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Protecting the Student-Athletes from Head and Neck Injuries | Head & Neck Isolator

By Tyler Kwasnicka MS, CSCS, USAW-L1

Head Strength Coach – Louisville High School, Louisville, Ohio

Head Strength Coach – Louisville High School, Louisville, Ohio
Tyler Kwasnicka

The purpose of any strength and conditioning program is first and foremost for the student-athlete. As strength coaches, we must remember we are caring for someone else’s child. Therefore, it is critical for us to provide a positive and inclusive environment, that nurtures physical growth, as well as personal growth for all participating student-athletes. At Louisville High School, our strength & conditioning program has established why we train:

  1. Protect the Athlete

  2. Increase Performance, and

  3. Develop School Unity

We share these training principles with all student-athletes, parents and families, Louisville High School’s administration, our sports staff and coaches, our medical providers, and our community.

Upon my hiring two years ago, I immediately understood that we needed to re-organize our operations, systems, training procedures, and room layout. We needed to upgrade our approached on how training is conducted. It all meant the education and communication had to improve from my direction towards: district administration, the central treasure, facility management and our janitors, the cafeteria director and our front-line cafeteria staff, our Louisville faculty and staff, all sports coaching staff, our medical providers, athletic trainer, our Louisville community and alumni, and most importantly our parents and student-athletes. (Yes, everyone has an important role in developing our strength & conditioning program).

The message is simple regardless of who you are: our training is open to everyone and the goal to protect our student-athletes. And, we as strength coaches are entrusted to protect the institution.

Once training began, we started researching our student-athlete’s areas of weakness and possible physical risk during training and at play. It was apparent, regardless of sport or gender, head and neck injuries were numerous. So began our quest to address this weakness.

Catastrophic injury to the head and neck is the most devastating injury in sport. A spinal cord or traumatic brain injury can cause serious life changes for the athlete and his family. It is important as strength coaches we take the necessary measures to reduce this risk.

Louisville put into place an across-the-board neck training protocols utilizing more traditional means such as bands, plates, and neck harnesses. It wasn’t until I was introduced to Manual Resistance (MR) that our neck development really started to improve. Manual Resistance training means using a spotter or partner to supply resistance. Manual Resistance is a highly effective strength tool – if utilized correctly – that allows us to develop any muscle or muscle group. It has been widely employed in the collegiate and professional sports ranks for decades, most notably by Strength Coach Dan Riley.

NOTE: Coach Riley wrote extensively for Coach Magazine of his usage of MR in a multitude of settings and environments. Randy Berning has sent me several of Riley’s books over the years, all of which detail Manual Resistance extensively. Matt Brzycki has written considerable history and research on Manual Resistance, in most of his publications.

I had first experienced with MR during my internship with Coach Carlo Alvarez at The University

School in Cleveland. During my internship head and neck training was the first exercise the athletes completed every day. Two years later coach Randy Berning put myself through a MR neck workout and I instantly we knew it to be an invaluable tool at Louisville. We modified MR for our situation with the help of coaches Asanovich, Randy Berning and Al Jean, and we continue to teach our student-athletes its proper technique. You need a highly motivated coach and highly motivated lifter for MR to work correctly. Collaboration with coach Asanovich, Berning, and Jean allowed us to developed the progressions we use to introduce and implement MR training. My student-athletes have embraced MR and it has been a tremendous training method for our program.

Thanks to our district’s administration, I have been allowed to approach potential donors and express needs within our strength program. This past fall, a Louisville Alumni allowed us to improve Louisville’s Strength Facilities. Under 45-minutes, a conversation with the donor allowed him to understood Louisville’s Strength & Conditioning department’s goals, the impact these machines will have on all Louisville student-athletes, and my commitment to the children and the school. I asked for five neck machines because it allows us to work with a high volume of athletes in a brief amount of time. The donor understood our need and purchased all five machines.

While MR is an excellent way to train the neck, it lacks quantifiable data. Louisville’s Strength Department desired to purchase neck machines for their ability to provide actual strength numbers to track improvement and return to play. I chose the best neck machine on the market, the Dynamic Head & Neck Isolator. I first saw The Head & Neck Isolator in action a few years ago at a seminar. Its creator, Mark Asanovich, was giving a presentation on head and training and talked about the unique Tilt and Nod features. Traditional neck machines only train the neck 3-ways: Flexion, Extension, and Lateral Flexion. The Head & Neck Isolator trains the neck in 3-ways plus the small underlying muscles of the head through the Tilt and Nod setting. A few years later, coach Berning let me experience the Tilt and Nod features on his machine. The Tilt and Nod features on the Dynamic Head & Neck Isolator is a game changer. Anyone athletes who tries the Tilt and Nod protocol feels training of the neck on a different level. The quality of the machine and its unique Tilt and Nod features is what makes it the best neck machine on the market.

Neck machine usage takes place under my watchful eye. Improper use of machine could lead to

potential injury so extreme precaution and extensive training are implement before a student-athlete uses the machine. Over spring break, with coach Berning’s help, we gave an orientation on how the machine is used and collected seat, back, and foot peg numbers for around sixty athletes. Any improper technique or horse play is not tolerated and the student-athletes can lose the privilege to use the machines.

The Head & Neck Isolator is slowly being integrated into our neck training process. I am still

learning myself. The hardest part of implementing the machines has been experimenting with proper organization, efficiency, and flow with large groups. This is why we are taking our time by slowly integrate each feature of the machine. For the first two months, our focus was on proper use of machines and neck extension. Once student-athletes were comfortable with neck extension, we introduced flexion. When the school year starts, Tilt will be introduced directly after Extension on Day 2 and as the school year progresses, we will add Nod directly after Flexion on Day 1. We continue to utilizing MR for all Lateral Flexion movement, due to the large volume of athletes and time constraints associated with strength training classes and after school training.

Coach Asanovich, Berning, and Florida State’s Men’s Basketball Strength Coach Michael Bradley were gracious enough to share their training protocols and help me develop Louisville’s head and neck training. Our training begins each training day by focusing on a specific neck strengthening movement: Flexion (forward movement), Extension (backward movement), and Lateral Flexion (ear-to-shoulder movement.) If a team trains two days per week, we focus on training Flexion day one and Extension the other. If training occurs three days per week, we train one movement per day (Day 1: Flexion/Nod, Day 2: Extension/Tilt, and Day 3: Lateral Flexion). This allows us to train neck Flexion and Extension muscles a minimum of one time per week regardless of implementation pattern.

Our repetition schemes are kept simple. For manual resistance exercises, we complete one set

of 10 repetitions with a verbally controlled tempo of three seconds down-and one second up. On The Head & Neck Isolators student-athletes complete one set of 8-12 repetitions. When 12 repetitions with perfect technique are achieved, we follow Coach Bradley’s overload technique, which calls for adding 2.5 lbs or less the next week (we have fractional plates that allow us to increase weight by increments 0.25, 0.5, 0.75, or 1lbs.)

With our large groups, manual resistance and the neck machine are used in rotation. For example, athletes on racks 1-5 (20+ student-athletes) will use the neck machines while racks 6-10 (20+ student-athletes) complete manual resistance for the same movement one week. Then, on week two, they alternate roles. This rotation will continue every other week, so students are using the machines at a moderate level to allow for proper adaptation.

Please do not forget to train the traps, upper back, and scapular retraction. For complete

development, movements such as shrugs, rowing, and scapular retraction must be included in training. At Louisville we incorporate trap, upper back, and scapular retraction movements throughout our training week. (If you want more information reach out to Dynamic and coach Asanovich he is more than willing to share his head and neck training manual The Head & Neck Isolator Instructional Manual: Evidence-based Methodology to Strength Train the Head & Neck. The manual highlights the importance of neck training, provides weekly training templates (even if you don’t have the machine), and instruction on how to properly use the Head & Neck Isolator.)

I certainly hope that my fellow strength & conditioning coaches have found this information

helpful. If you have questions about Louisville Strength & Conditioning program or The Dynamic Head & Neck Isolator, please reach out.

Tyler Kwasnicka

By Tyler Kwasnicka MS, CSCS, USAW-L1

Coach Tyler Kwasnicka has been coaching for over 10 years. He has been a member of the NHSSCA since 2017. He attained his Master’s Degree in Applied Exercise Science from Concordia University of Chicago. Currently, Coach Kwasnicka is a teacher and Strength & Conditioning Supervisor at Louisville City Schools, Ohio.

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