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Tales from the Texan!

Seven deadly lifts!

Travis Burkybile

Behind the neck shoulder presses!

This will be the first in a series of, oh say seven posts. Clever I know. If you have suggestions put them in the comments! I have picked seven so far, but I might rethink or add one with a little prodding.

If you train consistently, you have done some form of shoulder press, otherwise hereafter known as overhead (OHP) press. Maybe you have cranky shoulders that won’t let you train this movement. Maybe you swore them off as “injurious” years ago. Let’s set the record straight.

Most coaches will advocate for some form of OHP in their programs. That is about all they can agree on. The most common theme that will unite the all knowing fitness professional? DO NOT BEHIND THE NECK PRESS! EVER! FOR FEAR OF DEATH, GRINDING YOUR SHOULDER TO DUST, OR OTHER HORRIFIC END.

It seriously makes every worst exercise list I have ever seen. I think not. Why so much fear and loathing for what I think is a very beneficial movement? WAIT WHAT???? I like behind the neck presses? Heresy! Strip that man’s coaching credentials! Allow me to explain.

Most coaches will argue that the average trainee lacks the necessary shoulder internal and external rotation, and the barbell locks the scapula into a “bad” position. Here is the problem- most clients or self guided trainees are not qualified to do many of the lifts/exercises they do in the first place, nor are those exercises always best suited for their goals. Those exercises so carefully, ahem, “programmed”

Examples include; past knee surgery post menopausal women doing 100+ “plyo jumps for fat loss”, 20 something young male deadlifting with a spine resembling a threatened feline, or anyone of any skill level, high rep Olympic weightlifting. Yeah, I went there. If injury risk for an individual was truly well evaluated, most trainees would lose a big chunk of the most frequent exercises in their program.

So before there is a riot, let me acknowledge that there are very few people who initially are qualified to perform a behind the neck barbell press. Some people might never be a good fit because of past injury or other issues. The lift isn’t the problem. Here’s why.

Let’s check equipment used for OHP’s

  • Dumbbells
  • Barbells
  • Kettlebells
  • Machines
  • all others - not really optimal

Most trainees perform any variation, with any equipment of an OHP poorly. They will:

  • Only perform the top 1/2 or so- which is very tricep dominant, doesn’t put the deltoid (shoulder) muscles under stretch/tension and is therefore ineffective. Ever see a dude with good arms and no shoulders? Only all the time. Maybe this has something to do with it?
  • Place their arms so wide and abducted they end up in the exact same position as a BTN press! Elbows behind and not under the weight, wrists lazy, and driving the head of the humerus into the acromion. This is exactly what they were supposed to avoid by not pressing behind the neck!
  • Use these poor techniques with barbells or dumbbells. For goodness sake, anyone ever turn a palm in for a neutral grip? Anyone?
 Bad pressing position- this poor guy is in for it

Bad pressing position- this poor guy is in for it

By these requirements, most trainees should not be doing any bilateral or even single arm OHP. If the behind the neck presses were the problem, why is shoulder impingement and shoulder injury from weight training increasing as use of the exercise decreases? Maybe too much sitting, lack of hanging traction, and overuse of other movement patterns is a better place to start looking for culprits. (I’m looking at you bench press.) I have worked with hundreds, approaching thousands of beat up cranky shoulders. Here is what I see needs to change.

  1. Improve extension and rotation of the spine. Overwhelmingly, people always complaining about their shoulders suck in this area, and likely aren’t doing anything about it other than fixating on the shoulder motion. This is dead end. There are tons of great YouTube videos on T spine mobility. Try a few and get to work. Check your straight arm raise before and after. Go on, I'll wait. See?
  2. Make sure trainees can brace and “lock down” the rib cage using the abs to anchor and stabilize the spine. This eliminates most of the leaning back you see when the lift is performed standing or seated, and often causes low back pain.
  3. Improve the soft tissue quality in the hands/wrists/forearms. This problem will often refer up the arm causing a “shoulder” problem.
  4. Improve the centration (ability to keep the ball in the ideal position in the socket during motion) of the shoulder joint by opening up the lats, chest, and rotator cuff. It is last on the list for a reason………

Find a good coach and bodyworker who can help you identify which of these areas you can improve. You will benefit on all overhead pressing, even if you never behind the neck press.

So there you have it. Part 1 of the Seven deadly lifts series. 1 down 6 to go!

Stay strong,

The Flexin Texan