T Nation

Standing barbell press behind neck

Hi,
I train at home using free weights.
I have made good progress over the last few years and am lifting fairly heavy weights.
I am having trouble with the standing barbell press behind neck excercise. As the bar is so heavy, I’m finding it difficult to get the bar to the starting position from the floor, I have to really swing my body which sometimes puts me off balance.
Its even harder doing this excercise seated.
How do you guys who train at home do this excercise when using really heavy weights - or do you just use dumbells?? - I think barbells are best for certain excercises and this is one of them.

I would not recommend Behind the neck barbell press, unless you are a pitcher. Because it puts great strain on your rotator cuffs. I would stick to push press and front press or db press nothing behind the neck.

And squats put great strain on tendons around your knee, and deadlifts put a great strain on your lower back, blah, blah. If you have no underlying rotator cuff pathology, you can do behind the neck presses without a problem.

If you’re having trouble getting the bar into position for certain exercises, have you ever considered investing in a power rack? If you lift solely at home, I would think that this would be a must have even without the military presses being a problem.

Power clean the weight up, then power (push) jerk it over your head. You should be able to lower it into position from there. When you’re done with your set, reverse the movements you used to get it up there. And I agree with DocT, unless you have some sort of existing shoulder problems, a BTN press should be fine.

I agree with the power rack recommendation. I also wholeheartedly disagree with the recommendation to exclude BTN presses. All individuals with healthy RCs (and even some with RC problems) can safely perform the exercise as long as it is in proper form.

Don’t be scared to do btn presses! I agree clean it up and start with a front press and then continue with the btn press. Or you could lighten the load and do bradford presses.
good luck.

I agree with the comments about BTN pressing being safe for those with sound shoulders, but I still wouldn’t recommend spending more than 25% of your overhead pressing time behind the neck.

I am think Behind a neck press in a functional point of view. Unless your a pitcher or someone that throws a baseball your shoulders or rotator cuffs are never in that type of position. So why train it in that fashion. Your just asking for problems.

You’re also never in the position of 95% of other exercises in real life, but we do them because they train a muscle. Fitone, first you said that you didn’t like them because they were bad for the rotator cuff, now it’s because they’re not “functional.” Zottman curls aren’t “functional”, seated calf raises aren’t “functional.” You get the picture. The beauty of T-mag is that these common myths are dispelled by facts and reasoning. Don’t buy into things without a truly compelling argument.

I have a power rack at home and it sure comes in handy for MPs.

Well said, DocT! Nothing about most bodybuilders’ strategies is particularly functional. You train with BTN presses to increase the load on the medial and posterior deltoids while providing a new training stimulus. 'Nuf said.

Well, it sure would be hell to find out that you’ve got an unlying RC problem doing BTN presses when you could just do them in front instead (works just as well, agreed?) and hopefully avoid the problem from the beginning … of course, that didn’t work for me. Still caused RC problems. Oh well.

Yes seated calfs are not functional but standing calf raises are. And Zottman curls are a functional exercise. How do pick things up sometimes in a prone position. But why put yourself in a postion where you can injure yourself if you don’t need to be. So you also must do behind the neck lat pulldown too. Why put your shoulders in that comprimising postion. When you can do front prss or push press they work the same muscles…

This article further proves my point:

One of the many ways in which the shoulder joint is unique is that it derives its integrity primarily through its muscular structure, as opposed to ligamentous, cartilaginous, or other connective tissue. There are several groups of muscles that assist in stabilization of the shoulder joint and give it structural integrity, as well as allowing movement (both range of motion and powerful contraction). These include the anterior musculature, such as the pectoralis major, the biceps brachii, subscapularis, and coracobrachialis. The “superior” muscles (deltoids, the supraspinatus, the posterior muscles ( infraspinatus & teres minor), and the inferior muscles (latissimus dorsi, teres major, and the long head of the triceps brachii).
The muscles of primary importance when discussing injury prevention are the deltoids, including the other muscles that comprise the rotator cuff play a critical role in holding the head of the humerus in the glenoid fossa. The anterior and medial deltoids originate on the clavicle, while the posterior deltoid originates on the scapula. All three deltoid muscles insert on the humerus. The muscles of the rotator cuff (also known as the S.I.T.S. muscle group) include the subscapularis, infraspinatus teres minor, and superspinatus. These four muscles originate on the scapula and insert on the head of the humerus.

Sustaining a serious injury to the shoulder musculature can be quite traumatic due to the role in everyday activities that the shoulder muscles take part in. Injuring the shoulder muscles can make it difficult for you to raise a comb to your hair, let alone perform a workout or athletic activity. During 1994 there were 1 million reported shoulder injuries that occurred in America is a gym/health club setting according to the American Orthopedic Association. One can only imagine how many go unreported each year due to improper form and the use dangerous exercises. Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze? That is a question many doctors and physical therapists ask after an athlete or body builder has caused injury to one or multiple muscles of the shoulder from performing:

upright row


behind the neck shoulder press


pull down behind the neck


jerking shoulder shrugs

The article points out “improper form” while performing these exercises as the cause of the injury, not the exercise itself. As DocT point out, you risk injury by performing a squat, a dead. But, if done correctly, proper form, you can avoid injury. Hell, by merely stepping into a gym, you risk injury!

I perform BNP by doing The Bear. But, I am mindful of proper form. The Bear could also be considered a "dangerous" exercise. But if you follow proper form, you should be fine. I've been performing upright rows for years with nary a injury. Because I execute the exercise with proper form. Ian King has also stated that even lat pulldowns to the back of the neck is not risky if you follow proper form.

Fitone, I provided examples of “nonfunctional” exercises. Stating that they’re functional doesn’t make them so. You also misquoted me on one as I was talking about seated calf raises. The point was that we do “nonfunctional” exercises all the time. Just about any machine exercise is “nonfunctional.” So what? As Eric stated in his post, we do things to stress certain muscles in certain positions.


The article you provided is severely lacking in several ways.


A) Where is it from? Lack of source is the single most damning thing about it. Followed closely by…


B) People “reported” that these exercises caused their injuries. Sure, they may have been injured while doing these exercises. Who’s to say that they were using proper form? If you watch 95% of the people in any gym at any given moment, they’re doing things potentially dangerous, because they have HORRIBLE FORM!! This is regardless of exercise selection. Secondly, how do we know that they weren’t doing thing habitually that predisposed them to being injured? How many of them were doing SMITH MACHINE BTN presses? There are so many missing factors in this article that it’s not even close to being valid as proof of anything.


My last point is that BTN presses are not the same as front presses just as they’re not the same as DB presses or push presses. I feel them differently. I don’t get sore in my medial delts from front presses, while I do from BTN presses. They’re NOT the same. I realize you’re a trainer, and you’re set in your habits and beliefs, but please keep an open mind and think critically about things.

Well, I’ll weigh in on this one. While I don’t think that BTN presses are necessarily worse than military presses for the shoulders, I do think that it’s a good exercise to avoid if you have an dorsal/ventral imbalance. If your chest is much stronger than your back and/or if you haven’t done enough work on the cookie-cutter muscles back there (teres major and minor, infraspinatus and so on), you run a risk of tweaking yourself to where you won’t be able to turn your head comfortably for a few days.


Since the majority of trainees have precisely this type of imbalance, I generally recommend either DB or military presses over BTN to the people I train. (But I do agree with the opinons expressed above that BTN won’t hurt your shoulders themselves if you don’t already have a problem.)

This is a post the CT made in his Lair of the ice dog forum.

Behind the Neck Shoulder Press Brent (2003-01-13 21:39:36 1009) Chris, I am having a hard time bringing my BHN press strength up. My press from the front of my body is much stronger. Is this normal? Are there any guidelines to gaining strength in the shoulders? Do you have any good workouts to increase strength? Thanks

Christian Thibaudeau (2003-01-14 08:10:49 1034) I don't really like behind the neck presses. It really puts the shoulder in an extreme position which makes the exercise more dangerous and place the shoulder in a weak situation (hence the weaker poundages). I have a good shoulder workout coming up in 4-6 weeks.

So go on Demo Dick, Pat, Eric, and Doc T tell CT hes wrong... and while your at it Demo give Fitone a fucking break

I put a towell or pad on the ground under a smith machine, get on my knees and do the movement like that. It looks weird, but I hate sitting as it bothers my lower back. I have had good results with the smith machine as well.