Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Press Behind Neck - Charles A. Smith

The Two Hands Clean and Press from Behind Neck
Charles. A. Smith (1951)

 * See here as well:

I always get a great deal of fun from some of the more dynamic "physical" culture ads. These are usually in the form of a cartoon series. The poor skinny runt in on the beach with his girlfriend and the big bully - "MAC" - kicks sand in his face. To cut a long story short, the runt is fired with determination to build bulging biceps and bulk in body after his humiliating experience. Two cartoons later we see him - positively pulsating with muscular fiber, knocking the bully for a home run - or six - depending on whether you reside in the United States or places where cricket is played - and folding the girl in his arms - using the hook grip!

One is led to think that all a man has to do to get a respectable build is to "sign on the dotted line". Nothing is said about the hours and weeks and months and years of hard work -  muscular effort. Nothing is ever said about the disappointments and setbacks and the sheer guts and willpower that go with any body building efforts. Only the successes are presented and the failures are forgotten. The professional unfasteners of money from its owners' pockets have seized on Mail Order Muscles as a get rich quick scheme, one that has proved to be a field of lucrative endeavor. Barbells are never mentioned and any suggestions of hard work are studiously avoided.

You and I all know the only way to build a powerful physique - a development in which is blended power, coordination, speed and a pleasing form is with barbells. There is no other way to reach the peak of your potential strength and musculature. There are of course systems of physical culture that do not embrace weights and which have a definite place in the scheme of things. Free exercises are invaluable for general conditioning, for people who are under par, but for that tip top physical condition, weight training is a must. Right from the start of his workouts, the would-be strength athlete must realize that the most important single factor which will take him along the road to success is hard work. Another important point to keep in the mind is what I call economy of motion - making one single exercise do the work of many. 

This is the essence of modern barbell training. In the old days bodybuilders would use exercises that worked each muscle or muscle group individually. Raises front and sideways for the deltoids. Bench or - for there were no benches in those days - floor laterals for the pectorals - pullovers for triceps and parts of the deltoid - and other exercises. Muscles were worked as isolated units rather than as they should have been - parts of a whole - in coordination. 

Today we use the various versions of bench and incline bench presses for triceps, pectoral and deltoid development an do the job with one exercise instead of wasting energy, time and concentration performing single sets for individual muscles. That, fellows, is economy of motion. So, the beginner should seek to incorporate in his workout program a series of exercises which will work the muscles IN GROUPS rather than on their own.

One of the finest movements for building the deltoids, triceps and entire shoulder girdle - one which also strongly affects muscles of the upper back, is the Press Behind Neck - or as it is known in the rule book, the Two Hands Clean and Press from Behind Neck. It is widely used these days in weight gaining and specialization routines, not only by bodybuilders but by Olympic lifters. The seeker of physical excellence finds it builds up no small amount of deltoid and triceps development, while the man desiring weightlifting accomplishment develops a lot of starting power in his regular presses by the use of the many methods of performing the press behind neck.

There are definite rules governing the lift for competition purposes and of course, a score of bodybuilding versions, so let's see how it should be used for competition and record breaking, and then I'll give some assistance exercises to build up your poundage in the lift. The press behind neck is not recognized by our AAU, but for the benefit of bodybuilders who want to show others what they can do on the lift, here are the rules as recognized by the British Amateur Weightlifting Association - the governing athletic body for the sport in the United Kingdom.

"The barbell having been lifted clean to the shoulders, shall be raised overhead, then lowered behind the neck to rest across the shoulders. The heels may then be brought together or placed not wider than 15 and 3/4 inches on a plane parallel with the lifter's front. From this position, the bell shall be pressed to arms' length overhead. During the press from the shoulders the trunk and legs may be bent to any extent but the feet shall not be moved. At the conclusion of the lift, the trunk shall be erect and the arms and legs straight.
NB: The press must be an even one and the bar must not drop below the forehead as it comes over the head."
One of the greatest performers on the lift was the late Ronald Walker. 

His British record stands at 272.5 and I have seen him make a comfortable 275.

The greatest poundage I have ever heard of OR SEEN was the press behind neck by Doug Hepburn, the giant lifter from Vancouver, B.C. With absolutely no experience on the lift, Hepburn made 300 pounds.

Walker placed a great deal of importance on the lift because he felt it greatly helped his jerking and pressing power and was indeed responsible for his shoulder strength. There is no doubt that the exercise was in no small measure a great contributing factor to his magnificent deltoid power and development. Ron always recommended it to those who struggled vainly with the various leverage lifts and other refined forms of torture in an effort to build up their deltoids.

In this lift, as on all others, Ron Walker was the stylist. His method of performing the press behind neck is worthy of study. He gripped the bar a little wider than shoulder width, and when cleaning the weight, bent the legs deeply and pulled the bar HIGH, settling it DOWN to the back of the neck right away. The weight was pulled high as in the snatch and right over the head. Walker then placed his feet together with the heels touching and the toes turned out at an angle of 45 degrees. His reason for doing this was because he felt that it centralized the power. He was able to contract the entire thighs and buttocks and provide a firm base for the actual press. This style was also used by the German pre-war lifters, Rudy Ismayr and Josef Manger. Ismayr remarked that "a difficult press is more certain to be successful because of the solid foundation it rests on."  I have seen Ismayr contract his thighs so hard when pressing that they trembled with the effort.

Rudolf Ismayr

After the weight was settled across the shoulders, Walker would lock the thighs, drop his head slightly forward and then make one quick fierce drive. He would put everything he had in an all out effort to sent the weight well above the crown of the head. As soon as the weight cleared the top of his head, he would lean back slightly from the waist - if the weight was well within his power, and very deeply if approaching his limit. All the time, he kept the weight moving up, refusing to allow it to stop. The bar was controlled so that it went straight up and NOT FORWARD . . . this MUST be guarded against at all costs, otherwise the bar gets out of control. The lifter must always watch the center of the bar with his eyes.

The two most difficult parts of the competition press behind neck are the drop into the back bend and preventing the forward motion of the bar. Control these and develop the upward, backward and centering of the bar - keeping your eyes on the bar's center - and you will be well on the way to increasing your personal record by a good margin. Any poundage you clear your head with, you should carry to a successful conclusion. As soon as you have your arms locked, bring the body upright with no delay. Keep your eyes on the center of the bar until the referee has clapped his hands as the conclusion signal.

The above is the correct procedure for competition lifting. However, for use as a bodybuilding exercise or when in training, a strict military style is essential. This places more work on the deltoids in the first stages of the lift, and on the triceps when it is getting through the sticking point and to the lockout.


The muscles of the lower back are not affected so greatly because of the entire lack of back bend. The reps in the actual lift should be continuous and with no pause between each one. As soon as the bar touches the shoulders press it firmly overhead again until the required number of reps are performed. In this exercise the deltoids are firmly worked until the upper arms are level with the shoulders. From here on, the triceps and muscles of the upper back take to weight to arms' length. When training for competition or personal best poundages, the actual lift itself should be included in a schedule. When an effort is being made to increase the all-round shoulder power preparatory to training for competition, the following exercises will be very useful.

Assistance Exercises for the Press Behind Neck

Click Pics to ENLARGE

Illustrations by PETER POULTON

Exercise One - Seated Press Behind Neck.

All assistance schedules should contain at least one exercise that closely approximates the actual lift you seek to strengthen. The seated style of behind neck pressing, because of the absence of body motion, forces the lifter into a stricter manner of exercising. You can use a pair of squat racks to take the weight off. Take the weight off and across the back of the neck - just as if your were going to perform deep knee bends (or what will be called 'squats' when I'm gone and long forgotten). The bench should be directly behind you so that you can sit down on it right away and with as little step back as possible. From the seated position press the barbell strongly to arms' length. DON'T LOOK UP AT THE WEIGHT. DO LOOK STRAIGHT AHEAD. The legs and knees should be well apart so that good balance can be maintained. Looking up at the bar while seated will cause you to lose balance. Start off with a weight you can handle comfortably for 4 sets of 5 reps, working up gradually to 4 sets of 10 before increasing the weight.

Exercise Two - Bent Arm Lateral Presses.

Here is a wonderful movement for increasing the power of the deltoids - starting power - and the rotating muscles of the shoulder blades. It's an unusual exercise and you'll have to use a fairly light weight until you get used to the movement. Take a pair of light dumbbells and hold them overhead at arms' length. Bend the arms at the elbows until they form a rough circle with the hands almost touching. From here lower the dumbbells until the upper arms rest at the sides of the body - KEEP THE ELBOWS BENT ALL THE TIME AND THE KNUCKLES FACING DOWN. Return to starting position and repeat. Commence with a pair of dumbbells you can handle easily for 3 sets of 10 reps. Work up to 3 x 15 before increasing the weight. At all times during the exercise keep the arms in the position as required.

Exercise Three - Bench Deltoid Press.
It will be necessary to use a light weight until you are accustomed to this exercise movement. Lie face down on an exercise bench with the entire head above the end. Have a training partner place a light barbell across the back of the shoulders  - as if you were standing upright and performing a press behind neck - and take your normal pressing grip width. From this position press the weight to arms' length and straight ahead of you. DON'T let arms drop below bench or shoulder level and, when the weight is at arms' length, hold for a short count of two. Use a very light weight to commence for 2 sets of 8 reps, and work up very gradually to 2 x 12 before making a weight increase. Another version of this exercise is to lay on your back instead of tummy down. The effect is on the posterior deltoid rather than on the frontal or anterior deltoids.

Exercise Four - Lying Triceps Press.
Here is one more unorthodox yet highly result producing exercise. Lie on an exercise bench on your back. Hold a barbell at arms' length above the chest and with a fairly narrow grip. The palms of the hands should be FACING YOU. From this position lower the weight until the bar is an inch above the face or forehead. The upper arms do not move, only the forearms move. If possible enlist the aid of a training partner to stand astride you and hold your upper arms so that they cannot assist in the exercise. Start off with a weight you can easily handle for 3 sets of 10 reps, working up to 3 x 15 before increasing the weight. You can also use the other variation of the exercise - backs of the hands towards you.

Exercise Five - Circle Press.
The final assistance movement is perhaps the greatest all-round deltoid developer ever to be used. It featured in my exercise schedules many years ago and is once again assuming prominence in England. It is for the most part unknown here in the U.S., but I feel certain it will be immensely popular once body builders start to use it.

Take a barbell loaded up to a weight you will be able to use for 8 comfortable reps. Start off with the bar across the back of the shoulders. From here press it just OVER the head onto the front of the chest and IMMEDIATELY press it BACK AND OVER the head to the upper back again and at once return it to the chest. The weight is NOT PRESSED TO ARMS' LENGTH but merely describes a semicircle over the head from back to chest. Use 3 sets of 8 to start off with, working to 3 x 15 before increasing the weight.

All the above exercises could make an excellent deltoid and triceps specialization course and are themselves useful in building up extra shoulder power.   In addition to these movements, the exercise itself, the two hands clean and press behind neck, should also be practiced before using the assistance movements with a light weight, in order to get the proper form for competition.


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