Behind-the-neck presses, a previous rarity in strongman training, involve loading a barbell with numerous weight plates, sitting it on one’s traps as though performing a back squat, but instead pressing the bar overhead. That was the training agenda for four-time WSM champion Brian Shaw and Dinnie Stone world record holder Kevin Faires on April 4, 2022.
Shaw and Faires trained together for a shoulder session captured on video for Shaw’s YouTube channel. The strongmen performed increasingly heavy sets until hauling a top rep of 425 pounds overhead. Check it out below:
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Shaw has been on a streak of training sessions with other elite strongmen, many of whom he will compete against in Sacramento. Prior to this session with Faires, Shaw trained deadlifts with Gabriel Peña and high-volume deadlifts with Jerry Pritchett.
The session opens with what appears to be 135-pound strict behind-the-neck presses by Faires followed up by a few reps with a small jerk. As the weight increases, generating force from the legs becomes increasingly important. Shaw matched Faires’ output. Both men sported elbow sleeves, lifting belts, and had to acclimate to the necessary shoulder mobility to support the barbell behind the neck on the eccentric portion of the lift.
It’s going to take a minute to feel the form out.
Sets progressively increased each set. The second set increased by 90 pounds (45-pound plates added to each weight sleeve) from the first, and the third set increased by 50 pounds from the second. Shaw adopted the use of wrist wraps by the third set. By the fourth set, both strongmen moved to single reps and dropped the barbell onto blocks between lifts.
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At the conclusion of their session, Faires and Shaw agreed that behind-the-neck press is a “very technical lift.” While there are other technically dominant lifts like the heavy dumbbell that one is unlikely to be able to brute force with success, the behind-the-neck press is not a competition event in strongman contests.
There are many overhead events in strongman, such as the log lift and the Viking press, but those don’t require quite as much shoulder mobility. The log lift’s emphasis is on the front delts and the Viking press is most typically done with a neutral grip.
An Olympic Lift in Strongman?
Although behind-the-neck pressing is a rarity in strongman events, Olympic lifters perform all manner of overhead presses with the bar behind their head in the gym. If Faires, Shaw, and other strongmen, like Trey Mitchell, who pressed 405 pounds for three recently, are all making use of this weightlifting accessory staple, it may mean they expect to be tested on something similar in competition.
That said, what goes into a good behind-the-neck press?
To get a bar overhead from behind your head, you typically need more shoulder mobility than is required for a standard anterior press. In particular, your scapular internal rotation needs to be on point — something that many larger athletes sometimes struggle with.
To get around this, you can see Shaw and Faires working with a snatch grip for most of their presses, grabbing the bar almost by the collars. The purpose of such a wide grip is twofold.
First, it lessens the mobility demand at the shoulder and allows a larger athlete to comfortably grasp the bar. Secondly, a wider grip means a shorter range of motion — you simply don’t need to drive the barbell as high to lock out your arms.
Since Olympic lifters spend so much of their time in the gym working their overhead lifts with a snatch grip, they’re able to build up a lot of tolerance and strength to the extreme pressures placed on the wrists and elbows.
Both Shaw and Faires are no slouches about using every ounce of their power output when they train. For an exercise like the snatch-grip push press, a huge amount of leg drive is critical.
Not only does incorporating some momentum from your legs allow you to lift heavier weights from behind the neck, it also makes the lift a bit safer to perform, especially if you’re not used to pressing from that position.
Getting the barbell off your traps and past your head relies mostly on the smaller muscles of your upper back. If you can add some power from your lower body into the mix, it makes the hardest portion of the lift much easier and allows you to focus mainly on locking out your elbows.
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2022 World’s Strongest Man
Both Shaw and Faires are confirmed for the 2022 WSM contest as two of the 30 competitors. The full roster is as follows:
- Rauno Heinla (Estonia)
- Pavlo Kordiyaka (Ukraine)
- Rob Kearney (USA)
- Gabriel Peña (Mexico)
- Kelvin de Ruiter (Netherlands)
- Kim Ujarak (Greenland)
- Maxime Boudreault (Canada)
- Mark Felix (UK)
- Pa O’Dwyer (Ireland)
- Shane Flowers (UK)
- Jean-Stephen Coraboeuf (Australia)
- Bobby Thompson (USA)
- Aivars Smaukstelis (Latvia)
- Adam Bishop (UK)
- Evan Singleton (USA)
- Eythor Ingolfsson Melsted (Iceland)
- Konstantine Janashia (Georgia)
- Trey Mitchell (USA)
- Mika Törrö (Finland)
- Peiman Maheripourehir (Iran)
- Luke Stoltman (UK)
- Brian Shaw (USA)
- Tom Stoltman (UK) — Reigning WSM Champion
- Gabriel Rheaume (Canada)
- Martins Licis (USA)
- Gavin Bilton (UK)
- Oleksii Novikov (Ukraine)
- Mateusz Kieliszkowski (Poland)
- Kevin Faires (USA)
- Nedžmin Ambešković (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Shaw will attempt to improve upon his runner-up finish from the 2021 WSM contest to claim a record-tying fifth WSM title — Mariusz Pudzianowski of Poland is the only man in history to accomplish that feat.
Faires will aim to advance past the Qualifying stage to the Finals in 2022. He went to war in a Stone-Off against 2021 Europe’s Strongest Man Luke Stoltman at the 2021 WSM contest but fell short due to having the initiative to lift first (he and Stoltman lifted the same number of stones, but Faires was eliminated for failing a lift first).
Featured image: @kf_strongman on Instagram