About a year ago I first heard coach and physical therapist Charlie Weingroff explain what he coined a “packed neck” position and it’s importance. This is essentially a neutral spine position when you break it down. However, with the kettlebell swing and in some cases the deadlift, that neutral spine position is often lost. Meaning that the picture below, although representing what is common, is not ideal:
Why is this important? As Charlie states “From a mechanical level, the neck will impact everywhere else in the body…. What you do in one part of your spine will effect what happens in other parts of your spine.” In the case of this neck extension, joint centration is lost and therefore deep spine stabilization. I think it’s fair to say that most of us can get on board with the picture below being optimal head/neck position at the top of the swing and/or deadlift. That position just needs to be maintained throughout.
I’ll admit that prior to hearing Charlie’s logical but fierce argument for why looking forward during the backswing is wrong, I hadn’t put a lot of thought into it. Some people I coached had their “heads down” a little more than others but the hinging and hip snap was on point. However, when Charlie speaks I listen and often apply the best I know how. So, slowly but surely I started to ask those I work with to tuck their chin at the bottom of the swing, make a double chin, or any number of other cues to get the desired effect. I have learned that this is not always an easy change for people as they need to move their eye position from the floor (when the bell is back) to out in front of them (when hips are extended). It may feel awkward at first if you’ve been doing swings for a long time with your eyes always out in front.
That being said I have more aggressively pursued the neutral spine with our members of late and especially those learning the swing. Perhaps my most important observation is throughout this time is that it simply makes people better (also part of Charlie’s argument). Yes that’s a broad term but I know what better is when I see it. I have frequently seen what looks like a pretty darn good swing but with the neck extended, cued the person to change their head position to that in the above picture, and immediately seen a swing that is simply better from head to toe. The hinge is better, it’s more crisp and just clearly done more effectively.
– Mike Baltren