You can live a strong, fit, and happy life without doing pull-downs behind the neck. And since your rotator cuff doesn’t talk (there’s no mobile app for that yet), I’m telling you,
“Just Don’t Do It!”
I wouldn’t give you such a serious ultimatum without good reason, so let’s get to it.
By seeing exactly what the rotator cuff is, and what it does, you can better understand the danger inherent in various movements; especially when they involve excessive weight or speed.
Let’s get started…
Take another look at the bones of the shoulder pictured above. What’s your first impression?
It looks almost like some of the of the bones are virtually free-floating, doesn’t it? It’s this unique arrangement of the shoulder’s components that allows for the extended range of motion it affords us, from the butterfly stroke to the fast ball.
In the above picture showing the first layer of muscle, notice the natural forward orientation of the shoulders, along with the muscles connecting the shoulder blade to the top of the arm. You can see that these muscles are critical in keeping the arm in place. They are also involved in the rotating of the arm. These muscles attaching the shoulder blade to the top of the arm (forming the rotator cuff) are best worked by pulling motions in front of the torso–moving in towards the body center (ie close grip). Doing military presses or pull-downs behind the neck puts an awkward torque on these tendons (rotator cuff) attaching the muscles to the arm.
Your first indication of danger from ‘behind the neck’ pull-downs, or ‘behind the neck’ military presses is the uncomfortable feeling.
It’s your body warning you to be careful.
Besides, and more importantly, there is no reason to risk injury using behind the neck movements when close grip seated pull-downs to the chest will accomplish the same or better results without the unnatural torque to the shoulder tendons. Preferring the pull-down to the front, I like to change the angle of the exercise by leaning back as I begin the movement toward the chest (using the triangle close grip). The more you lean back, the more the focus shifts to mid-upper back. One of my favorites!
(A great close-up of the primary elements in the rotation and stability of the arm in the shoulder. The deltoid muscle covers this and also inserts in the upper end of the arm bone to produce rotation).
The photo below includes the final layer of muscle and, as you can well see, it’s these muscles (traps, lats, and delts) that account for the size and strength of the back. Focus your back training on the movements that utilize your body’s natural range of motion. When I see guys (especially Seniors) doing behind the neck pull-downs, jerking the weight down at the start, it makes me cringe.
Pardon the Back,
The Senior Health and Fitness Blog by Steven Siemons is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.