Pack Your Chin for a Stronger Back

Have you ever seen a giant redwood tree?  Fewer things on this planet are as stable and sturdy as that. It would take quite a hit to knock one over. Thick trunk, deep roots, nothing is going to move it short of Thor and Ironman duking it out in Avengers 3.


Alright, I know Kronos is the main villain in the next one, BUT if you saw “The Avengers,” and the scene of  Thor and Ironman going at it, then you know what I’m trying to get at. The Giants have left 11 men on base in game two of the NLCS, and there’s a rain delay in St Louis, my attention is a little thin at this point in time so get over it!


Ok, so somewhere in this article is supposed to be an explanation as to what the hell packing for the gym and the chin have in common. Stability, power and all things strength is what they have in common.


If you know how to “stack your spine” correctly when you lift, your chances of getting hurt go down quite a bit, and your chances of being awesome and the envy of all of your friends goes up. A lot. The reason being is if you position your bones correctly prior to moving, you can lock down your spine and give it the stiffness to withstand a body block from MATT HOLLIDAY WHO IS A DIRTY PLAYER. Anyone see that? The guy almost knocked Marco Scutaro into the 3rd base dugout in game two of the NLCS.


At any rate, stacked spine, more stability. If you start that at your chin, it begins a chain reaction down the spine to keep it safe.


“Spinal stabilization not only allows for a healthy buttress of the core, but that in turn allows for more hip mobility and in turn a more free expression of powerful hip extension,” says renowned strength coach and physical therapist Charlie Weingroff, DPT in his article “Packing in the Neck.”


Weingroff believes that as the position of the neck goes, so goes the lumbar spine, and I agree. Pack the neck, stabilize the lumbar spine.


“When you consider the spine as 1 entity, 1 chain of links with regions that are easier to move than others, we should consider that whatever happens in one of those areas will be compensated or met with a similar position elsewhere.  Basically what I’m saying is whatever happens in the neck is going to happen in the lumbar spine,” he says.


This makes perfect sense if for no other reason than I’ve seen it worked, almost miraculously first hand. For the last three weeks with the exception of a few days I’ve had some back issues. Nothing too severe, but a pain in the butt, well low back actually. Until I was watching Weingroff’s “Rehab=Training, Training=Rehab” DVD.


In it, he was detailing how to pack the chin and stabilize the joints for the Turkish Get Up using a shoe as the weight. As simple as this sounds it was anything but. The process is one of any time the chest is up standing or kneeling, fire your glutes like you’re trying to smash a dime, pack the chin HARD and pull the shoulder of the arm that is up into the body with the lats. I figured I’d give it a shot, and see what happen.


WOW. Within about 10 mins, my low back issues completely disappeared, my left shoulder that had been pretty tight released and my glutes worked like they haven’t in weeks. All from adjusting the way I was positioning my chin. But, if you pay attention to what Weingroff explains in his article it makes sense. I stabilized my chin, and my lumbar spine became a lot happier because my glutes worked better.


Shocker. So simple of a concept, it isn’t even an area where I thought to look. That’s a hint by the way to spare you from my fitness foibles.


“Some of the major reasons to pack a neck during a heavy lift is to create balance between the powerful extension forces applied to the neck from the trapezius and levator with an increased activation of the deep neck flexors and the powerful sternocleidomastoid,” says Dean Somerset (Where are all the Packed Necks?). “Another major benefit is the increase stability in the cervical spine, which means it is more likely to NOT have the scapula start to shrug up and create stability for an over-extended neck, which will help prevent compromising the thoracic spine, lumbar spine, and shoulder girdle outside of neutral.”


Like Weingroff, Somerset feels the cervical spine affects the lumbar area of your back as well.


“This lack of stability in one area tends to cause a massive spatial shift in the other segments of the body in a search for the necessary stability to produce the movement. The area that tends to take the brunt is the L3-S1 complex.”


The next time you go to the gym, keep the following in mind from Mike Robertson (Coaching Neutral Neck) as you lift, and you will have a great training session:

  • Neutral neck is a key component of a neutral spine.
  • Neutral neck should be maintained in all of your lifting endeavors (squatting, deadlifting, single-leg training, etc.)
  • While the neck is kept neutral, the gaze should be kept upwards or through the eyebrows. In other words, neutral neck but EYES UP.

If you want to have the most stable spinal column possible to make moving, well, a hell of a lot better, the next time you go to the gym, as you pack up your iPod, headphones, post workout recovery drink, etc, make sure to pack your chin. You’ll have an incredible workout, and you will discover strength you didn’t think was possible.