The "Right" Neck Position?
This is a hotly debated topic and I can appreciate both sides of the argument. Here's my take and what has worked well for me and my clients. (I'm not saying I'm right, but I kinda am.)
Maintaining a "neutral" spine during a deadlift is paramount. It's the first commandment of deadlifting. Neutral in this sense means "maintaining the spine's natural lordotic (lower back) and kyphotic (upper back) curvature."
Coaches will start hyperventilating into a paper bag if they see an athlete round his or her back during a deadlift. Okay, so why do we not hold the same standard to the cervical spine or neck? Is the neck not part of the spine?
I prefer people adopt a chin-tucked or "packed" neck position:
A chin-tucked position reinforces the neutral spine, which the neck is part of. I understand the other side of the argument. There are many examples of people extending their head back during a deadlift (i.e. a not-packed neck) and they've been fine.
But in the beginning stages, a packed neck is my preference. Then as someone grows more proficient with the movement they're allotted more leeway. Besides, what often happens during a max effort attempt – extended neck, and yes, sometimes a rounded back – should not be held to the same standard as a sub-maximal attempt or to someone just learning the lift.
In terms of how to cue the proper neck position, I like to have lifters stare at a target 10-15 feet in front of them on the floor. This helps with better neck position and actually helps increase full-body tension. Win-win.