I first learned this from Charles Poliquin in 2003 and I've been using this "trick" ever since. Often, the technique will add a rep to an arm set or prevent a loss of a rep or two as the workout progresses.
It has to do with nerve transmission. If you improve nerve transmission, you can increase your strength. It makes perfect sense because, anatomically speaking, each muscle can be traced back to a nerve or set of nerves that route to the spine at a specific vertebrae number.
Case in point, nerves originating in your neck vertebrae (C4 through C7) control the muscles in your arms, and warming this area up will actually lead to more strength or reps during an arm workout.
The protocol requires you to first do a neck bridge on a Swiss ball, but if your neck has the strength of your pinky, it might be too overwhelming – at least at first. If that's the case, you need to work up to the Swiss ball thing.
Try leaning your head against a wall and have it support your body as it leans back:
However, if you've played a little football or done a little wrestling – where neck bridges are a staple – move right to the Swiss ball version:
The goal is to maintain a neck bridge for one minute. (Work up to that length of time if necessary.) Try to keep the neck straight or close to straight. As soon as your neck touches the ball or wall, you've reached failure.
Progress the intensity by holding ever-increasing weights in your hands. Remember, though, that neck strength is the bonus; you're doing this to facilitate arm strength. A sample arm/neck routine may look like this:
|Standing Barbell Curl, 2020 tempo
|Dip, 2020 tempo
|Swiss Ball Neck Bridge
|Hammer Curl, 2020 tempo
|Incline EZ-Bar Triceps Extension, 2020 tempo
If you're a savvy weightlifter, you're probably asking, "Yo, Michael, how come you don't start the routine with neck bridges?" Excellent question, Meat. It's something else I learned from Poliquin. He didn't lead off with them either because he wanted to show people that the method works.
If you're trying the method for the first time and you start with neck bridges, you won't have a baseline with which to compare your results.
If, however, you lead off with the arm exercises, you'll see that doing the neck bridge led to you matching or even exceeding the number of reps you hit on the first superset. After you've seen the light, feel free to move the neck bridges to the beginning.
- Fradkin AJ et al. Effects of warming-up on physical performance: a systematic review with meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Jan;24(1):140-8. PubMed.