Like most weightlifters and fitness enthusiasts, you are keen on developing your upper body, especially your upper back, traps, and lats. To do this, you go for lat pulldowns, which help you develop your upper back. You finally feel ready to diversify your upper back program and think of switching to behind-the-neck lat pulldowns. However, you ask yourself, are behind-the-neck pulldowns dangerous? This article looks at and answers the question are behind-the-neck lat pulldowns dangerous and offers alternatives.
What is the behind-the-neck lat pulldown?
The behind-the-neck lat pulldown is a variation of the lat pulldown, where you pull the bar to the top of your back rather than just above your chest. Performing it is straightforward. Grab the bar with your arms spread at shoulder length. Ensure your feet are firmly anchored to the ground, then you pull the bar towards your face. In the regular lat pulldown, the bar goes in front of you and stops right above your chest. With behind-the-neck lat pulldown variation, the bar goes behind your head and stops right above your back before returning to complete the set.
📖 Related Article: If you're enjoying this article you may want to also check out: Which Is Better: Chin Up Vs. Lat Pulldown?
Are behind-the-neck lat pulldowns dangerous, as they say?
While it may be hasty to conclude that the behind-the-neck lat pulldown is dangerous, here are some reasons why it may not be the best lat pulldown idea:
Higher shoulder injury risk
This is the most prevalent issue that results from performing behind-the-neck lat pulldowns. This is because pulling the bar down too far behind your head, with your arms too far behind your head, can overstretch your rotator cuff muscle. Your rotator cuff muscles are necessary for supporting your shoulders, without which increases your chances of injuring your shoulder. This risk considerably increases if you do not have adequate shoulder strength and mobility.
Excessive spine stress
The bar's position relative to your body and its nature of movement makes pulling the bar down straight more challenging. As a result, overloading the weight can have you adjusting your spine to compensate for the bar to complete the rep. This spinal compensation can be dangerous for your cervical spine.
Promotes forward head posture
Pulling the lat pulldown bar behind your back results in a natural urge to move your head forward. While the posture is bad in itself, it is also unnatural enough to strain your neck, shoulders, and back, leading to a potential future of back issues.
Not enough gains
While this is not a reason for the exercise’s danger call, it still shows why it is unnecessary. Research has shown that while there are little to no differences in muscle activity of the lats using the different lat pulldown variations, muscle activity was highest with the regular lat pulldown in the pectoralis major.
So, are behind-the-neck lat pulldowns really dangerous for you? The answer is probably. Many gym exercises are dangerous and unsafe to perform if you do them with poor form or improper coaching, and behind-the-neck lat pulldown is the same. Some experts have advised that instead of moving the head forward, you can move your entire back forward so that your head and neck remain stable. Nevertheless, while behind-the-neck lat pulldowns are not quite dangerous, the front lat pulldown is indeed safer to execute and offers more overall gains, making it unnecessary to perform the behind-the-back lat pulldown.
Other safer alternatives to behind-the-back lat pulldowns
Dumbell behind the neck press
This exercise is a safer alternative to the behind-the-back lat pulldown. You can perform it with a barbell, but dumbbells help you better in controlling your movement while limiting injury risks. While the exercise is not as beneficial as the lat pulldown as an upper back exercise, it is still safer and is an excellent place to start as a beginner.
To perform it, place your feet flat on the ground as you begin on a bench. Get both dumbbells from the ground to your laps and then finally to your shoulders. Keep them beside your ear, bracing your core as you raise the dumbbells. Wait for a bit as your hands fully extend, then lower it back down to shoulder level to complete the rep.
The Shoulder press
The shoulder press is another safer alternative that primarily hits your anterior deltoid muscles. Despite this, the shoulder press will engage your triceps, deltoids, trapezius, and pec muscles.
💡 Quick Tip: If you are recuperating from an illness or are a beginner, you can also perform the overhead press with the Plate Loaded Deltoid And Shoulder Press Machine, as machines are better in these circumstances.
Plate Loaded Deltoid And Shoulder Press Machine
The shoulder press also recruits the stabilizer muscles in your shoulders, wrists, and elbows. In addition to this, its motion indirectly engages your abdominals as you keep a straight core throughout. Together, this helps improve your stability and balance. A benefit is that you can use a regular barbell, like the Ohio Bar – Cerakote, or the EZ curl bar, like the Rogue Curl Bar.
📖 Related Article: If you're enjoying this article you may want to also check out: Shoulder Press – Dumbbell Vs. Machine – Which Is Better?
Pull-ups are a general and safe option to the behind the back lat pulldown exercise. One advantage of pull-ups is that you can do it almost anywhere you can find or attach a bar. It is similar to chin-ups, and its overhead pulling motion builds your lats and upper back muscles. You can also do pull-up variations based on what part of your back you want to develop.
💡 Quick Tip: I recommend the Wall Mounted Multi-Grip Pull-Up Bar if you do not have an accessible pull-up bar, as it can give you a safer route to building your lats.
Wall Mounted Multi-Grip Pull-Up Bar
This exercise is also great as lifting your body weight involves your core muscles. The body weight feature also comes with additional benefits if you are a bigger person, which means you are pulling more weight. You can also add extra weights by using weight vests like the 5.11 Tactec Plate Carrier.