The coach was right. As a general rule, you should avoid any exercise that involves pulling or pushing a weight behind the neck. The problem with these movements is that they put the shoulder joint in a biomechanically unfavorable position. Because the shoulder joint is so flexible – with freedom in all planes of motion – it is also very unstable (increased joint flexibility inevitably leads to decreased stability).
In the final position of the neck pulldown, the humerus (upper arm bone) is pushed back in such a way that extreme abduction and external rotation of the shoulder joint occurs at the same time. This puts a lot of stress on the shoulder capsule, which can lead to damage to soft tissue structures, particularly the small muscles of the rotator cuff. Worse, repeated use of the exercise can stretch the ligaments of the shoulder joint, increasing the likelihood of permanent deformity. Over time, ligaments can become so loose that surgery is required to restore stability, setting your training efforts back months.
There is also a tendency to pull the neck forward and down during performance, increasing the likelihood of injury to the cervical spine and related muscles and ligaments. There is even a risk of vertebral trauma if the rod is pulled down too hard onto the spinous process. Given that studies have shown that the behind-the-neck version is less effective than other pulldown variations, there’s no reason to add it to your workout arsenal.
Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., CSCS, CSPS, FNSCA is an internationally recognized fitness expert and widely regarded as one of the foremost authorities on training for muscle gain and fat loss. He is a lifelong drug free bodybuilder and has won numerous natural bodybuilding titles. He has published over 60 peer-reviewed studies on a variety of exercise and nutrition-related topics. Brad is a best-selling author of several fitness books, including The MAX Muscle Plan (Human Kinetics, 2012), commonly referred to as “the muscle building bible,” and Strong and Sculpted (Human Kinetics, 2016), which details a cutting-edge Body shaping program for women. Brad is also the author of the seminal textbook Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy (Human Kinetics, 2016), the first text dedicated to an evidence-based elucidation of the mechanisms and strategies for optimizing muscle growth. Overall, Brad’s books have sold over half a million copies. For more information, see For more information, visit lookgreatnaked.com