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.