T Nation


Zeb, why do you say pressing behind your head is worse than in front of your head? I am 19 and am currently doing seated behind the back presses (elbows going down to parallel with the floor). I am interested to hear why this is so, and if it is a ‘myth’ or not. I have no problems with my shoulders, and don’t want one; so please elaborate.

The movement you just described I love. I’ve had no problems with it at all and it’s a great shoulder/upper trap builder. As long as the large majority of your reps are done bringing the bar down to about the middle of your head and no lower you should be fine.

If it feels okay to you you’re probably okay. If pain or discomfort results from the movement that’s a warning sign. This pretty much applies to all movements you do.

your putting alot of pressure onthe joint, it just fucks it up, it fucked me up

I’m an older guy who still lifts. I do presses behind my neck too. I think you have to have very good delt flexibility though. I have more limitations with full-range dips and heavy DB benches. They seem to hurt my shoulders more than the PBN’s. But I like the strength that the PBNs give me. Sometimes I’ll do Bradford presses; press behind neck for rep one, then press in front for rep two, etc.

This is exactly why I asked. Herb said "your putting alot of pressure onthe joint, it just fucks it up, it fucked me up ". EVERYBODY seems to have this notion, and the first time I mention behind the neck presses, people’s reactions are IT"S GONNA FUCK YOU UP. WHY??? What is so different from lifting that bar in front of you? I mean, when you do a military press/overhead press, you are trying to get the bar as it is moving up to go back a little, so why not do the whole motion behing the head?

alright your shoulder joint is very flexible but it comes at the cost of stability, there are those who have great shoulder stability and can do these deep military presses with no problems (like the older gentleman said, and like he also said, the middle of your head should be the bottom of the movement) the anwser to your question is exactly that, bringing it down to say as low as you can go places a GREAT Deal of stress on your shoulder joint and your basically pushing the head of your humerous out of the glenoid fossa, thats about as in detail as i can get man.

I think if you get into real heavy weight it can be detrimental to your rotator cuffs.Years ago i did p.b.n.as it was one of my favorite exercises,with weights up to about 250lbs.I always did them down to my traps maybe this was my mistake.These days i don’t do them much cause it kills my joints,but when i do it’s only about ear level and most of the time i just do a b.b. front press instead.
So i say use moderate weight and just go to the top of your neck.It will save you alot of grief in the future.

The big difference between in front and behind the head presses is very simple. Fronts allow you to use a little of your upper pec, whereas behind the head is all shoulders. As long as you dont go past parallel you should be okay. However, going extremely heavy will put a lot of wear and tear on the shoulders.

It is an unnecessary evil. You can get all the shoulder development you need by doing presses to the front. There is a high risk of shoulder impingement by going behind the neck. If you want to target the medial and posterior delts(which is the excuse most people make to use this exercise) then perform side laterals and bent laterals, face pulls, etc. Same results(if not better) without the risk. Lifting should be a lifetime endeavour, treat it that way.

I don’t understand what little I know about kinesiology, but, at various times over the past 40 years, I’ve had 5 “rotator” tears, of which 3 required surgery. I’ve also had surgery for an “A-C joint” problem. 2 of my orthopedic surgeons were also sports medicine types who only operate on shoulders and elbows. (If one of them operates on a hip, it will come out looking like a shoulder…) Both of these guys will swear that presses behind the neck helped to turn my delts into hamburger (and take about 50 kg. off my BP). (At one time, I was doing sets of 5 deep reps behind the neck, with 110% of bodyweight. It seemed like the thing to do, at the time…) They also claim that pulldown’s should not be done behind the neck or even sitting straight-up. Lean back and pull “down and back.” I assume that this applies to overhand, weighted pullups also.
3 other moves also helped to trash my delts. (Try to understand that you couldn’t find anything written about how NOT to benchpress, until Louis Simmons did so a few years ago.) All of these were done for max-effort sets of 5 or fewer reps, over a period of two decades:

  1. Wide-grip BP, pausing the bar above the nipples or even at the throat. (Bring the bar down to a point well BELOW the nipples.)
  2. Wide-grip, cambered bar BP, pausing the bar above the nipples. (The original MacDonald cambered bars had a camber that was about half as deep as the ones that were made later. MacDonald was the best benchpresser of his generation, and there really was a reason why he didn’t want a deeper camber.)
  3. Heavy weighted dips with a deep, fast stretch at the bottom. (If ya GOTTA do these, do 'em light enough to get at least 8 reps.)
    Strength & courage,
    Coach Joe

Issues with behind the neck presses are due to lack of flexibility and poor form. For a person to do a behind the neck properly the head must NOT go down. It can tilt a little down but nothing too noticable. Its when people look down at the ground to “force” the the movement the greatest risk of injury can occur. If you can keep your head straight up while doing them without causing discomfort then you can do them without much worry for injury. Another not of the behind the neck press is strict movement. The bar cannot sway behind your body. If that happens it can cause an injury pretty quickly. And over time it most likely cause an injury.

The major issue with BHP is the strain and impingement placed on the rotator cuff tendons when they are moved below parallel. Flexibility and anatomical differences will vary for all lifters and as many have stated, form and technique is very important. If you are going to do them stay above parallel (upper arm level to floor). If this is still painful or problematic then stay with the front press. It is imposible to make one sweeping recommendation for all people. I have rehabed some major league pitchers who have great success with the BHP post surgical and other will not even think of moving their shoulder in that direction. It is simply personal preferance.

I tore my shoulder years ago, (capsule and subscapularis) so any shoulder kinda bothers me. When I do train them, I NEVER do behind the head exercises. I did them a few times and the pain was unbearable. However, despite never doing behind the head exercises, my shoulder development is coming along just fine. Hope that helps. RLTW



You have some fantastic comments on this board about Behind the neck pressing. I especially like the comments from herb, PGA, CoachJoe and Badmoon.

I think I have elaborated on my training philosophy a few times. I like to mimic natural movements. Where in nature do you ever have an opportunity to lower a heavy weight behind your head and then lift it? You don’t! Hence, I don’t do the movement. In nature we look for the optimum way to move a heavy object. Behind the neck is the least optimum way.

Can some people do this exercise and not be harmed by it? Yes, as was stated in a previous post, some have advantagous body mechanics. I will say that most cannot! You are 19 years old and this explains at least one reason why you can get away with it.

I do know that many guys that I trained with back in the 70’s and 80’s are no longer able to train because they did Behind the neck presses, heavy benching and many other exercises that were just not good for the human body over time.

I also know how good I feel and the many things that I can do following the philosophy that I have. My advice would be to drop that exercise from your routine. However, there is one way to find out if I am right. Continue to do them and write back to me in about 10 or 20 years!

Thanks for the replies, facts, hints, theories, and opinions. I will heed them. This subject just interested me because so many people were against it (hey if so many people are against it it’s probably for a reason…right?). I appreciate the time you gave to answer. I have made up my mind to do this: If I am working shoulders direclty, and feel like behing the neck pressing is feeling better for me I will do them sometimes, but seated, and with good form (neck straight and not going down further than parallel). Otherwise, in all other lifts, like clean / press, I will do in front of head. I do not bench heavy, I just do what I can with good form, and make sure to get at least 6 or so reps / set. And i do not dip past parallel. Thank you,

“hey if so many people are against it it’s probably for a reason…right?” If that were true we would never be doing squats, deadlifts or supplementing with over 30 grams of protein per sitting.

Use dumbells…


When I was your age I didn’t have any problems with press behind neck but as the years went by it got harder and harder, I’m 45 now. I think the cumulated stress became too much.

I guess it’s like smoking, you don’t get lungcancer after your first pack but after 15-20 years it’s a different story!