T Nation

Behind-the-Neck Press: Why and How?


First off, this is one of my favorite training clips of all-time. From the adorably innocent “Oh, I’m sorry” to your super-pissed face on the second set:

Seems like you’re a big advocate (too easy pun, not intended) of behind-the-neck pressing. Could you talk a bit about it, in general?

Do you prefer it over military pressing or is it just a solid alternative? I’ve noticed that your ROM is generally down to ear-level, not taking the bar all the way to the neck, so would you say that’s an effective range for most people to shoot for?

To assess mobility and make sure it’s a good fit, is it as simple as starting with the bar, doing some reps to check tolerance, and progressing gradually?

I’ve been playing around with them more, and one effective cue I’ve settled into is “elbows back” during the negative as a way to avoid letting the hands drift into external shoulder rotation. Otherwise I find the bar wants to fall backwards and crank the socket.


Some good comments in there, homie!

I do prefer it over military because I find the lateral head of the delts get hammered much harder. I do believe that EMG/MRI shows this as well.

The knock against it has been that the humerus sits in the glenoid at a 45 degree angle, thus it’s “bad” for the shoulder because you have to get your arm behind your head. However, Oly lifters have been doing this very motion for decades with no problems, so let’s just say it’s unfounded.

The PBN is a great predictor of shoulder mobility. It will display a lack of it, or a healthy amount of it.

At the same time, I don’t feel you have to go down past right around ear level to get the full benefits of the movement.

I would def start with the bar and check your ROM to see if you’re capable of getting that particular ROM, and if so, add weight slowly from there.

Good call on getting the elbows back as that particular position loads the lower traps, which are responsible in part for shoulder stabilization. The more you can engage them in the eccentric, the more stable the movement is going to feel.

You’re right on point with all you’ve found in your own assessments. Good stuff!


If you’re shoulders are not currently mobile enough to perform this lift, what would you suggest to fix the problem?


Shoulder dislocates with a band or a broomstick. Those will fix you up.


I do have a few questions about it:

I stumbled across these numbers here on the forum, I think Chris posted them some time ago but can’t find the thread. Two things didn’t convince me at the time:
-the tests measured the regular press and the btn press with the same weight;
-the movements were done with full range of motion, btn press was dropped down to the traps;

but most people (probably everyone) can lift more with the regular press, and every reliable source I found (Ed Coan, you, oly lifters) seem to perform the btn press down to the ear.
This means that in practice, the btn press is usually done with less weight and less range of motion than the regular press.
I was wondering: is there a way to compare, say, overall hypertrophy, strength and shoulder health of someone doing the standard press + a good dose of lateral raises vs someone doing standard press + btn press?

Other than this, a few questions about the lift:
-what kind of volume and intensity would you suggest to use on it in a strength (not powerlifting) oriented routine?
-would you suggest to reduce the standard press work when adding the btn press?
-for someone on the weak-ish side working with a fairly submaximal weight, would it be ok to lift the bar on the first rep with a behind the neck push press/jerk from the rack or muscle snatch and then follow up lowering it to the ear until the last rep? Or doing it seated is much better for safety reasons?

About this point, would it mean not keeping the forearms directly under the bar during the negative?

Thanks in advance


That’s like, a million questions.

An honest answer is that while EMG/MRI is helpful, and can be debated, it only matters with certainty if it’s done ON YOU.

I was just as strong on the PBN as the military press. In fact, maybe more.

My go to work with it was usually a few sets of 5 very heavy, then a back off set or two done for higher reps. Like 10-20+. For example, I would do 315 x 5+, then back off to 275 x 12+, then 225 x 20+. That was my usual.

There’s no need to do two overhead presses in a routine. That’s exceptionally redundant.

And the forearms should always be directly in line with the bar (and wrist to elbow alignment) on any press.


I’m not a professional coach or ever a ranked lifter.
I started training 1973 and behind the neck press was in my routine. I have used it in one way or another for the last 45 years.
My shoulders are fine for my age. It’s a great exercise.
The point I would add is that the use of a fat bar or putting something like fat gripz on the bar will take some stress off the elbows.
What we were taught “back in the day” was to lower the bar so your arms ( humerus) is parallel to the floor.


Seated or standing, sets and reps to match your goals.
It’s really a behind the skull / base of the skull press
Check out Ted Arcidi. Very strong and a great person.


Trying to get to the clavicle can hurt you. I have a kink in my right shoulder from these behind the neck presses. I advanced the weight too fast and didn’t realize I didn’t have to get to the back. It was not a good thing for my rotator cuff. Low weight and own the weight before advancing it


I feel these a lot in the triceps, and I perform these with high rep and light(ish) weight as a finisher after strict or push jerks/press. Definitely enjoy them. Just be careful in every sense when doing these, as they can be a bit dangerous in more than one way.


How close is your grip? That’s a common error. With the PBN the grip needs to be VERY wide.


It’s actually pretty close in hindsight. I think I did this because the work on the triceps was insane and I just went with it.

Though, arguably not a BTH press, more like a weird inverted JM press.


I recently developed a thumb tendinopathy that makes pressing a true pain in the ass (this is the thread in Injuries section of the forum: Working Around De Quervain Syndrome ).
Discovered yesterday that I can press behind the neck without wrist strain, I know it’s not your training style but I really like the 5/3/1 format and wanted to fit the btn press into it. I’d train it either 2 times a week (upper/lower setup) or 3 times a week (full body), have yet to decide which one to pick, regular press and bench press are not an option, they really hurt.

Wanted to know your opinion about the following:
-would you say it’s a good idea to train it multiple times a week? Initially each day would be a 3x5 with increasing weight, followed by a 5x5 with a low-ish % weight, and gradually build up the down sets to 10x5 or 3-5x10 over time - this would be in the upper/lower setup. Otherwise, the full body setup would have each day with a different rep scheme (one 3x5 with increasing load, one 5x5 with fixed lower load, one 10x5 with fixed lower load);
-if I do it standing, would it be fine push pressing the first rep and do the following ones by lowering the bar to ear level?
-if (big if) I discover I’m able to push it for PR sets (the amrap sets of 5/3/1), would you say it’s safe to do it? My shoulders are not 100% healthy but I can press behind the neck just fine, without discomfort, even then I was wondering if it’s a wise choice to push it close to failure


No I would not train it multiple times a week. Right now there still seems to be a trend with that and through both anecdotal and research we don’t see massive strength improvements when training a lift once a week compared to twice or even three times a week. Once you’re neurologically efficient enough at a lift more “practice” with it doesn’t seem to help.

So I don’t like your setup at all. Train it once a week using a decent amount of volume and you’ll be fine. 4-5 sets should be plenty. When I did 385 pounds in the press behind the neck I trained it once a month. And did a few heavy sets (usually 2) then 1 back off set of 20+ reps with around 245.

I hate push presses, so I won’t recommend that either.

I would stay in the 6-10 rep range, then do 1 set of back off work for 15-20 reps like I described above.


Hi Paul,
thanks for the prompt reply and the inputs. The whole plan so would be a few warmup sets leading to 2 heavy sets of 6-10 reps, then backing off and shooting for 15-20 reps, if I got that right.
The back off set at 15-20 reps is appealing, not sure how I’d handle it tho, being fairly new to the btn press. The bulk of my work in the regular press has been in sets of 10, recently. Would you say it’s better to split it up initially (like 2 back off sets of 10 and work up from there) or to eventually reduce the load more and shoot for the 15-20 reps right from the start?

Also, training it once a week means I’d have more room for pushing movements on other days, i.e. in an upper/lower split (which is the one I usually prefer) I’d have a second day where I could fit a main pushing movement, I’m just unsure what should I do. With all kind of benches out of the equation (including DB variants), the only real “big” exercise I can do without pain is dips, and assistance is more or less limited to triceps pushdowns, lateral raises and a few others. I’d consider simply cranking out a lot of dips on the second upper day, along with lateral/rear raises and rows.


Maybe treat the dips similar to the BTN press for the second day? Do your warmup sets, grab a belt and add weight for some heavier sets staying in the 5-8 rep range or so, then a couple back down AMRAP sets with bodyweight?


If you can do dumbbell variations then do those. But I would still limit behind the neck pressing to once a week.


Dumbbell work is out, for some reason it bugs my wrist more than barbells.
What I did at the end, starting from this week, is to put down a push-pull-legs plan.
Push is first day of the week with all the stuff I can do with little to no strain on my hand, this way I don’t end up stressing it multiple times a week.

It’s BTN press with the rep/schemes above (working up to heavy set of 6-8, backing off to a set of 15-20) superset with face pulls, then bodyweight dips 6x8 superset with 100 reps of lateral raises, then 100 pushdowns and at last plate raises. It was good to push something overhead without feeling strain on the hand and by the end of the workout I felt triceps on fire. Really liked it.
Pull will have deads, chins, rear raises, curls and leg raises, while legs will have squats, belt squats, leg press and leg raises.
Holding back a bit on strength work and intensity to push some more volume.

Keeping it 3 days a week for now with a possible fourth day with only dips, rows and RDLs+shrugs depending on how I feel and how busy my job is (working on holidays sucks).


Paul, if one were to do a pull push legs using your 4 day template for hypertrophy (the one in your last week’s article) and wanted to use the Btn press on one push day and only press overhead once a week, what would you suggest as main “heavy” shoulder movement for the other push day?

Let’s suppose the trainee wants to have the first two exercises of push day 1 as follows:

A1. Btn press 3x6, 1x15
B1. Incline db press 4x8-10

Then the other push day would be
A1. Incline db press 3x6, 1x10-12
B1. ???

Also, do you like the Btn press in a smith machine better or with free weights?


samul are you still on the split you asked me about just a few weeks ago?