Thursday, July 28, 2011

Neck & Forearms - Charles A. Smith

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Neck & Forearms
by Charles A. Smith (1951)

I remember a discussion a friend of mine and I had some months ago. “The pictures you have of those muscle boys in your magazines are all, more or less, stripped down to bathing trunks . . . there’s no difficulty in seeing what they are . . . lifters. But, what about a fellow walking along the street? Is there any way in which you can tell he is above average in strength and development? My pal paused for breath and went on. “Nowadays, the tailor does such a good job of building a guy up a cheat and a pair of shoulders, it’s hard to determine whether a fellow is all he’s dressed up to be.”

True, the tailor does do a lot of work in giving some men a build that isn’t exactly what it seems . . . but there’s one way I can ALWAYS tell if a man is . . . (a) in good physical shape . . . (b) above average in power and muscular development or . . . (c) a strength athlete . . . HIS NECK. And when you come to close quarters, there’s another way . . . HIS GRIP. But it’s the neck that is the key to a man’s physical condition. Look at the neck of a boxer or wrestler . . . particularly the latter . . . it’s full, thick and powerful in appearance. Now take a glance at the neck of a guy who has been sick for a long time, or the neck of an old man . . . scrawny, stringy, muscular tone very poor, with big hollows running from the base of the skull, formed by the muscles, that look like two thin ropes. Beyond any doubt, the condition of a man’s neck indicates his condition of vitality and virility. You all know how thick and powerful, and what a proud carriage the neck and head of a bull or a stallion has . . . and how drooping and soft the neck of a gelding or an ox.

Then there’s a man’s grip. Some year of so ago, I wrote an article about strengthening the hands and forearms, and gave you an idea of the impression caused by a flabby handshake. So I won’t repeat myself except to say that it is a decided social advantage to have a grip that appears sincere and firm. And so we see that the neck is the visible manifestation of a man’s condition and the grip the hidden one . . . not only of things physical but mental and emotional.

Getting back to the neck as indication of the balance in Nature’s life bank, I will never forget that great oldtimer and stage strong-man, Luigi Borra, better known as Milo Brinn, pal of Georg Hackenschmidt. I used to frequent the London Pub of Milo and at seventy-seven years of age his neck was as firm and as muscular AND as large as a young heavyweight wrestler’s. Even after a severe operation that would have been death to a lot of guys ten years younger, Milo quickly recovered without losing anything from his magnificent and shapely neck . . . and his grip too. His forearm power was something to avoid in a wrist-wrestling contest. Many of the fellows, members of the First West Central Lifting Club, used to challenge him without a single defeat being chalked up against Milo.

For the life of me, I don’t know why it is that young bodybuilders make such a song and dance about performing neck and forearm exercises. Asking some kids to work on their neck and forearms is like asking them to give you all their dough . . . neck and lower arm movements are generally looked on as a complete waste of time . . . for the usual reasons . . . two workouts and they still haven’t got 18 inch necks or forearms as big as Apollon’s so they quit cold. And when you see these kids in a physical excellence contest, they look like their necks are too weak to support their heads, and the general impression one gets is a decidedly unpleasant appearance of disproportion.

Neck work . . . and forearms too . . . are just about the most satisfying exercises you can perform. True, the results don’t arrive with lightning-like rapidity, but they do arrive much more quickly than those that arm or chest or thigh work produces. Strangely, these sections of the physique are looked on as “difficult” parts and are ranked with the calves as being hard to develop. Actually, it takes no longer than four to six weeks of specialization to produce an appreciable increase in neck and forearm size.

Take myself for instance. If I do a month’s hard work on my neck, it gets so big that it looks too large for the rest of my development, and I scale close to 235 pounds. Early this year, I started working on my neck and in no time had to discard all my shirts (17½) and get measured for ones with size 19 collars . . . much to the delight of my brother-in-law who haunted my home with a tape measure. But my early physical culture days were spent in a heck of a lot of wrestling . . . three and four hours each day . . . so it is no wonder that I can easily bring my neck up to over 19 inches if I so desire.

There are many ways of increasing the size of the neck and forearms. Just fifteen minutes hard wrestling on the mat should convince you that this is one of the finest ways to get those bull-like sterno-cleido-mastoids muscles. Then, there’s bridging on the mat and the use of a head strap and manual resistance applied by yourself or a training partner . . . or you can even use a towel, but in my opinion the very best of all neck movements are performed on an exercise bench . . . and the same goes for forearms . . . with but one exception . . . heavy dead lifts on a thick bar. The head strap has its uses too but the resistance applied to the neck by a training partner, CONTROLLED resistance . . . is perhaps the best means of developing to the full the muscles of the neck.

Here is your exercise bench routine, and first I have a few tips . . . pointers for you to follow. Both sections of the physique can stand an extremely large amount of work, so don’t be afraid to exercise them often and with great vigor. You will find the neck gets much stiffer than the forearms . . . obviously because it isn’t used as much as the hands and lower arms are, so as soon as you feel the muscles tightening up, quit neck work and get going on the forearms returning to the sterno-cleido-muscles when the tightness wears off. During the day . . . especially the day AFTER the workout . . . tensing, turning and twisting the neck muscles and head will help take the stiffness away and keep the muscles “warmed up” for the next workout. after the workout you can massage the muscles with embrocation.


Exercise 1.
Head circling. The first movement is performed with the head strap. Place this over the head with barbell plates attached to the rope or chain. Lie face down on the exercise bench so that your head and neck are just over the end. Throughout the entire exercise move only the head and DO NOT allow the shoulders or upper torso to assist in any way. Start off by lowering the head as far down as you can, then from this position turn it to the right and up and then down in a complete circular motion . . . take the head as high as you can and let it travel as low as you can. After 10 turns to the right, make another 10 turns to the left. Perform the exercise SLOWLY and DELIBERATELY so that you “feel” the weight all the way. As soon as you are able to make 20 turns each way, three sets, add more weight and work up again.

Exercise 2.
Head raising. For this exercise you need not only a bench, but a good thick towel and a training partner. Or, you can use a weight-plate, padded with a towel and placed on your forehead. Lie on your back on the bench with just your head and neck projecting over the edge. DON’T ALLOW the SHOULDERS or UPPER BACK to raise themselves off the bench. Remember that this is a neck exercises and the head is the only part of the body that should move. Place the towel (and plate if alone) over the forehead and just above the eyes. If doing the partner-assisted exercise, your training partner grips the ends of the towel. YOU lower your head as far as it will go, then you make every effort to raise it until the chin touches the chest. Your training partner applies just so much resistance that it will enable you to barely keep your head moving. As you get weaker, he should adjust his pressure (or if alone, use hands to help lift the plate with neck strength) to allow completion of each repetition. As soon as the chin touches the chest, lower the head and repeat the movement. Resist the weight on the way down. Keep this up until you can no longer force out reps.

Exercise 3.
Head pulls to the side. Lie on your back again, on the bench, and put the towel over your forehead with the ends pointing to the sides. Your training partner takes hold of the ends. If training alone, do this manually with your own hands while sitting upright. Starting position is with the head right over against the shoulders. The pull starts from there while you resist until your head touches the opposite shoulder from where you started. As in the previous exercise, your training partner (or yourself) should adjust his resistance to yours so that you are barely able to keep the head moving. In both these exercises (2 and 3) the position should be reversed. In exercise 2, instead of starting with the head DOWN below the level of the bench, you can make the commencing position from “chin on chest”. Your training partner pulls DOWN and you resist. Make as many reps as possible, three sets. While the three-sets-per-exercise routine is recommended, it is not meant to be a hard and fast rule. If you feel capable of performing four, five or six sets, do so.


Exercise 4.
Load a dumbbell bar up on one end only (illustration 4). Grip the bar by the unloaded end and rest the upper arm along an exercise bench with the elbow almost on the end. The forearm should be pointing straight up. From this position rotate the wrist in a complete circle, lowering it as far down, as far up, and as much out to all sides as you can. You will find it advisable to use a very light weight first of all . . . a 1½ pound plate on the end of the dumbbell bar, and grip the bar close to the plate, gradually increasing the leverage by increasing the distance between hand and plate. The hand can be rotated clockwise and then counterclockwise for as many sets and reps as you feel inclined to perform. This is a great wrist and hand strengthening movement.

Exercise 5.
Hold a dumbbell in the hand and rest the forearm along the exercise bench with the palm facing up. Now let the hand drop down as far as you can. From this position raise the hand until it is as high as it can go . . . almost at right angles to the forearm. Lower the hand and repeat. This is a great movement for the muscle on the inside of the forearm. Another point to be noted is the gripping of the dumbbell. Grip it with everything you have . . . tightly! Start off with a weight you can make 3 sets of 10 reps with, and work up to 3 sets of 15 before adding weight.

Exercise 6.
In the next exercise a reverse position to exercise 5 is taken. In this movement you use a barbell. Take a close grip on the bar and rest the forearms along the bench palms down. Lower the hands over the end of the bench and from here raise them up as high as you can. Use a thumbs around the bar grip and grip the bar as tight as possible. 3 sets of 10 reps working up to 3 sets of 20 reps before adding weight is best. The best time for you to use these exercises is right after you have completed your usual barbell workout. Just take a few minutes rest and go right into your neck and forearm exercises. Take it easy the first few workouts so you don’t suffer too much discomfort from sore neck muscles. When your neck and forearm muscles are broken into the idea of working really hard, you can start to go to town and build up a neck of which you can be proud . . . a carriage immensely improved, a grip to inspire respect, one that will increase your self confidence.

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