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Don’t Be Looking Up When You Lift

It makes me cringe every damn time. Especially on some lifts more than others.

Currently, I am in a mentorship with Jordan Syatt and Mike Vicanti. Both of whom have built massive online audiences and businesses. Being that I am rather new to the online coaching sphere, I joined this mentorship for some advice and help to grow mine.

For this first month of the mentorship it’s been all about engagement. So, what I have been doing is going on Instagram, searching hashtags, and commenting on posts trying to help people.

As I was scrolling through the “deadlift” hashtag, I quickly discovered a topic that I feel I needed to cover. I also didn’t want to come across as an asshole yelling at these people “DON’T BE LOOKING UP WHILE PULLING THAT WEIGHT!”. This is a cue that everyone needs to hear.

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When first getting into weightlifting, I am sure like me, you heard coaches or other gym goers tell you to look up when your lifting. Especially during lifts like squats and deadlifts. I have also witnessed people looking up when they are doing pushups or some type of overhead press.

Although I understand why people say to look up and they mean well intent, does it make sense to implement this cue though?

Going back to the deadlift and squat, looking up will “help keep your back straight” instead of rounding out, and wherever your eyes go your body goes. But your neck is all part of your spine, so why not keep it neutral throughout?

Even during a push up, looking up is counterproductive when trying to get scapular movement during the motion.

Rather than looking up during these lifts, I like telling my online clients to pack their neck. I want to keep a neutral spine position throughout the entirety of it.

There are a few reasons why I want to keep the neck in a neutral position, rather than looking up when trying to push or pull some heavy weight.

1. Don’t take one joint to its end range of motion while moving other joints during their full range of motion.

Each individual is different based on the posture that they are in. Some individuals get more cervical extension in their upper cervical spine or get that extension lower in their cervical spine.

People who have a forward head posture are going to get excessive upper cervical spine extension. And this posture is very common, especially with the sedentary lifestyle that many people live.

If this person in the image above were to be in a neutral cervical spine position with a forward head posture then he would be looking at the ground. Of course you cannot walk around like that, so in order to look forward we have to get the extension for the upper cervical spine to look forward.

When it comes to performing the lifts, this is the type of motion that we can be getting. It’s a scary thought to me that when we are back squatting heavy weight, in this extended cervical position, it could be increasing the risk of injury. I don’t have evidence supporting that as of this writing, but I would bet that there is some correlation.

2. You’re promoting downward rotation of your scapula.

This really comes into play when performing pushups or some type of overhead press. I like to have clients reach really long at the top of their pressing motion to get their shoulder blades moving. I want them focusing and feeling that motion occur.

Looking up is going to turn on your levator scapulae musculature, which is a downward rotator of your shoulder blade. Doing the exact opposite motion that we want to achieve.

It doesn’t make sense to me to have a muscle that is limiting motion that we want to achieve. So, in order to get scapular upward rotation then we have to keep the neck in a neutral position.

3. You’re shortening the sternocleidomastoid.

The sternocleidomastoid (SCM) is a muscle that gives a lot of people headaches. Pun not intended, but intended.

via GIPHY

When looking up, you are using your SCM to extend your neck. So when someone is looking up they are going to contract their SCM. And then when an individual is already in that forward head posture their SCM is already short so why add on top of that?

That constant tension in this muscle could potentially cause headaches. At that point, you may need to refer out to a manual therapist to help get things under control if you suffer from reoccurring headaches accompanied with neck pain.

Before you perform any type of weightlifting activity, be sure that you are tucking your chin to help maintain a better posture. Your neck will thank you down the road.

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