2013 was the year I fought in the UFC. It’s also the year I was diagnosed with two prolapsed discs in my neck. I knew already that I was coming towards the end of my decade long career in the sport, and I didn’t want to pass on the opportunity of fighting in the biggest promotion in MMA – one that had only just become available to women.
I spent a large chunks of that year – in between the madness of all the training and media work – taking far too many painkillers and desperately looking for anything that would help keep me in the gym and on the mat. Already a qualified osteopath at that point, I spoke to a number of other colleagues and health care professionals, and with their help managed to make it through the training. By the time I got to Canada for UFC 161, though, even sitting still for more than a few minutes was excruciating.
By the end of the year, my neurosurgeon was ready to operate. I came close to agreeing to go ahead – but in the end decided to have one last shot at rehabilitation first.
Although I knew many excellent osteopaths, physiotherapists and strength coaches, it was very difficult to find someone who really understood how to rehab a neck to the point where it can deal with the stresses of combat sports.
In contact sports, collisions aren’t just an unfortunate accident – they’re an inherent part of the sport. Whether you’re moving in for a takedown, or you’ve been clipped with a punch or a kick to the head, these are collision forces. The neck acts as a shock absorber during these collisions. The neck muscles help to control the movement generated by the impact, reducing the stress on the structures of the neck itself. There’s even evidence that having stronger neck muscles may reduce your chance of concussion.
We know these things, and yet much of the neck strength work done by combat sports athletes is confused, haphazard, and “old school”. While sports science and modern strength and conditioning methods are gradually becoming more commonplace in fighters’ training schedules, this approach doesn’t – by and large – seem to have made it as far as neck strength work. At the same time, much of the neck rehabilitation exercise that I’ve seen prescribed by physiotherapists and sports rehab specialists is massively under-loaded compared to the demands placed upon the neck in sport. Doing basic neck mobility work and chin tucks on their own will never, ever be enough.
I decided that if I couldn’t find a complete answer to this problem, I’d create my own. I’ve collected some of the best ideas about neck strengthening that I’ve seen, adapted others, and developed a few of my own.
Along the way, I’ve worked with many grapplers, wrestlers, boxers, MMA fighters and a few rugby players with neck pain in my clinic. The injuries ranged from minor aches and pains through to serious disc prolapses. Every one has taught me something new, and this experience has helped me to improve and evolve this system.
The Neck Strength Masterclass is the result.
Neck Strength Masterclass is available to purchase via internet streaming and DVD from 20th October. Join us at https://www.combatsportsclinic.net/members to be kept up to date with release news and early bird offers.
PS: Nearly five years on from this MRI scan, I still train BJJ (when work doesn’t interfere), and I almost never have any neck pain.