What Are the Dangers of Behind the Neck Barbell Presses?

Stick with safe exercises to avoid shoulder injury.
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Behind the neck barbell presses have the potential to be a hazard to your shoulder joints. While this exercise can be performed safely, it can also be done with improper form and result in injury to the muscles or the joint capsule itself. Due to the dangers of behind the neck barbell presses, it would be wise to stick with alternative exercises that produce similar strength gains.

The Proper Form

To properly perform behind the neck barbell presses, sit on an exercise bench with your back straight. Hold a barbell across the back of your neck with an overhand grip wider than your shoulders. Exhale and extend the bar straight up, keeping your low back as straight as possible. Inhale as you slowly lower the bar back down. To prevent injury to your shoulder, lower the bar only as far as your unique shoulder structure allows.

Muscles Worked

The behind the neck bench press is primarily a shoulder exercise but it also works several muscles in the back. This exercise mainly works the lateral and posterior fibers of the deltoids as well as the trapezius, triceps and serratus anterior. To a lesser extent, the rhomboids, infraspinatus, teres minor and supraspinatus are also used.

Dangers to the Shoulder

The shoulder joint, which is very mobile and allows the arm to move through a large range of motion, is one of the most unstable joints in the body. Several small muscles make up the rotator cuff that surrounds the joint and adds stability to the joint. During the behind the neck barbell press, the tendon of one of these muscles, the supraspinatus, can be rubbed and compressed between the head of the humerus and the surrounding articular features. This leads to inflammation and pain and, if not treated, can lead to permanent damage to the tendon resulting in the inability to lift your arm overhead.

The general motion of the shoulder during this exercise, extreme external rotation and abduction, can also increase the shoulder's already unstable nature and result in damage to the joint capsule as well as torn muscles, ligaments or tendons.

Dangers to the Neck

The neck is also at risk during the behind the neck barbell press. With each repetition you have to flex your neck forward in order to avoid hitting the back of your head with the barbell. This movement can lead to strained muscles in the neck, especially if you're working with heavy weights. Actual blunt trauma is another possible danger of the exercise. Allowing the barbell to come down hard on your neck if your shoulders begin to fatigue can lead to bruising or even more severe injuries such as vertebral fracture.

Alternative Exercises

There are several alternative exercises to the behind the neck barbell press that will work similar muscles and give you the same strength gains without posing risk to your shoulder joints. The front press is performed in a similar fashion but with the bar in front of your neck. You can also try the dumbbell shoulder press, which allows for a more personalized range of motion of the shoulders. Bent-over lateral raises and upright rows will target the posterior fibers of the deltoids while also giving your upper back a great workout.

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