You ever wonder to yourself where you're supposed to look while you're doing a deadlift? How about a row? Should you make eye contact with yourself in the mirror or should you look down at your feet? Great questions - and guess what, it actually makes a difference!
Head Position Matters
The spine is intentionally designed to curve in a way that supports optimal movement and support for our bodies. Without risking getting too deep into the anatomy, there are several different curves of the spine that serve slightly different purposes - but more often than not, when we're under a load (be that gravity or a heavy weight), we typically want to maintain as much of a neutral position as possible, because that's optimal and safe for load bearing.
Why does it matter?
When people lift weights, it can be really tempting to want to look up, especially if there's a mirror where they can watch themselves and check their form. Sometimes it's a matter of not actually understanding where to look (kind of like, "what do I do with my hands?") and sometimes it's completely unintentional. But when we look up, the neck part of the spine - or the cervical spine - moves out of neutral and into extension. Try it now - look at the ceiling. See what I mean?
When you move your head to look up, putting the cervical spine into extension, it can tend to cause a ripple effect that causes the other segments of the spine to lose their natural, neutral curvature. The end result: extra strain in the spine, especially the low back.
A small study in 2017 compared a retracted neck position (think more like double chin) to flexed and extended positions (looking up or down) and found that the retracted posture resulted in less lumbar spine flexion and increased lumbar erector spine, external oblique, and sternocleidomastoid activity. Which basically means: the supportive muscles that protect the spine worked better to reduce the risk of spinal pain or injury.
So whether you want to retract your neck while lifting weights or not, a neutral neck position is ideal.
Instead of looking straight ahead, keep your eyes or gaze down on the ground, several feet in front of your body to help maintain the neutral position of your head.
Pro tip: If you're worried about how you're going to be able to check your form, record yourself instead! It's even more effective than watching in a mirror because you get to see the full scope of your movement from a more objective position.
Lift well! Questions? Want me to take a look at your form? Send me a DM on instagram @katienassiff or email me firstname.lastname@example.org