I have a client playing college football for Montana next year.  He has had issues with stingers any suggestions to help with those. I am thinking heavy farmers walks and deadlifts. Maybe some bridge work. Any suggestions would be helpful. He is playing tight end.



For those you that have never played contact sports or were not privy to bone crushing hits on a daily basis, a stinger or burner is an injury to a group of large nerves in the upper body. Usually a stretch or compression, or a combination of both, of the brachial plexus results in a burning sensation and lose of strength. The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that has just exited the spinal cord. These nerves travel across the shoulder and into the arm and are important in directing the muscles of the arm, and sending sensory information from the upper body to the brain.

Why do stingers happen?

This is a more perplexing question as very people can actually tell you why stingers plague certain people and not others. In my 20-year football career I had only a handful of stingers and they never lasted more than a few seconds. I never experienced any loss of strength or time missed. However, I played with more than a few players that we hampered by stingers and lost considerable time. A few of which had to retire due to chronic stingers and permanent nerve damage.

I think a contributing factor to my lack of stingers was a singular mindset when taking the field…to always be the hammer. Someone long ago told me “on every play, you are either the hammer or the nail”. On every play if I could be the hammer and make some poor bastard the nail, I would have have success and avoid injury…most of the time.

Unfortunately, the handful of stingers I received were a result of being the nail. Either I did not see the guy coming or my face was turned and took a big shot to the head or a linebacker or blitzing safety coming through the line to deliver me a blow. All of these resulted in a stinger. It happened when my head was turned or I took a shot to the side of the helmet that caused my neck to snap in an unnatural way.


I think the reason I had few stingers and no neck injuries was a result of weight training. From the first time I decided to lift weights I wanted big traps. After all, traps are the hallmark of a powerful physique. Have you ever seen a guy squat 300+ kgs or clean 180+ kgs with no traps? No. Olympic lifters, football players and strong dudes have big thick neck and traps. Traps are the “shock absorbers” and “buttresses” for the neck. As the traps grown thick in the upper back they act like a natural neck roll that prevents your head from snapping back. You attach those thick traps to a some strong shoulders and a back that looks like it was constructed with steel cables and you have makings of a upper body that will survive the day in, day out punishment of the NFL.

How do we go about constructing them?

Any lifter or coach worth their salt will tell you, all the big muscles you can’t see in the mirror are built by pulling. Heavy deadlifts, cleans, snatches, clean pulls, snatch pulls, shrugs, rack pulls, halting deadlifts, pull ups, chin ups, bent rows, one-arm DB rows…anything that involves a row or a pull builds the traps and back. However, the two exercises I feel play the biggest part in trap and neck development are pushes…the back squat and weighted dips.


When squatting, think about bringing your hands in close, pinky finger on the rings, and putting the bar at the base of the traps. Right before you descend, stand up straight, torque your elbows up a bit and push your neck back into your traps. This tightens up the upper back and has been a major player in my trap and neck strength. Mix that with some weighted dips, and I am not talking about a belt with some weight on a chain. Find some big heavy chains and drape them around you neck as you are doing bar dips. The struggle of trying to stay in a good position and keep your head up with weight around your neck does a number on traps, shoulder and neck.

The last part of puzzle is manual resistance. I never liked to use the neck strap or any equipment for training the neck. I preferred to use multi-direction manual resistance for the neck. For those of you that have not been to a CrossFit Football Certification and heard Raphael Ruiz’s information, manual resistance is using a spotter to apply the resistance usually supplied by a weights or machine. Manual resistance has great advantages as the muscles can be worked maximally each repetition and to failure. And as an individual’s strength decreases, the spotter can apply the correct pressure through out the movement. The spotter, in conjunction with the lifter, can also control the speed of the movement. This is a valuable as you can train the neck in more than just straight up and down, right to left and multiple angles. And those violent angular movements on the football field tend to lead to stingers. After every lift in Philadelphia, I would grab Tommy or Wolfie and train my neck to failure in every plane of motion they could think of. If you have never experienced a solid neck pump, I highly suggest it.

Jake…if I were to offer a prescription for your client, it would look something like this…Olympic lifting and power movements with pulls in both the horizontal and vertical planes. Heavy back squats, weighted dips and neck training with manual resistance.

Tell your client good luck and stay safe.