Painful Shoulders, the Kettlebell Arm Bar, and Neck Packing

Hey!  It’s been a crazy few days at Beyond Strength Performance NOVA…  So, this weeks post is a) late, b) concise, and c) a bit random.  Don’t mistake that for pointless though!

Preventing Shoulder Aches and Pains

Earlier this week I wrote a NOVEL of a blog post over on my gym’s site about the FMS.  I used the shoulder mobility test and the way that I see it’s relation to the trunk stability push-up test as the main example, but the concepts can be applied very broadly.  If you haven’t read it, please do so!

Preventing Shoulder Aches and Pains on

Kettlebell Arm Bar

In the above post I briefly mention the kettlebell arm bar as being one of my favorite exercises for teaching dynamic motor control of the shoulder.  Like I said in the post, I really like Functional Range Conditioning’s (FRC)® PAILS/RAILS for the shoulder and various t-spine rotation drills for range of motion restrictions.  Step two would be to address the static motor control through shoulder packing drills, Functional Range Conditioning’s® passive range holds and lift-offs, deadlift variations, etc…  Once someone has proper ROM and static motor control, I have found the kettlebell arm bar to be one of many great tools for dynamic motor control.

When performed properly, there is a big rotary stability bonus to the movement!  Controlling the roll, free of fast movements, both concentrically and eccentrically, while keeping the shoulder packed, is an excellent challenge for dynamic stability. Check it out:

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Start these off with a spotter when first adding them into your programming…

Neck Packing

I realllllllly try to stay out of the internet hoopla of he said/she said diatribes of fitness conversations…  However, I do read a lot of them, because- well,  I like entertainment.  One argument that just won’t die pertains to neck packing.  The concept of neck packing was brought to me by Todd a few years back.  Upon explanation it made perfect sense to me, but it didn’t make sense when I TRIED to use it.  It felt forced, unnatural, I was weaker with it, and I looked like a ginger potato.

This is pretty much what I look like when I pack my neck

This is pretty much what I look like when I pack my neck

I finally pushed it to the back burner.  I understood the concept, but I just couldn’t grasp the application.  How could I teach something if I couldn’t grasp it myself?  Here’s a video of me deadlifting 405 for a double in May of 2013:

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As you can see, my neck is not even remotely packed!

Todd took this video, and another, and turned it into a post, [constructively] tearing my deadlift apart.

Analyzing Chris’s Deadlift on

There were too many little problems going on with my deadlift to actually be ABLE to pack my neck naturally!

Soon after the post he began programming high frequency deadlifting for me (a concept that Michael Ranfone used on Todd just a few months prior to finally hit a 600# + deadlift).  Just like always, I spent the first few weeks TRYING to pack my neck.  To be honest, I got weaker first.  But even Charlie Weingroff (the man that brought neck packing to the table) warns that you will at first!  After applying the concept daily, with sub-maximal loads, at some point it clicked rather seamlessly.  It no longer felt forced, EVERYTHING felt stronger with the neck packed after some time.  Somewhere around eight weeks into deadlifting every day I reviewed some video of my form, and BAM! it looked one hell of a lot better.

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It’s not perfect, but those are approaching max pulls for me…  At that point packing my neck was hardly a thought in my head.  It just happened!

Now, I honestly never think, “PACK YOUR NECK!” when I’m setting up… it just happens.  To me, it’s a natural part of setting my tension.  Here’s two videos from this week demonstrating the change:

This first one is of me playing around with hand release kettlbell swings:

The second one is of me getting a little overzealous of hex bar deadlift this week.  Before you watch, know that I had both Scott Tribby and Todd Bumgardner call me out for bouncing the reps.  It’s awesome to have friends that call you on your BS.  However, that neck is packed:

As someone that spent YEARS lifting without a packed neck, I understand how you could be on either side of the fence.  BUT, as someone that has spent countless hours honing proper neck packing, there is no question for me.  I am stronger, more stable, and a BIG BELIEVER in the importance of neck packing.  I find that most of the people who badmouth neck packing either don’t understand it in the first place, or they don’t care to.  They most certainly have not taken the time to learn AND apply it correctly…


Until next time,




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Chris Merritt

Strength Coach/ B.S. Kinesiology, Pennsylvania State University/ FMS/ Functional Range Conditioning Mobility Specialist/ Certified Kettlebell Instructor/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance and Beyond Strength Performance NOVA

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