To build a strong body, you need a strong back. Lat pulldowns are an effective way to broaden and develop your lats with a lot of different variations to target specific muscle groups.
Some people use lat pulldown machines for behind the neck lat pulldowns, but some people have questioned whether these are safe.
In this guide, we'll answer the frequently asked question, are behind the neck lat pulldowns bad for you, and what you can do to protect yourself from injury.
Are Behind The Neck Lat Pulldowns Actually Bad For You?
No, behind the neck lat pulldowns aren't bad.
Many people are scared to attempt a behind the neck lat pulldown because of the potential risks. But, you can lower the risks by performing the movement using good form and by listening to your body.
From experience, I've only ever had one issue with the behind the neck lat pulldown and that's been with my shoulder. I sometimes struggle to have the mobility to pull the lat pulldown bar behind my neck using good form.
Yet, I listen to my body and avoid this exercise if I begin to feel any aggravation in my shoulder joints. You've just got to use common sense.
If you don't have any underlying joint issues and use good form with this exercise, I don't see why there would be any problems with you performing the behind the neck pulldown.
How to perform
Behind the neck lat pulldowns can be performed either standing up or sitting down. I always sit down for this movement as I want all of the focus on my lats without needing to worry about stabilizing my core too much.
But, standing is a good option if you want to add an additional challenge to this upper body movement.
To do them follow these simple steps:
- Face a lat pulldown machine and grab the pulldown bar with a shoulder width overhand grip.
- Draw your shoulder blades back and pull the bar handle down slowly until the bar is just behind your neck. You should feel the strain on your shoulders and upper back.
- Pause for a second
- Slowly return to the starting position.
- Repeat to complete your set.
Behind the neck lat pulldowns are often chosen because they work a variety of your upper body muscle groups such as:
Benefits Of Behind The Neck Lat Pulldowns
People opt for the behind the neck lat pulldown because of the way the exercise targets specific areas of your upper body. It activates many of the muscles in your back like a standard pulldown but also activates your shoulder muscles.
If performed correctly, it can help strengthen your upper body and improve your overall functionality.
A wide grip lat pulldown is often associated with injury, and it is true that if you don't have the proper form, you can strain your rotator cuff.
However, if you control the movement effectively, then you can really feel the benefit of the lat pulldown exercise in your upper body, underarms, arms, and shoulders in one go.
I've used the behind the neck lat pulldown to great effect during my training sessions.
Related Article - How Much Lat Pulldown Weight Should I Use?
What Are The Dangers? (Risks To Look Out For)
When decided whether to perform the behind the neck lat pulldown, there are a few potential risks you should be aware of.
1. Increased Risk Of Shoulder Injury
This is the most common issue for those performing a behind the neck lat pulldown. If you pull the bar down with your arms too far behind your head, it will overstretch your rotator cuff muscles in your shoulder, which are essential to support your shoulders.
Without the support of the rotator cuffs, you are much more likely to injure your shoulder.
This is the issue I can sometimes suffer from, so I choose another exercise instead (which I'll discuss in a moment).
2. Excessive Stress On The Spine
The nature of the movement and the position of the bar makes it more challenging to pull the bar down straight. If you overload the weight, then you could end up adjusting your spine to complete the exercise. This can be dangerous for your cervical spine.
3. Promotes Forward Head Posture
As you pull the bar behind your back, it can be natural to move your head forward. This is an unnatural movement that puts strain on your shoulders, neck, and back. This can lead to a lot of long-term issues.
The real question is, are behind the neck lat pulldowns dangerous? They do carry a risk and can cause shoulder pain because of the movement, but every exercise comes with risk.
If you focus on your form and pick a weight you can handle, then you should be able to get the benefits without endangering yourself.
Best Alternative Exercises For Behind The Neck Lat Pulldowns
There are some benefits to a behind the neck lat pulldown, but also some dangers. If you're not certain, then it might be best to look for alternative exercises which target the same muscle groups but in a safer way.
We've given some suggestions below, but you can also read our complete list of
1. Bent Over Row
This exercise is typically performed with a barbell or you can use dumbbells to increase the range of movement slightly.
As this compound exercise is one of the most popular bodybuilding movements for developing muscle mass, you know it's a great exercise to have in your workout routine.
It works your lats, rhomboids, rear delts, traps, and core muscles. I've found that this behind the neck lat pulldown alternative to be excellent for developing upper back thickness.
How To Do It:
- Pick up a barbell or dumbbells using an overhand grip.
- Hinge from your hips until your body is around 45-degrees to the floor.
- Let your arms hang and draw your shoulder blades back.
- Lift the barbell or dumbbells to your stomach and pause.
- Slowly lower and complete your set.
Tips From A Trainer!
Control the lowering phase of the movement so you don't miss out on a chance to stimulate your lats further. You can adjust your grip wider for more rear deltoid engagement.
2. Regular Lat Pulldown
I couldn't provide you with alternatives without mentioning the regular lat pulldown. In my opinion, it's one of the most effective upper body exercise that you can perform.
It develops your lats, rhomboids, traps, and biceps, making it one of my favourite T-shirt filling movements. It's a very safe but effective exercise that is safe for gym-goers of all levels.
How To Do It:
- Grip the lat pulldown bar with a shoulder width overhand grip.
- Retract your shoulders.
- Pull the bar to your collar bone, squeezing your lats together.
- Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
Tips From A Trainer!
Avoid leaning back excessively or using momentum to complete the movement.
Related Article - Best Lat Pulldown Machines
3. Chest supported row
The chest supported row is a client favorite. As it provides you with chest support, you don't need to rely on your core to keep your body in a stable position.
It works all of the same muscles as the behind the neck pulldown, but doesn't pose as many risks. I can always feel my lats burning on this exercise; it's brilliant.
How To Do It:
- Set a bench to a 45-degree incline.
- Grab two dumbbells and place your chest against the bench.
- Let your arms hang either side of the bench.
- Lift the dumbbells to just above your hips.
- Squeeze your lats and shoulder blades together.
- Slowly lower and repeat.
Tips From A Trainer!
Start with a weight that allows you to maintain good form and gradually increase the resistance as you get stronger. Remember, quality reps with proper technique will help you achieve the best results and minimize the risk of injury.
FAQs About Lat Pulldown Movements
No, it's not bad to lift weights above your head. Many different exercises involve lifting above your head, but to do it safely, you should always do so in a controlled manner using good form.
Yes, you'll need to lean back slightly during a lat pulldown. This is so the bar doesn't hit your head, but you should try to keep your body as straight as possible. You shouldn't lean back if you’re performing a behind the neck lat pulldown.
No, you don’t need to perform a shoulder press behind your head to get the benefit. If you do shoulder press behind your head, it's more challenging and riskier.
Behind the neck lat pulldowns are a common exercise, but they do have some dangers. You need to be very careful with your form and start with low weights to make sure you don’t injure yourself.
For beginners, it can be bad to do lat pulldowns behind your neck because of the risk, and you are better off looking for alternative exercises that provide the same benefits without the dangers.
See the alternative exercises provided above and try them out.