Popularised by the ‘Iron Guru’, Vince Gironda, the Gironda Neck Press (or ‘Guillotine Press’) is unlikely to be an exercise you see every day on the gym floor.
Dangerous if executed improperly, the neck press has sadly evaded most gym goers of the 21st century owing to the repetition of bland training programmes and the dogmatic belief that the bench press is the be all and end all of chest development.
Nevertheless for those strange few, the neck press is one of the most effective means of building the chest muscles in an effective and somewhat tortuous manner!
So what is the ‘Neck Press’ and why should you care?
The Neck Press
Responding to fan’s comments at the height of his fame, Gironda described the Neck Press as follows
This exercise can be done with either a barbell or on the Smith machine. I prefer the machine because you don’t have to worry about balancing the bar and you can really focus your attention on the pecs.
Lie back on the bench. Cross your legs and lift them off the bench and draw them back over your stomach.
This position ensures perfect form and balance. This also ensures you cannot arch as your back must remain flat on the bench. This increases the range of motion of the bar.
Take a wide grip on the bar and the elbows and upper arm should be directly under or slightly back of the barbell. Lower the bar to where your neck and upper chest meets – not to the nipple line as you would with regular bench presses.
Press up to within an inch of lockout and then lower and repeat.
Try for maximum stretch as you lower the bar and tense the pecs hard at the top, trying for a hard contraction.
Conscientious form was thus the name of the game for Gironda. Something which all users of the Neck Press would do well to keep in mind. For those of you seeking a visual representation, Lee Hayward gives a good tutorial on the exercise.
Why should you care about the Neck Press?
Well aside from the fact that both Larry Scott and Reg Park utilised the Neck Press throughout the course of their careers, recent evidence has shown that the Neck Press may be the most effective means of stimulating the pectorals.
Writing for T-Nation in 2011, the ‘Glute Guy’ Bret Contreras compared 20 different chest exercises to see which ones best stimulated the lower, middle and upper portions of the pectoralis major muscle of the chest. His conclusion? That there is no doubt that the guillotine press is superior for pectoral activation.
So there has to be something in it right?
As Contreras mentioned in the same article, the Neck Press has the potential to be damaging for the shoulder joints owing primarily to the strain it places on the rotator cuff and its neighbours. So what steps can you take to ensure the lift is safe?
In the first instance, if you’re shoulders are in any way compromised forget about this exercise. Don’t try it, don’t think about it…in fact, it’s best to stop reading now.
For those with slightly sturdier shoulder joints, Gironda had this advice
Use a weight that is 50 percent of your maximum on the first set of 10 reps. The second set use a weight that is 75 percent of your maximum for eight reps. The third set use a weight that is 100 percent of your maximum for 6 reps. Reduce the weight the fourth set and pump out 15 reps to flush the area with blood. Rest less than 45 seconds between each set.
More practically, I’m inclined to agree with Hayward’s advice to start with an empty bar and work your way up from there as until you’ve tried the Neck Press, you really can’t understand how much strain it places on your chest.
Finally, other lifters have noted that stopping once the elbows are parallel with your chest can help prevent unnecessary injury.
So if you’re willing and able to get the best chest pump of your life, I cannot recommend this lift highly enough. Tried it already? Let us know in the comments!