Established in 1999, Stray Dog Strength isn't a newcomer to the equipment scene, but you may think they are.
Originally known as “The Equipment Guys”, the company recently re-branded to Stray Dog Strength. Historically, they've been most active in the facilities arena, working with sports teams, facility build-outs, etc… Over the last year, however, they've hit the social media scene hard, showcasing some unique pieces of equipment that extend beyond the larger facilities.
Considering the COVID environment in 2020, this works in their favor nicely, as much of their equipment is great for the home gym community and even smaller private training gyms.
Taking into account efficiency, versatility, and footprint, Stray Dog has brought to market several rack-attached pieces to pair nicely with their modular rack design.
One of those pieces is the 4-way neck machine that I'm reviewing here.
I for one enjoy direct neck training, and I think it's one of the more underrated aspects of strength training, general posture correction/maintenance, etc…
4-way neck machines are nothing new, but this is a modern take on the design… one that greatly reduces cost and space requirements.
Whether you're a home gym user, a small facility owner, or a major facility player, efficiency in terms of utility and space is a very important consideration.
As an industry, I think we are just now beginning to see the tip of the iceberg when it comes to modular pieces like this.
Hats off to Stray Dog for being an early adopter and an innovator in that respect.
I've owned this 4-way neck machine for several months now, and it's gotten regular use in that time. Since testing it, I provided some feedback to Stray Dog, which they have already adopted in their 2nd version that was recently released. I'll outline that feedback as well as provide some additional feedback.
One change they've made, and a big one indeed, is that this attachment will now only work on their AT rack system (ATR). If you don't own an ATR, you can purchase a wall-mounted single column to be installed independently from a rack.
With that, let's dig in.
Benefits of Neck Training
Before jumping into the review itself, I think it's important to understand the benefits of neck training in general. The way I see it, directly training the neck helps in injury prevention, posture/mobility, rehab, and general aesthetics. Let's quickly look at a couple.
The neck is made up of numerous muscles that align multi-directionally to allow for range of motion across the coronal, sagittal, and transverse planes. This includes flexion, extension, rotation, and lateral movement of the head and neck.
When it comes to injury to the neck/head area, one of the primary causes is a forceful impact. Often, an impact like this results in stresses across these planes… think whiplash, forceful twisting, or rapid lateral back-and-forth movement. These are all things any of us could experience in our daily lives, whether it's on a football field or in a car accident.
To mitigate the damage caused in situations like this, a stronger neck will lead to more rapid contractions, which can help in limiting force. According to Dawn Comstock of the Colorado School of Public health, “A stronger neck means you're reducing those accelerations and rotational forces.”
In this interview from November 2018, you can see how violent a forceful impact can be. Most impacts aren't linear. Your head/neck twists, rotates, moves back and forth, as well as side to side. When we strengthen the muscles along those planes, we reduce the risk of injury.
When it comes to posture and mobility, we are increasingly becoming more burdened due to advances in technology and the age of the smartphone. The average human head weighs a whopping 12 lbs, all of which is supported by our necks. The actual weight, however, is dependent on the angle at which the head is positioned.
In this infographic from Surgical Technology International, you can see the effective weight based on various head tilt.
If you're like me, you spend a lot of time on your mobile devices. There are some pretty alarming statistics that BankMyCell outlined in an article showing how “addicted” we are to our smartphones.
Suffice it to say, our heads are in a forward tilt a lot! The long term implications on our posture and overall neck health are real. Having a stronger neck can help to alleviate the stress our neck is subjected to every day when we look at our phones, etc…
Now that we have some ideas on why neck training may be useful, let's have a look at the actual attachment.
Stray Dog 4-Way Neck Attachment
As mentioned previously, the piece has undergone some pretty big changes since the first version that I am reviewing here. Price-wise, the unit remains unchanged at $575. The overall mechanics also remain the same, but its ‘attachability' is now limited to Stray Dog Auxiliary Training Racks and/or ATR columns that you can buy for $345 and mount independently to your wall. This is the biggest change from the original (my) unit, which can be attached to any 3×3 rack with 3/4″ or 1″ holes.
In general, this is a heavy-duty piece of equipment. The generation one unit measures 37″ in length, 11″ in width, 19″ in height, and it weighs just under 25 lbs. Due to its shape, it feels heavier than 25 lbs though, especially if it rotates on you. Stray Dog does cleverly include a small fixed handle to ensure it won't spin. Otherwise, if your grab the sleeve instead of this handle, the unit will spin and make it awkward to move around… not to mention the potential finger-smashing, which happened to me (Doh!)… one of those “I'll never do that again” moments. In the second version, Stray Dog also made the unit lighter, so it won't be quite as cumbersome to move.
As you will see in the image, the original was mounted via a single pin within a U-channel that uses a wingnut on the other side of the upright to tighten. The pin is 3/4″ thick, which allows it to accommodate up to a 1″ hole. As a 1″ hole rack owner myself, the unit feels very sturdy on the rack when fully tightened.
One of the concerns I expressed to Stray Dog at the beginning was the wingnut used was 100% metal. Metal-on-metal contact with a rack is not ideal, as it will lead to damage to the uprights. In their new version, they have created a fully plastic-lined wingnut to solve this issue.
In the new version also, the attachment itself is different. It now includes a flat piece vs. a U-channel and two pins vs. a single pin. One of the two pins extends through the entire upright to fit the wingnut while the second pin 3″ underneath extends only through the front hole of the upright for additional stability. On both versions, the rack edge includes UHMW lining to protect your uprights. In general, this re-design allows them to cut down on material bloat, making the piece lighter and less bulky.
In terms of how the unit operates, it uses a step-down design to position the weight plates lower than the head pad. On the opposite side of the attachment point, there are two pillow-block bearings that rotate the arm. It works seamlessly and creates a very fluid motion.
The sleeve measures 7″ in length, and it will accommodate Olympic-sized plates with its 1.91″ diameter (note that you will need specialty collars like most specialty bars). From my perspective, this is plenty of length to provide a lot of resistance. Depending on which plates you use, you can realistically get three 45-lb plates (or more) on there with enough room for a collar at the end. I would definitely suggest using a collar on this since the swinging motion makes the plates want to move laterally on the sleeve. There is also some amount of downward tilt to the actual sleeve/down bracket.
One thing they've added on the new version, which I think is a clever idea, is a carabiner clip on the underside of the sleeve. This allows the user to attach the unit to a selectorized stack (if using the ATR system) or add band resistance easily.
I give Stray Dog props in the cosmetic department, with one caveat. I love that they give customers the option to pick from a paint color on the frame and an upholstery color on the pad. They have some nice selections too, including 10 frame colors and 9 upholstery colors. I think the white frame looks very nice, and I'm impressed with the quality of the paint overall. The drawback, however, is they use the same finish on the sleeve. I think it would be a good idea to also include a chrome option here, as the sleeve paint will show marks.
In terms of the pad, it's somewhat of a mixed bag here. On one hand, it's comfortable and the vinyl appears to be of high quality. I have no real concerns there. On the other hand, the thread is plastic as opposed to a fabric thread you normally find on stitched gym upholstery. It reminds me of a fishing line, but I'm not sure it's as strong. Perhaps it is – time will tell – but I just don't get the same look and feel that I'm accustomed to with an alternative material. You can also see in the corners where the thread isn't as tightly stitched, which may introduce some problems over time. I think switching to a fabric thread, perhaps with the option to select color, would be something to consider.
To reiterate, this attachment is no longer available for any 3×3 column with appropriate holes like it was in the first generation. It will now only fit the Auxiliary Training Rack from Stray Dog because their racks use 3″ on center spacing vs. 2″ on center like you would normally find on a 3×3 rack with 1″ holes.
I understand the reasoning behind the decision is to encourage people to buy into this rack ecosystem, which would support all of Stray Dog's attachments. The issue I see, however, is that it's a huge ask, at least in the home gym community, to commit to a singular system.
One of the questions I get asked most frequently is “does X attachment fit Y rack?” In many cases, it does, which gives gym owners a plethora of options. Compatibility is a major selling point, especially with so many companies making cool and unique pieces, like Stray Dog.
As it stands right now, a gym owner has three primary options:
1.) Add a new ATR to your setup in order to accommodate these attachments.
2.) Sell your existing rack and commit to the ATR.
3.) Buy the wall-mounted ATR single column in order to use these attachments.
The third option is the most intriguing to me because it allows for a dedicated attachment station while still maintaining the versatility of your existing setup (if you have one). But it would cost an additional $345 on top of the $575 for the neck attachment, effectively making this is a $920 setup before shipping. This is certainly cheaper than a dedicated 4-way neck machine, and you do save a ton of space and you get additional versatility… but it's an additional expense in terms of both money and space.
I would encourage Stray Dog to reconsider making some of their more unique attachments available to existing rack owners like it was in the first generation. This is a huge market, and people yearn for options… they seek cross-compatibility.
Overall, I enjoy this 4-way neck attachment. It works well, it's well made, it's much more compact than traditional 4-way neck machines, and it's considerably less expensive. Stray Dog has already shown that they are willing to make changes based on market feedback as evidenced by things like the wingnut, etc… This can only be seen as positive, and it's something not every company is willing to do.
I would love to see this attachment in other gyms. I think it serves a real purpose, especially for those who enjoy neck training. I also think it's one of the best neck-training options on the market for those with the budget. But the reality is that in its current form, it will find its way into only a fraction of gyms given its lack of cross-compatibility.
I hope Stray Dog considers this adjustment, either to their attachments or to their rack system.
Stray Dog 4-Way Neck Attachment – Pros and Cons
- The benefits of neck training are far-reaching, and 4-way machines are great at strengthening the neck.
- The Stray Dog attachment is MUCH smaller and MUCH cheaper than a traditional 4-way neck machine.
- I'm impressed with the overall quality of this unit.
- It's pretty easy to set-up. It's slightly awkward given its shape, but as long as you grab the fixed handle, all it takes is to get it in position and turn a wingnut a few times.
- Color options! 10 frame colors and 9 upholstery colors make it easy to create a unique look or one that blends nicely with your existing scheme.
- The lack of cross-compatibility is the biggest drawback of this unit.
- Priced at $575, it's not an inexpensive piece.
- The plastic stitching on the pad, in my opinion, cheapens the look and feel to an extent. I'd love to see a fabric upholstery thread here, perhaps with color options.
- The painted sleeves will show marks almost immediately. A chrome option would be recommended.
Here's my bottom line on the Stray Dog 4-Way Neck attachment: If you see the benefits of neck training/strengthening, I think this is a useful and effective tool. It accomplishes the same thing traditional 4-ways do, but without the space and money. That said, this attachment really needs to accommodate a variety of racks for me to truly endorse it. If you already have an ATR from Stray Dog, or you're definitely getting one, I would recommend this piece. If they decide to make the attachment available once again to fit other rack systems, I would recommend it. Until then, it's a good attachment that could potentially be great.
If you have any questions about this attachment in general, please leave a comment below. Likewise, if you own this unit and want to chime in with your own thoughts, please do so!
As always, I appreciate any feedback.
The bar is loaded,