Coaching Neutral Neck

Last week, we discussed why neutral spine is important – not only for keeping injuries at bay, but for improving your performance as well.

Far too often, people assume that neutral spine means ONLY the thoracic and lumbar spine, and totally forget about the cervical spine, or neck region.

In the video below, I’m going to give a brief explanation as to why neutral neck is important.

So the big take home points here are the following:

  • 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.

Keep in mind that everyone is going to look different as far as head position goes based on their specific leverages and lifting style. For example, an Olympic-squat (or someone with a very long spine) will look as though their head is up.

In contrast, someone with a short-spine and/or a very low bar squat will look almost bent over with the bar.

Both are acceptable, as long as the neck is in neutral and the eyes are up.

Now I know certain guys who are bigger and stronger than me may feel the need to rake me over the coals. They’ll say “you have to lift with your head up!”

And while I can’t argue on a practical level (they are, after all, bigger and stronger than me!) I want to show you to video clips that may change their mind.

Here are two of the biggest and strongest powerlifters known to man – Brad Gillingham and Ed Coan. Watch their neck position as they squat.

Next time you hit the gym for a leg/lower body day, try and lift with a neutral spine and neck.

I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how natural it feels!

Stay strong

  • Levi


    Are you saying we should not be “arching hard” in the squat? It seems as though your point about anterior tilt and shutting down the glutes would imply this. Tonight is 1RM squat night, so I’d like to know! Thanks!

    • Mike

      Yes that’s correct.

      Should you maintain your normal arch? Yes.

      Should you arch excessively? No.

  • Brandon Cook

    Great point Mike! It seems like many people forget this as you often see people hyperextending their necks while squatting and deadlifting. It’s little tweaks like that that are easy to forget unless you remain aware or see yourself on video.

  • Nick Efthimiou

    I find many of my clients will often extend their necks when cued to lift their chest up, or extend their thoracics.

    Any tips or drills that can help them ‘get it’ – I use the broomstick initially to explain neutral spine, but when deadlifting or squatting, this compensation occurs.

    • Mike Robertson

      I always cue “chest up, chin down” – this seems to work well for most.


  • Dan Hubbard

    Did you read Charlie’s post on this?

  • Levi

    Mike, thanks for your response.

    Do you think the cue itself to “arch hard” is good? I can’t keep the excessive arch as I descend anyway. Seems like if I don’t arch at the start, I might go into flexion. Thoughts?

  • AAffri

    I teach it all the time 😉
    Eyes position is so important, some one could not belive it!
    I use eyes positions a lot with fighters and with sprinting technique.

    A Big Thumb Up for you, Mr Robertson!!

  • George Mahoney

    Your point of “the gaze should be kept upwards or through the eyebrows” is brilliant.

    I have been questioning my ability to maintain an appropriate neck position ever since I read your neck saving articles on T-nation.

    This coaching point is exactly what I needed.

  • Christopher


    How does keeping the “eyes up” prevent lumbar flexion?

    I could see “eyes up” as neural priming to drive up, not sure how I see the former reason.

    Please help.

  • Lewis

    This is what Charile Weingroff talks about, packing the neck and using oral facial driver.

  • Phil


    I understand that a neutral neck and eyes up are important during a squat, but I’ve also heard that you should look at a fixed point for focus. Does this mean that when you initially set up you should be looking at a point around chest level, so when you drop down you end up looking upwards?

    Great video by the way, I enjoy reading your articles and watching your videos.

  • Tim Bradac

    Great article Mike, i use eyes up for myself/ clients, really find this cue a must. Slowly getting through your articles, new to your site. Enjoying my time learning from you/your team. Top stuff. Tim

    • Mike

      Thanks Tim – appreciate the kind words and enjoy the site!


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