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Best Behind the Neck Press Guide – Why you Need this “Dangerous” Exercise

Bulletproof your body.

This guide will teach you everything you need to know about the Behind the Neck Press.

An effective exercise that often gets a bad reputation, this article will show you how and why to use it in your training.

What is the Behind the Neck Press?

The Behind the Neck Press is a barbell pressing exercise that involves a range of motion from behind the head, resting on the shoulders, to full extension overhead. It can be performed both sitting and standing.

It demands good shoulder mobility and stability before it can be correctly added into any training program.

Many people need to first work on their thoracic spine (upper back) and shoulder mobility before they are able to do this exercise.

A great first test is to try it with a broom handle or PVC pipe to see how the movement feels for you.

Muscles Worked by the Behind the Neck Press

The Behind the Neck Press works the following muscles:

  • Front deltoids
  • Outer deltoids
  • Rear deltoids
  • Traps
  • Triceps
  • Serratus

When the exercise is carried out in the standing position it also works and tests the core, glutes and legs as it must be stabilised at all times.

Benefits of the Behind the Neck Press

This uncommon pressing exercise has many benefits.

Build Stronger Shoulders

The angle of the bar path will test and strengthen your shoulders in new ways. Like the Military Press, this is a great way to develop overhead strength.

Crossfit shoulder exercises behind the neck pressSource: RX'd Photography
Strong shoulders

Create Muscle Mass

Programmed for Hypertrophy, the exercise can be an impressive mass builder for your shoulders and even upper back.

Stable Shoulders

The Behind the Neck Press is an excellent way to build full overhead stability and solid shoulders. It will help many other exercises such as Jerks and Snatches as well.

Doing shoulder press behind the neck allows for there to be a direct force on your deltoids instead of a portion of the force is distributed across your chest in a standard shoulder press.

Vary the Training Volume on your Shoulders

The shoulders are complex joints that must be looked after carefully when training.

Having this additional pressing variation allows you to switch up the direction of the load on your shoulders and identify and destroy imbalances, strength weaknesses and mobility blind spots.

Always pressing in front of your head overloads the anterior deltoids. Adding in pressing behind your head with help to remedy this.

How to do the Behind the Neck Press

Follow these steps to perform the exercise correctly.

The instructions are for the Seated Behind the Neck Press. You can also do the standing variation. Follow the same procedure however rack the barbell higher and make sure to brace your core and back properly to support the load at all times.

Always warm up properly and start light with this exercise.

  • Set up a bench (with a back rest) inside a power rack
  • Place the barbell on the supports at the starting level
  • Grip the barbell tightly with your hands wide
  • Create a shelf for the barbell with your lats
  • Press your back against the seat, keep it straight and plant your feet into the floor
  • Inhale and brace your core, glutes and grip
  • Press the barbell upwards to full extension. Squeeze at the top and pause
  • Slowly lower the barbell to the starting position. Exhale
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

Technique Tips for the Behind the Neck Press

When you propel the bar upwards, don’t move your head forwards or backwards.

Control the bar at all times, don’t let it fall back and smash into your shoulders. If you can’t control the load, lower the weight.

Pay close attention to your bracing and breath.

Is the Behind the Neck Press Dangerous?

These is a lot of controversy around the exercise but if you have good upper body mobility and overhead positioning then you have nothing to worry about.

It does place a lot of stress on the rotator cuff muscles (that stabilise your shoulder joints) but that will serve to strengthen them if the movement is done properly with good basic mobility.

With this exercise it is exceptionally important to start very light and let your body get used to the movement and trajectory of the bar path.

Behind the Neck Press Variations

If you want a similar stimulus and can’t (or don’t want to) do the Behind the Neck Press then try these variations.

Behind the Neck Press with Dumbbells

Dumbbells are a great variation because they don’t fix your arms in place as much as with the barbell. This allows for more flexibility based on your personal mobility.

They also place less stress on your shoulders.

Dumbbells also allow you to gradually improve your mobility over time. They can be an effective help when transitioning up to the Barbell version.  

Shoulder Press

This excellent compound exercise is a tried and tested overhead strength exercise and it works.

Shoulder-exercisesSource: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc
Get fired up!

It also works and improves the deltoids, triceps, and traps.

Behind the Neck Press Alternatives

These alternatives will keep your training fun and challenging.

Learn more

Add these effective press alternatives to your training:


Still got questions? Scroll through our FAQs.

What Does the Behind the Neck Press Work?

The exercise works the traps, triceps, upper back and front, outer and rear deltoids.

Why Behind the Neck Press is Better?

The exercise is not better per se, but is a valuable addition to training and strengthening the shoulders, upper body and rotator cuffs.

It takes pressure away from always loading the shoulders from the anterior and helps you identify and destroy movement weaknesses and strength imbalances.

Should you Shoulder Press Behind your Head?

Yes, if you have good shoulder mobility and overhead stability. Despite its reputation as dangerous anyone can build the necessary skills and mobility to perform this exercise safely.

What is Seated Behind the Neck Press?

The Seated Behind the Neck Press is a variation of the exercise where the lifter sits down rather than stands up. It allows for more support for the back.

What is a BTN Press?

BTN is an acronym for “Behind the Head”. A BTN Press is a Behind the Head Press.

Expand your Training Knowledge

If you want to learn more, try the Landmine Row, Box Squat or Reverse Grip Bench Press.

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