Behind-the-Neck Press vs. Standard Overhead Press
Both moves work the delts, but which exercise is best at targeting the middle delt head for a better V-taper?
By Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS
Standard Overhead Press
This version is more popular and it also works all three delt heads. If your gym has a standard military bench, then that’s a great place to be doing it. The nice thing about the military station is that you can rack it from shoulder level (important because that’s where you’re going to reach failure). If you don’t have a military bench, work inside a power rack where you can adjust the safeties up or down. Take a wide, overhead grip on the bar each time and be sure to wrap your thumbs for safety. If you’re new to this move or have relied a lot on dumbbells for your overhead pressing, be aware you’ll have to lean your head back slightly on each rep to get your chin out of the way of the bar, but avoid leaning back too far because that could cause undue stress on both your lower back and cervical spine.
The behind-the-neck overhead press is likely no longer found in your personal trainer’s textbooks, as many of the old-school moves have been replaced with kinder, gentler versions. But for years, bodybuilders used the behind-the-neck press to build impressive shoulders. Of course, it was important then as it is now to not jut your head too far forward as you lower the weight and to be careful not to slam or tap the base of the neck. But with that said, it’s a shame it’s fallen off the list of top shoulder moves that hits all three shoulder muscles. If you do the behind-the-neck version, hit it early in your training session when your delts are fresh, but make sure you warm up thoroughly and with light weight before your heavy sets.
Advantage: Behind-the-Neck Overhead Press
So which of the two barbell presses is best at hitting your middle delts? To answer that, let’s consider the two single-joint moves, the dumbbell front raise and lateral raise. When you perform front raises, in which your elbows move in front of your body, you involve more of your front delts. When you do lateral raises, in which your elbows move out to your sides, you involve more of your middle delts. The same goes for these two presses because elbow position has everything to do with it. When doing presses to the front, as your elbows are drawn forward, you’re involving more of the front deltoid. When doing presses behind the neck however, your elbows move out to your sides, which calls upon the middle delts to a much greater degree, thus making it your winner.