This vilified exercise has always intrigued me. I had some early bad experiences with it, but the words of Rob Lawrence (not a famous lifter by any stretch, but frequently cited by Pavel Tsatsouline who is more on the famous side), who basically said, “It’s not a bad exercise if you have the mobility, have been ringing in my head.”
So, I went downstairs where I have schlepped pieces of lumber removed from closets and strewn them in inconspicuous spots. One piece, previously used for hanging clothes on, seemed perfect. I put it in the garage where I have some ceiling height and every day before work I started doing the behind the neck press with the piece of wood I resurrected from the basement.
I did this for about a month, reducing the days per week to about three and increasing the reps up to 10 – 15 (from 5).
Look—you probably think that is really light, but I’ve heard so many people say this exercise is terrible that I wanted to be cautious. You might wonder why I wanted to do this exercise in the first place and the reason is that I have this feeling it’ll help me offset all the sitting and typing I do. I view this as more of a chest opening type exercise, and in any case, it stretches my shoulders and strengthens my back.
The THE Complete Keys to Progress book worships the behind the neck press. All these old timers doing these exercises that now people say destroy you…yet the old timers were strong as hell and tough as nails. So, wtf? Maybe we are just weak…well I don’t want to be weak!
The real difference now is for the most part, I don’t let ego start making weight selections for me anymore. Shit, 40 pounds in the behind the neck press without an injury is better than no pounds—and I can tell you, my posture is improving. My awareness is up, too.
My routine now is to do this exercise immediately followed by curls. This is a routine I saw in the Keys to Progress book. When I start having more time, I’ll add in breathing squats followed by pullovers. The idea is to open the chest.
In any case, for people searching about the behind the neck press, so far, I’m not believing the naysayers. I’m going to keep it light and work on my mobility and flexibility in that range. I think this is a case of our over-conservative and lazy culture condemning an exercise because most people sit on their butt typing and have rounded forward shoulders and it takes too much effort to correct and do it right.
Take your time and give this one a whirl—work into it and add it into the McCallum program from Keys to Progress—Behind the neck press superset with curls, 25 rep squats super set with pull overs. For those of you like me who wind up hunched over the keyboard drawn in by work, this one’ll help you open that chest back up and bring awareness to your posture.