Network Blog

Reflections on fitness, wellness, health and more

Behind the neck presses - complicated or just plain contraindicated?

The following post was written by Alisha Smith, Network's education manager.

Fitness wouldn’t be fitness without heated discussions regarding ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ exercises. Some say there are certain exercises that simply should never be performed, while others say that there is no such thing as a ‘bad’ exercise – only bad technique.

One such proclaimed ‘bad’ exercise is the Behind the Neck Press (BNP).

The BNP has long been a favourite of body builders, but what place, if any, does it have in the programs of the masses? Advocates of the ‘contraindicated’ label have noted that the flexed and abducted shoulder position is mechanically disadvantageous, placing the shoulder in a position of danger and risking the integrity of the rotator cuff, while supporters of the exercise tout its medial and posterior deltoid recruitment as second to none.

Regardless of which side of the BNP fence you sit on, it must be agreed that all exercises have the potential to be dangerous when executed incorrectly. Alarmingly, it appears that the BNP has made a resurgence in mainstream programming, as one colleague recently noted in a Basic Training class. Participants were executing the move at high speed with alacrity – and little regard for the technical intricacies. With a full class of around 35 participants, it does leave you wondering how the instructor could sufficiently supervise such a controversial exercise whilst facilitating the class as a whole. At what point do we as Fitness Professionals decide that the inherent risks of a particular exercise outweigh the perceived benefits?

While it’s definitely easy to target the group exercise classes, the gym floor requires just as much vigilance. As gym instructors and personal trainers, we have the exact same duty of care to our clients as group exercise instructors, yet how many of us take it upon ourselves, unbidden, to correct or advise someone who we have witnessed performing an exercise (such as the BNP) incorrectly?

So, over to you. Do you use the BNP (or any other purportedly contraindicated exercise) with clients, in classes or in your own training? Does being a fitness professional make you accountable when it comes to educating gym members about the risks of such exercises or is it simply not your responsibility? Please use the comments feature below to start the discussion!

Back to Blog

Posted by: Anonymous | 12-May-2009 08:27 AM | 3 out of 5 stars

Good article, hate the exercise. I think that any fitness professional is more than accountable for the safety of exercises that members/clients preform. If they are doing any that can put themselves in danger of injury then they should be told and corrected, after that its up to them to consider the consequences of what might happen if they continue.

I would not give the BNP, or any exercise that has a high injury risk, to a client. Obviously all exercises have some element of risk but ones like the BNP where the risk is almost equal to the benefit should be left out and something more suitable preformed. Leg extensions, another high risk exercise.

Posted by: Josephine | 12-May-2009 08:33 AM | 5 out of 5 stars

Specialising in the over 50's market I do not go near these exercises, I found the comments refreshing that not everybody agrees with the old" Tuff to be Buff" syndrome. Welcome to new ideas, thank you all for entering into these discussions..


Posted by: Luke Magee | 12-May-2009 09:14 AM | 5 out of 5 stars

I definitely agree with Nathan, i would almost never prescribe i high risk exercise to a client. But in the realms of my own training these high risk exercises do come into play. I don't think this is contra-indicative that what goes for me doesn't go for a client. I think there is room for these exercises, but only in high experienced and advanced cases where high levels of technical supervision are being provided, especially when using free weights.

Posted by: Sam K | 12-May-2009 09:28 AM |

Shouldn't all exercise be founded in principles of well being? Exercises that potentially endanger your physical well being are against everything I believe as a trainer. This exercise is yet another hangover from the world of body building, where building size precedes common sense.

Posted by: Mario Frapiccini | 12-May-2009 10:02 AM | 2 out of 5 stars

Do not use it at all I do not think it provides any real benefit to the masses, i.e the danger is higher than any benefit they will get.

Posted by: Phil Raymond | 12-May-2009 10:20 AM |

Great article,I have for a long long time advised my clients why I will not have them perform this exercise.As a bodybuilder myself I feel my shoulder development is up to par with a lot of my competitors and ever since the mid 1990's when I tweaked my rotator and for the next 6 months tried to rehabilitate my injury with a lot of pain involved.

My shoulder development back then was to say in the very leas-average,where as for the past 13-14 years I have never performed this exercise again and my development has grown a lot. There are a lot of machines and alternate exercises to use rather than potentially placing my clients at risk of injury and potentially stopping the income that they so kindly provide.

Posted by: Max Rafferty | 12-May-2009 11:43 AM | 3 out of 5 stars

All trainers have a Duty of Care to their clients (i.e a legal responsibility based around their level of understanding). So being a “fitness professional” does make you legally accountable, and no personal trainer wants to hurt their client (I hope) and then be financial accountable for that injury. So, for the benefit of the client and the trainer’s financial situation “know thy exercise” and screen the client!

Posted by: Pete | 12-May-2009 11:58 AM | 3 out of 5 stars

Is it functional? ... Is the movement applicable to real life situations? It may be for some, in which case like all movements, learn it light with good form and increase load to meet your goals.

If it's not applicable or directly useful to press heavy things from behind your head try doing it in front :-)

Posted by: Dave Martin | 12-May-2009 11:59 AM | 4 out of 5 stars

Good read, Like Phil's comments I too have suffered in the past with Shoulder problems attributed to various training excercises including BNP. As a competitive bodybuilder in the 80's and 90's my own education was limited around Good exercise V's Bad. The last time I prescribed this exercise was 1994! and these day's there are safer alternatives to medial and posterior targeting

Posted by: David Hoffmann | 12-May-2009 12:29 PM | 2 out of 5 stars

When you look at the relativity of this exercise in day to day life for a client, I would not prescribe this to any of our clients as I cannot think of a movement that they will effectively carry out this movement. Again it is up to us as professionals to look at the exercises we believe will place people at risk and not prescribe them. There are many alternatives for us to use, and does Mrs Jones care if her posterior deltoid is buffed?

Posted by: Teresa Quinn | 12-May-2009 12:58 PM | 5 out of 5 stars

This exercise as I am aware was outlawed when I did my training back 6yrs ago so I have never used it on any of my clients. When I have seen clients using said exercise , it has always been with bad posture and technique, and I have always advised clients on it use and the risks involved and have left the decision to them .

As a personal trainer I think it is my duty to all clients to keep them safe and to inform them on any changes regarding outlawed exercises, the reasons why , and an alternative exercise. We all as trainers should be keeping ourselves updated and as an industry try to give the same advice to keep our industry a professional one.

Posted by: Brian Cooke | 12-May-2009 02:09 PM | 3 out of 5 stars

All shoulder press exercises involve concurrent outward rotation/abduction which produces capsular instability. Whilst BNP is the most extreme of the press options each should be preceded by some functional assessment. The old argument that BNP is the most effective option for medial and posterior deltoid recruitment surely went out with Conan. Posterior deltoid is a horizontal shoulder abductor and plays almost no role in abducting the shoulder in the frontal plane. Let's discuss something a little more divisive like vibration technology perhaps.

Posted by: Chris. | 12-May-2009 03:02 PM | 3 out of 5 stars

BNP always a hot topic,First Question i would ask client/instructor is there anything in your day to day activities that require you to be in a unsafe position with a weight above your head???

Weight training should be functional to meet the individuals needs.

Posted by: David Max | 12-May-2009 03:16 PM |

I think that the BNP is a very "grey zone" exercise. I personally use it with my Olympic lifters.
There is certainly no alternative when it comes to Olympic lifting.Though for most athletes, the benefits of this exercise can be produced by a mix of various exercises which are lower risk. This exercise makes me think of box squats, an exercise that should NEVER be performed without a coach present, as injuries aren't only possible but they should be expected.
Safety should always be a trainers and an athletes first concern, as strength, speed and power are all just a back or rotator cuff injury from disappearing.

Posted by: Joe Bonington | 13-May-2009 03:51 PM | 3 out of 5 stars

Great Subject. I agree with David Max. This exercise does have a place. As a strength and conditioning coach, it is taught in the breakdowns of "O"lifts as a straight BNP or as a "Push under" and then as a "Drop Under". Unless these groups are worked in such a way the integrity of a clients snatch can suffer. It also has cross over into any sport where a push pattern is required where the head may be forced into flexion... all codes of Rugby and all forms of grappling. For your general population... No way, not a hope

Posted by: CHRIS | 13-May-2009 06:25 PM |

I was a PT trainer (male) until i developed chronic psoaratic arthritis as a result of a serious bout of food poisoning from a restaurant 6 years ago. I am no longer a trainer as my time and considerable effort is spent on just trying to get through each day.

However, as one of the many who ditched the BNP, it is now the only exercise that maintains my ability to raise my arms above my shoulder. It is as painful as hell (due to the arthritis, not the exercise itself) but so is pressing to the front. However, the front press does not maintain my ability to raise my arms above my head no matter how much painful stretching i do and it is not long before i can no longer do this if i don't do the BNP.
Thought you all might like to know this in the context of my individual situation and the benefit of the BNP to me as opposed to the Front Press.

P.S. Celebrate your good health every day.

Posted by: mark roskell | 13-May-2009 08:43 PM |


I got certified as a personal trainer quite a few years ago (mainly so i could further my own knowledge for my training - i am a drug free powerlifter). I have had many friends come over to my place over the years and say they could never squat, or BNP (for example), because they always get injured while doing them and have been told that they are an unsafe exercise.

After 5 minutes of showing them how to do the exercise, they are doing it safely.

Every exercise has its merits, and I believe that with the right coaching / teaching, the vast majority of people can do any exercise and not get injured.

Done incorrectly, any exercise has the potential to injure [some more than others.


Mark Roskell

Posted by: Elizabeth Yochum | 15-May-2009 01:06 PM | 1 out of 5 stars

I would not give this exercise to any of my clients. Most of us deal with the normal population whom we have a duty of care towards. If we are looking at our clients as individuals with individual needs and wants then I cannot see anyone requiring BNP in their repertoire of exercises. There is a multitude of choice which we can delve into without resorting to exercises that are out of date, potential harmful, and arguably with little positive outcome. Use your imagination and the knowledge you have and are continually developing to deliver a balanced, outcome based program which meets the needs of each client no matter what their goals.

Posted by: Anonymous | 17-May-2009 09:02 PM |

Like everyone else, why put a client at risk?

A lot of bodybuilders still love it though

Posted by: Sheena | 20-May-2009 02:19 PM |

This exercise is definitely not encouraged in our gym. As others have said, the chances of the general population needing to press heavy weight behind their heads is virtually zero! Clients have made time to come exercise, so why waste it doing a non-functional exercise?

Posted by: Anonymous | 17-Jun-2009 04:14 PM | 3 out of 5 stars

I have used the matrix roll involving BHS it si effective hoever I would be very selevtive as to which client I woudl introduce it to.

I am more interested in the question" Does being a fitness professional make you accountable..." I am appauled at the number of "fitness professionals" who do not maintain registration or increase knowledge. A plummer MUST be licensed to work with water pipes. How is it a person who is invloved in anothers wellbeing and health DOESNT have to be licensed????

Posted by: Christine Atkins | 15-Sep-2009 03:33 PM |

I agree with Nathan 100%