doubt, do a little of both!

After all, a wise person once said, “for every action, there’s an equal and opposite amount of laziness we kill.” 😉

Have any favorite rep styles? Or how about a movement flow that combines one or more rep styles?

Share them in the comments below!

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Eric Buratty is the health & fitness coordinator at MMA & Sport in the suburbs of Montgomery County. When he’s not fine-tuning his superhero core powers, he helps self-starters move their bodies with more integrity in both one-on-one and group workout settings, writes actionable health content and seeks out further education to help others prevent health problems instead of cure them.

Get to know Eric better and stay updated on his content by connecting with him on Facebook.

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