2/1/13

Behind The Neck Press Done Easy


The last time we were here I ran through 5 easy steps to a good shoulder press. I then received a question from a friend of mine.
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Jake A. asks,
Side question....is behind the neck, snatch grip press healthy for the shoulders? I've heard yes and no.

check out this sweet diagram
I see a lot of lifters in the gym grip the bar as wide as possible and then inch it behind their head. If you read the last post you know that the end position of the bar should always be behind the head. Behind the neck snatch grip press forces the lifter in the behind neck bar position the entire time. Whether or not this is actually good will be discussed in a second. Before I go much further I just want to let you know this is about to get very Olympic lifting/cross fitting.

There are two variations to the behind the neck snatch grip press. The first is a push press variation; the other is a strict press variation. When the bar is lowered behind the head towards the neck an awkward torque is created at the glenohumeral joint,rotator cuff, and bicep tendon. It is very possible to induce inflammation and cause impingement [pinching of ligaments]. This unnatural pressure is caused by a narrow grip. As the hands approach the middle of the bar shoulders are forced to internally rotate [shoulders out]. Unless an athlete is hypermobile, chances are they cannot keep external rotation [elbows in]. The torque usually reduces as the hands are spread further down and along the bar, which allows for a healthier rotation. Of course the average uninformed athlete will keep his hands too narrow and eventually end up with a "gym rat shoulder." 

Strict Press:

This "delicate" movement requires a firm core, and straight legs. By not using the lower body to accelerate the weight, the bar should obviously be lighter. Because the bar path is a straight line this movement is less technical.

Push Press:

This is usually done by Olympic lifters to improve the catch portion of a snatch. Since the bar only moves straight up, less technique is needed. Therefore a heavier than normal weight can be loaded up. There are two catch positions possible for this press. The first is a quarter squat, where the bar is accelerated overhead and the butt slightly drops. The second press is the full squat, where the lifter launches the bar, and the athlete drops all the way to the floor and then they stand back up.

Learn It Right In 5 Steps:

  1. Walk the bar out of a squat rack with it resting on your shoulders, in the high bar squat stance.
  2. The normal snatch grip should be applied for minimal shoulder irritation. A mobility problem may arise if you don’t have that R.O.M.  If you’re not flexible enough, FIX THAT.
  3. Apply a Hook grip hold for the entire press. This can help lock the shoulders into place, and keep the scapula more stable. The only fault is that elbow R.O.M. may be limited. Don’t worry if you can’t lock out overhead, the behind the neck press may be something for the future.
  4. Push your head through the window. Even thought the bar is continuously behind the head, it is possible to slip up and allow the head to go more neutral, or even forward.
  5. Lowering the bar down does not require a lot of force. Begin the descent slowly, and allow the traps to catch the bar. Don’t fire the shoulders at the end range. This stress can fatigue the joint faster, and even lead to inflammation, even though form is solid.

An Actual Answer:

To finally answer Jake's question, yes the press can be healthy. Keeping the hands narrow will increase unnatural torque and pressure. Spreading the hands out reduces this negative force. It is "less" healthy than front press, but can be performed without worrying about injury. If you wan't to participate in crossfit, I highly recommend finding place for this press in your routine.

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About Me

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BS, MS - exercise Physiology
EPC - Board Certified Exercise Physiologist

Published Thesis
The impact of three different forms of warm up on performance

Graduate from Midwestern State University, founder of Endunamoo Barbell Club, and Endunamoo Strength and Conditioning. Working to help athletes physically reach their goals and achieve scholarships while spiritually pouring into as many people as possible on all platforms.