Behind the Neck Shoulder Press

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Seated Behind the Neck Shoulder Press

In this post you will find complete step-by-step instructions on how to perform behind the neck shoulder press safely and effectively.

Benind the neck shoulder press can be performed while sitting on a weight bench or while standing, although the sitting position is recommended for beginners. This front deltoid exercise is performed in the same manner as barbell front presses (front military press), except instead of lowering the bar to the front, you lower the bar behind the head. Furthermore, the seated position means that you are not able to “help” the bar up by using your legs and so tends to isolate the effects of the exercise.

Behind the Neck Shoulder Press Exercise Instructions

INITIAL (STARTING) POSITION: Sit with the back straight (most gyms have a special seat with a vertical back support – two long supports enable the user to position the bar behind the head) and grab a barbell with an overhand grip that’s just beyond shoulder width. Hold a barbell behind your neck across the top of your shoulders (not touching the base of your neck). Keep your elbows pointing down and your chest high.

Behind The Neck Shoulder Press

Behind The Neck Shoulder Press

EXERCISE EXECUTION (MOVEMENT): With your back straight and chest pushed out, press the bar up in a straight line, without fully locking out your arms. Then lower the bar to the base of your neck or as close to that point as you can. Pull your head slightly forward to allow space for the bar to move.

Muscles Involved in Seated Behind-the-Neck Press

Muscles Used in Behind the Neck Shoulder Press

This all purpose exercise targets not only your front and back deltoids but also your pectoral, upper back, triceps, and rib cage muscles.

  • Main muscles: deltoid (front, middle), triceps (except long head), supraspinatus
  • Secondary muscles: deltoid (rear), pectoralis major (upper), trapezius (upper), biceps (long head), serratus anterior, triceps (long head)
  • Antagonists: latissimus dorsi, biceps, pectoralis major (lower

Exercise Key Points & Common Mistakes

  • Don’t bounce the bar off your neck. If you strike either of the top vertebrae (atlas and axis) you run the risk of nerve damage. Perform the exercise in a slow and controlled manner.
  • Keep your back straight and chest pushed out.
  • Keep your elbows flared out, in line with the shoulders or slightly behind.
  • Your forearms are perpendicular to the floor, aligned with elbows and palms.

Possible Variations

  • Standing behind the neck shoulder press. Stand with your back straight, your feet shoulder-width apart, and your knees slightly bent. Follow the instructions already given for the seated version. Always wear a belt to protect your lower back, and don’t try to lift too much weight at first.
Standing Behind The Neck Press

Standing Behind The Neck Press

  • Smith-machine seated behind-the-neck shoulder press. Position an adjustable bench to 90 degrees, and place it within the Smith machine so that the bar lowers just behind your head.
Smith-machine seated behind-the-neck shoulder press

Smith-machine seated behind-the-neck shoulder press

Replacement Exercises – Substitutes

To add variety to your shoulder workout routine, replace the behind the neck shoulder press with a different exercise that works the same muscles (anterior deltoid). Use dumbbells, barbell, a gym machine or even your own body weight to perform the pressing motion for your front shoulders.

Closing Thoughts

While the behind the neck version offers almost a straight line of movement, it can be tough on your rotator cuffs if your shoulders aren’t flexible.

Many bodybuilders avoid this exercise and advise others to avoid it because it puts shoulders in a not comfortable position and can cause injury. Your shoulders may not allow this movement (behind the neck), particularly if you’ve had shoulder injuries in the past. To prevent injury to the shoulder joint, lower the bar only as far as your unique shoulder structure and flexibility allow you to do comfortably.

It is equally effective when done in front of the neck, which some experts consider a safer variation because it also eliminates the risk of striking the head or neck. We don’t completely agree with this statement because the front version requires that you bend your head backward to get the bar past your chin. Many guys also arch their backs on this movement.

Finally, if you feel discomfort with the barbell shoulder presses, it’s okay to revert to dumbbells.

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