Are Behind The Neck Lat Pulldowns Bad? (Benefits Explained)

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.  

Behind the neck lat pulldowns can be performed either standing up or sat down. To do them, you start facing the machine and then reach up to grip the handles.

Pull 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, and then slowly let the bar rise up.  

Behind the neck lat pulldowns are often chosen because they work a variety of muscle groups: 

  • Shoulders (Front, Outer, & Rear Deltoids) 
    Your shoulders are essential for several exercises, and it's important to train them regularly. Behind the neck pulldowns can put a lot of strain on your rotator cuffs which stabilize your shoulder joints, but they do help strengthen your shoulders more than normal lat pulldowns.  
  • Upper Back (Traps, Or Trapezius)  
    Your upper back is the key to your upper body, and it's the infrastructure that's needed to build your strength. A lat pulldown helps to isolate your upper back so you can focus the effort in this area. 
  • Back Upper Arm (Triceps Brachii) 
    Your triceps are engaged more with a behind the neck lat pulldown than a standard pulldown because of the range of motion. This will help to build your arms alongside your back. 
  • Armpit Over Rib Cage (Serratus Anterior)  
    Your serratus anterior is often overlooked, but it’s an important muscle group if you want to look broader. Lat pulldowns help to build a thicker looking back by developing this area. 
Armpit Over Rib Cage Picture

Benefits Of Behind The Neck Lat Pulldowns 

People opt for the behind the neck lat pulldown because of the specific movement. 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 this exercise in your upper body, underarms, arms, and shoulders in one go.  

Are Behind The Neck Lat Pulldowns Bad? (Dangers & Drawbacks Explained) 

Safety always comes first in the gym because there’s no point in risking your body just for gains. Many people are scared to attempt a behind the neck lat pulldown because of the risks, but often aren’t sure exactly what the risks are. There are three main issues that this exercise can cause:  

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.  

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.  

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. 

behind the neck lat pulldowns

Alternative Exercises For Behind The Neck Lat Pulldown 

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 alternatives to lat pulldowns here.

1. Behind The Neck Press With Dumbbells 

This exercise is typically performed with a barbell, but you can use dumbbells to control the movement and limit the risk of injury.

Start on a bench with your feet flat on the floor. Take the dumbbells in your hand and rest them on your thighs. Take one at a time and raise the weight up to your shoulder. Hold it just next to your ear, and then brace your core before raising it straight up. Pause for a second and lower it back down to shoulder level.  

While performing this exercise, you should feel it in your arms, shoulder, and back. By using a dumbbell, you don't limit your movement, and you therefore don't put as much strain on your muscles. It's not as effective as a lat pulldown in terms of a back exercise, but it is much safer and suitable for beginners.   

2. Shoulder Press 

A shoulder press exercise is very similar to the behind the neck press with dumbbells but is less dangerous because the weight is held slightly in front of you. To perform the exercise, you start by sitting on a bench with your feet on the floor.

Grip the barbell and hold it at chin level, just in front of you. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, point your elbows forward and push upwards. Keep the bar in line with your head and pause at the top before lowering it back down.  

A shoulder press really targets all your shoulder muscles, upper back, and arms. It's a very safe but effective exercise that is safe for gym-goers of all levels.  

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Is it bad to lift weights above your head? 

Many different exercises involve lifting above your head, but to do it safely, you need to make sure you don't lift too heavy or too fast.  

Should I lean back during lat pulldown?  

You will need to lean back during a lat pulldown, so the bar doesn't hit your head, but you should try to keep your body as straight as possible. You should definitely not lean back if you’re performing a behind the neck lat pulldown.  

Should you shoulder press behind your head? 

You don’t need to perform a shoulder press behind your head to get the benefit, and it can make it more challenging to control the weight. If you do shoulder press behind your head, then you risk putting too much strain on your shoulders.  


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.  

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Paul J

Last Updated on January 13, 2023