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Behind the neck press is one of the old-school bodybuilding exercises to target the entire shoulder muscles. You will see many bodybuilders do this exercise to build the overall size and thickness of the shoulder. Popular names like Arnold can be seen in many of his old videos performing behind the neck shoulder press which shows how popular it is.
However, there are some problems and concerns with this exercise that should be taken into consideration. Just like any other exercise, the neck shoulder press also has some amazing alternatives which you must know before doing this exercise. In this article, I will talk about some problems with the neck press and how other alternative options are better. So first let’s discuss the problems.
Problems With Behind The Neck Press
Can Lead To Overuse Injuries
One of the major concerns is that it can create an injury to the shoulder joint. This is because you bring your arms behind the body and press from there, which puts your scapula in an unsafe position. So do this again and for long period can lead to an injury as your anatomy is not supporting your joint during the movement.
Can’t Go Heavy
It’s not that you cannot go heavy on this exercise, but it’s risky to go heavy. One bad rep can ruin your shoulder joint and an entire training period. Taking your elbows back behind the body and pressing from there is very risky and is unsafe for your shoulders. If you have other options then why take a risk!
So as we discussed how behind the neck can create problems for your shoulder joint. Now let’s talk about some of the effective and better alternative exercises, which you can replace with Behind the neck presses. All of these exercises are much safer and you can also overload them with heavier weights. So let’s discuss each of them here.
Behind the Neck Press Alternatives
1. Dumbbell Shoulder Press
The study conducted by ACE showed that the dumbbell shoulder press was one of the best exercises to target the anterior/ front part of the deltoid.
Also, there are fewer chances of any injury because you can move your arms freely either by keeping it to the side or bringing the weights to the front and then pressing it up. So you must include this compound exercise in your workout to build and strengthen your overall shoulder muscles.
How to do
1. Pick two dumbbells and sit on a bench with your head and back supported on a bench. Your dumbbells should be on your thighs.
2. Lift each dumbbells up with the help of your thighs to bounce it up over your shoulders.
3. Hold the dumbbells at shoulder height. Your palm should face forward. This will be your starting position.
4. From this position, lift both the dumbbells up and focus on squeezing your delts at the top.
5. Return to the starting position and then repeat the movement.
Before lifting, make sure that your wrist is in line with the elbow. Your arms should go back and overhead like an arch rather than going straight up.
Always keep the dumbbells on the lap after completing your set to avoid any injuries. Don’t just throw the weights away!
You can also do this exercise while standing with both feet at about shoulder-width apart. This is more athletic and is generally preferred.
2. Standing Military Press
This is one of the best compound exercises for your shoulders. It will give you that big and broad shoulders which you would be getting from behind the neck press too, but it also comes with the risk of injury.
The military press will engage your core more and will be a great exercise, to begin with. Do this as a compound exercise for your delts and then isolate with the other exercises like front and lateral raises for maximizing growth.
How to do
1. Grab the bar and bring it up towards your shoulders. Your hands should be slightly wider than the shoulders. Your elbow should be under the wrist and this will be your starting position.
2. Start pushing the bar up while contracting your shoulders and fully extend your elbows at the top.
3. The bar should be in line with your ears when you reach the top. Don’t stop when the bar is in front of the head.
4. Return back to the starting position and the repeat the movement.
Your core should be engaged throughout the exercise to keep the lower back in a stable position. If you had any shoulder injury or impingement then consult the physical therapist before doing any overhead exercise.
3. Arnold Press
This is another great alternative to the behind-the-neck press. You can do this as a prime compound exercise to add size and roundness to your delts. This is a much safer and easy exercise you can do easily at home. You just need dumbbells and you are good to go.
How to do
1. Grab two dumbbells and sit down on a bench, or a flat chair if you are at home.
2. Raise the dumbbells and hold it in front of the shoulder with your palm facing towards you. This will be your starting position.
3. Now start moving the dumbbells up by rotating your wrist and then squeeze your shoulders at the top.
4. Slowly return back to the starting position the same way you went up.
Arnold presses are very effective to build big and strong shoulders. You can go heavy on this. But do not overarch your lower back as you lift heavy as this can injure your lower back.
4. One-Arm Overhead Press
This is probably one of the best exercises you can do with a dumbbell. The single-arm overhead press will not only hit your overall shoulders but will also engage abs and other core muscles to stabilize your body during the movement. Therefore you are training lots of muscles with a single exercise which is a plus! So try this in place of behind the neck press.
How to do
1. Grab a dumbbell with one hand and take it up, just above the Shoulders. Keep your neck and back straight. This will be your starting position.
2. Lift the dumbbell with the help of your shoulders without bending your back. Make sure to engage your core throughout the movement.
3. Stop until the dumbbell is at the top and come back slowly down to the starting position.
4. Do the same with the other hand and that will be your complete set.
You can also do the dumbbell push press which is similar to this. The only difference is that you will use your legs at the beginning to push the ground to generate force and power. Watch this video and you will understand better.
You can do this exercise very easily at home. Having dumbbells at home is always beneficial as you can perform various exercises at home without traveling to the gym.
You can use heavyweights but make sure that you don’t bend your lower back too much and always engage your core during the movement.
5. Landmine Shoulder Press
Another great pressing movement for your front delts. It’s a functional movement that engages your core more into the movement. It also requires balance, stability, and coordination. So before doing behind-the-neck presses, think about this option.
How to do
1. Place one end of the bar at the corner of the wall and sit down at the half-kneeling position.
2. Hold the bar and pull it up towards the shoulder height and this will be your strtinv position.
3. With your back straight and abs tight, start pushing the bar up and extend your elbows at the top. Your hips should be engaged during the movement.
4. Bring the bar down towards the starting position and repeat the movement.
This exercise requires a landmine base which you can get easily at a cheaper price. You can do many landmine exercises with the setup at home. So investing a small amount will be an advantage for you.
6. Kettlebell Clean And Press
Clean and press are great unilateral exercises you must do to improve your strength and power. You can do this with either a kettlebell or a dumbbell. This is an athletic move that engages your core, quads, and arms, which makes it an amazing compound movement.
This exercise is safe for your joints and elbow if you do it with proper form and technique. So next time when you try behind the neck presses, then do try this one out.
How to do
1. Hold a kettlebell from one side and stand at about shoulder-width stance. Bend down while keeping your back straight and chest up. Keep the other hand behind the body.
2. Bring the kettlebell down and then press with your legs to generate force and then bring the kettlebell to the side while rotating the kettlebell.
3. Rest the kettlebell on your shoulder. Now lift the kettlebell and extend your elbows at the top.
4. Now bring the kettlebell down again to the starting position and then repeat the movement. Do the same from the other side.
You can also use a dumbbell to do this exercise instead of a kettlebell. It can be easily done at home if you have a dumbbell or a kettlebell. Make sure that your form is correct and stop the exercise if you feel pain or discomfort.
7. Pike Push-Ups
This is a great bodyweight exercise to strengthen the shoulder muscle. The movement pattern is similar to that of a military press. It is much safer and a powerful exercise to strengthen your shoulder.
How to do
1. Place your hands on the floor with both hands slightly wider than the shoulder. Place your legs at the back and move your hips up.
2. Your hands should be in line with your head and your hips should be raised such that your body looks like an inverted V from the sides.
3. Now start bringing your head down without moving your hips and pause when it’s almost touching the floor or mat. Your elbow should be at about a 60° angle.
4. Push on the ground and bring your head back to the starting position. Always look at your feet during the movement.
You can do this exercise at the beginning of your workout. It can be replaced with behind-the-neck presses especially when you are at home without equipments.
So these were some of the best alternatives you can do instead of behind the neck press. All of this exercise is safe as your elbow is in front of the body while you press. Because of this, you can overload it with heavier weight without any fear. However, make sure that whatever exercise you do, your form is correct and you are completely focused on the exercise.
If you found this blog helpful, then do share it with your friends or share it on social media so that more people can read it. Also, if you know of any other alternative exercises, then do mention that in the comment section below.
Roshan Pillai is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer with more than 6 years of experience in lifting weights and guiding people to get fit. He has worked as a personal trainer in gyms and is the owner and editor of fitnessproworkout.com. He is passionate about fitness and helping people to get in shape.