The shoulder press behind the neck, also called behind the neck press is an exercise that has been used in the gym since the early years of bodybuilding. In recent years, however, a trend has emerged around this exercise claiming that it should be avoided because it is bad for the shoulders and carries a very high risk of injury. Often we hear this without people having really researched the why behind the statement. To clear this up once and for all, we at Fysiofitaal list the facts for you.
Behind the neck press vs. military press
We start by comparing the military press and behind-the-neck press. Where exactly are the similarities and perhaps more importantly, the differences. As every strength athlete knows, both exercises are meant to train the shoulders. Because we still find the term shoulders a bit too general, we will tell you that the shoulder basically consists of the deltoid, which in turn is composed of three parts, each with its own function, and below that the rotator cuff (shoulder cuff) with muscles that provide stability in the shoulder and the associated shoulder blade. The discerning reader will say that there are other muscles with a function in the shoulder. This is true, but we consider them less relevant to this article, so we have chosen not to name them.
Although both variations of the shoulder exercise are intended to train the shoulder muscles, there are also differences. In order to take a closer look at the differences in movement, we took a study from the Journal of Sport and Health Science. In this study, 33 participants were tested looking at differences in movement progression between the two press variants, as well as differences in maximum strength (1RM between exercises). This research brought home the insight that both variations of a shoulder press movement are completely safe to perform, provided the passive range of motion (ROM) is adequate and there is sufficient trunk stability. In addition, the researchers saw that the 1RM is virtually the same for both variants.
What does this mean in practice?
In practice, this means that when men want to perform the behind-the-neck press, they should more often first pay attention to increasing the ROM. This is because (especially trained men) often have less range of motion in the exorotation movement (turning the shoulder outward) than women. The question you may ask yourself is whether you necessarily want to do that then, or whether you prefer to perform the press from the chest side anyway. Since maximum strength makes no difference between the military press or behind-the-neck press. Furthermore, the researchers indicate that mainly women should perhaps first pay attention to improving trunk stability, because women had more movement in the spine during the exercise.
In short, the bottom line is that it doesn't really matter which variant of shoulder exercise you do in your workout, as long as you make sure the other factors are in order. Everyone can basically perform the military press without any problems. The behind-the-neck press is a little more difficult for some. Stick mainly to what you are comfortable with and make sure you have a good technique with associated parameters (speed, ROM and so on).