Theres been a bit of talk lately on packing the neck. I will get to what neck packing is, but first the reason people say neck packing is important is to increase safety, by putting your entire posterior chain into a better position. There are some very smart people who will only let clients do exercises with a packed neck. Other coaches don’t care, other powerlifter and olympic lifters (to some degree) do pack the neck, and others don’t. Anyways, let’s go on.
Neck packing is simply keeping the neck in a neutral position. If you stand up straight, and extend your neck you are in the “traditional” heads up squat/deadlift powerlifting neck position. Pretty much nobody has their neck completely flexed while lifting (which would be looking down with your head as much as possible. A neutral neck, is sort of in the middle of these two positions. I would say a neutral neck is a little be balanced towards the flexed side, but isn’t all the way flexed. Here is a simple way to get your neck into a packed position: bring your chin (with teeth touching eachother) down to your chest and make a double chin, now keep that double chin and tilt your neck back. That’s the packed position.
It’s been argued that this particular position has performance benefits. It is said that lifting a load with an extended neck position causes neural inhibition to the core and all the way down to the glutes. My observational opinion is that it does not matter at all. I have gone through the motions of teaching it to my clients and have noticed no performance benefit. I have even paid attention to it myself during my training and haven’t noticed any performance benefit. I have looked at people who are much stronger than me, and although a select few do have a packed neck, many, many, many more do not have that position. Let’s look at some examples.
I’m by far not the best deadlifter or squatter around though, so maybe my opinion matters not, but how about elite level weightlifters and powerlifters? Let’s first look at the neck position in some of the strongest squatters in the world:
So for squatting you get the full gamut of neck position from world record holders at different weight classes using different supportive gear. No one really has a flexed neck position. How about the deadlift?
I actually looked for anyone with a reasonable deadlift who lifts with a neutral neck and literally couldn’t find anything. Sure I could put up a picture of some hack, deadlifting with 135 pounds while demonstrating a packed position, but when the shit hits the fan, they will extend their neck. Guaranteed.
See for yourself if any of these ladies and gentleman have a packed neck:
How about olympic lifters:
I will say that I have seen some pretty high level olympic lifters with neutral neck position for the first pull of both lifts. When they get under the weight however, they pretty much always have an extended neck.
So to conclude I feel the whole neck-packing issue is just another minute detail that doesn’t really matter in the long run. If having a neutral neck added 100 pounds to whatever important lift you needed to do, then everyone would be doing it. If you feel comfortable with a packed neck, then by all means keep doing it. If you are just looking out for your health, and using lifting to help get you there, then I would probably stay away from a fully extended neck, because peoples necks are extended as is. A small amount of extension is ok, especially if your relaxed neck position is reasonably neutral. Again I’m not ragging on the extended neck position if you own the ability to keep it neutral when relaxed.