The shoulder press, often also called overhead press or front press, is one of the complex basic exercises on which effective strength training should be based. It doesn’t matter whether you build muscle mass , lose weight and define your muscles , or just get fit . These complex and functional exercises are always a good basis for your training.
The shoulder press is an often underestimated one of these exercises. Among the “push exercises” it is often overshadowed by the much more popular bench press. The overhead press is in no way inferior to the bench press in terms of complexity and functionality. It’s not because of the effectiveness of the shoulder press, but most likely because the bench press allows you to move more weight. It’s also just more popular to focus on a strong chest. Strong shoulders are also a central part of the figure that most exercisers strive for.
Now the shoulder press (especially) with the barbell is not a particularly easy exercise. In addition, the musculoskeletal system of the shoulder is relatively prone to injuries and signs of wear and tear. Some of these appear quickly, others only after years of poor training. Because of this, many longtime strength and bodybuilding athletes experience shoulder problems at some point.
If you want to benefit from the advantages of shoulder presses and minimize the risk of injuring yourself, then be sure to read this article through to the end. In it you will find out among other things:
After reading this, you should know enough about it to use the overhead press with a clear conscience, understand the benefits and benefit from it in your training.
Why shoulder presses should be part of your training plan
As mentioned before, the overhead press is one of the complex basic exercises and therefore one of the basics of good strength training. In addition to the bench press and the barbell row , it is one of three exercises from this group that focus on the muscle chains of the upper body. There are some good reasons for this, of which I would like to introduce you to the three most important from my point of view.
Reason 1: Over the shoulder press is very functional
The overhead press, next to the deadlift, is probably the most functional basic exercise of all. Lifting a mass over the head is an absolutely natural movement that occurs constantly in daily life and, above all, has historically occurred constantly. With the shoulder press, a sequence of movements is simulated and trained that corresponds to a natural movement of your body.
Reason 2: Overhead press contributes to a healthy and attractive body shape and posture
The overhead press is performed while standing. A stable and healthy posture is important in order to safely move a lot of weight. This translates directly into a stimulation of the muscles, which is required for such a healthy posture. This in turn leads to improved posture in all situations. In addition, this exercise also helps you get strong, broad shoulders. This is an essential part of the body shape that most men want.
Reason 3: When shoulder presses, a large part of the muscles is used
The shoulder press with the barbell is probably the barbell exercise with the greatest muscle activation for your upper body muscles. For example, while you are only lying on a bench when you bench press, which gives you additional stability, when you press overhead you have to work a lot more muscles to stabilize you and the weight above your head.
Which muscles do you train when you press overhead
Shoulder press is one of the complex basic exercises. This means that a large number of muscles are involved in the movement. Your shoulder muscles and your triceps are primarily responsible for overcoming the weight.
For those who want to know more about it, the following muscles are involved in the movement:
- Shoulder muscles – musculus deltoideus
- Triceps – triceps brachii muscle
- Trapezius muscle – trapezius muscle
- Upper pectoralis major – musculuas pectoralis major
- Anterior sawtooth muscle – serratus anterior muscle
In addition, other muscles support and stabilize the movement.
As you can see, there are a lot of muscles that are required in the classic front press. Do not underestimate this exercise.
Shoulder press technique – what you should pay attention to
Many exercisers experience discomfort or even pain in the shoulder, elbow, wrist or lower back when doing shoulder presses. All of these things are in most cases the result of poor technique.
As a complex basic exercise, the shoulder press is not a very simple exercise in which a few basic mistakes are often made. But don’t worry: good overhead press technique is not extremely difficult to learn if you follow a few basic rules. Basically there are three things that you should definitely pay attention to.
Shoulder press technique Rule 1: Steady stance
Stability and a controlled execution are of great importance for all basic exercises. The overhead press has a special place here. The exercise is very tempting to gain momentum and that makes the exercise significantly less effective for the shoulders. At the same time, this increases the risk of injury.
When doing this, make sure to keep your legs straight all the time and keep your core under tension. So you won’t even be tempted to get some momentum out of this and help out. For this reason the exercise is sometimes called the strict press.
Note: The shoulder press does not get any momentum out of the legs. Concentrate on training your upper body. We’re not into Olympic weightlifting here, after all.
Overhead press execution, rule 2: Elbows under the dumbbell
Reach a little wider than shoulder width for maximum shoulder activation and make sure that your elbows are always vertical under the dumbbell during the entire movement. You will get repaid sooner or later in the form of problems with your elbows or wrists.
The correct amplitude of movement is only as far as you can. This is physiologically individual and also depends on your reach. Do not let yourself be persuaded that your range of motion is not wide enough if you can no longer hold your elbows vertically under the bar.
Shoulder press technique Rule 3: Vertical barbell path
The path of the dumbbell is vertical up and down. The dumbbell path is not inclined and in no way runs in the form of a curve. It’s a vertical line.
So that this can work without getting stuck with the dumbbell on your head and hurting yourself, you should avoid the movement of the dumbbell with your head. This feels a bit strange at first and takes some practice. If you master it, you will be able to move a lot more weight safely and safely.
Bonus tip: Have your execution checked regularly and readjust
As always, the same applies to shoulder presses: quality and safety through regular checks. If you have a training partner, let him pay attention to your technique over and over again. Let him control the observance of the aforementioned rules and in turn control his execution. It is best to always have him make a video of your technique. So you can see your execution again directly yourself. I also make videos like this regularly with my phone camera. In this way you help each other to get better and better and to maintain a clean technique that you have learned.
You may think that you don’t need that once you’ve learned a clean technique, but believe me, even if you really pay attention to your own execution, you can often see things from the outside that you would have overlooked yourself. In addition, mistakes often slip in that you would otherwise not notice for a long time. This gives you the chance to take countermeasures early on. That is also one of the reasons why I keep making video recordings, even when training alone.
If you keep these things in mind, you will be making progress in no time and will quickly be better at shoulder presses than most people who train in German fitness studios. Above all, however, you will train your shoulders safely and healthily.
Overhead press variations
You may be interested in alternative exercises. The reasons for this can be various. Maybe you don’t have a barbell in your home gym (yet). Perhaps you want an easier and safer alternative to get started. However, you may just want to add a little variety to your training plan. All understandable reasons, whereby I consider the shoulder press to be an exercise that can be learned quickly. Once learned and properly executed, it is very safe, functional and therefore also healthy.
What exercises can you do as alternatives to the barbell overhead press? Here I want to introduce you to four obvious alternatives and say a few words about them.
Shoulder press with dumbbells (or a kettlebell)
Probably the most obvious alternative and probably the most sensible variant. In fact, it can even make sense to start with dumbbells. Some good trainers advise learning the movement with dumbbells first and then transferring it to the barbell. The movement is a little different because here the wrists can rotate a little with the movement, which corresponds to the natural movement pattern.
Overhead press with resistance bands
As you may know, I’m a big fan of training with Thera bands or other resistance bands. Before I got dumbbells for my home gym, I already had an assortment of resistance bands. The main reason for this is that they are wonderful to use on the go. When I pack my sling trainer and a few such straps in my suitcase, I always have a solid mobile gym with me.
The advantage and disadvantage of the variant with such belts is the load curve. The more the tape is stretched, the greater the resistance. This means that the muscles are used a little differently. As a supplement, I think it’s a good way to work out the upper trapezius a little more. However, when I have the opportunity to train with weights at home, I base my shoulder training on it.
Seated shoulder press
Regardless of whether you do your shoulder press with dumbbells or a barbell (or a couple of kettlebells), you always shorten the kinetic chain. The part of your body that is involved in the movement is reduced and the exercise becomes less functional. In addition, the mobility of your shoulder during movement is not optimally possible if you lean against a backrest.
You are probably able to move a little more weight this way, also because you can also involve the pectoral muscles more. All of this may be good for your ego, but it is not good for the desired training effect and especially not for your shoulders. For this reason, I no longer do shoulder presses while sitting.
Overhead press on the machine
I cannot recommend this variant. Here you have the disadvantages of shoulder presses while sitting and also others because the path of the lever arm is predetermined. This usually does not correspond to the natural movement pattern. In principle, this is almost an isolation exercise and among the Isolation exercises certainly not the ones I would write in a training plan first.
From my point of view, these were the most important alternatives to the shoulder press. If you are interested in writing about one or more of this or another exercise in more detail, please write me a comment or send me a message to my Facebook account or my Instagram profile on. You can of course also write to me there if you have any other questions, requests or suggestions for an article here on the blog.
Your conclusion on the shoulder press
I hope after reading this article you now know the numerous advantages of the overhead press and use it regularly in your training in the future. You should now know what you should pay attention to in order to do it healthily and safely and to achieve the success you want.
If you would like to find out more about the correct execution of these and other basic exercises, I can recommend the book Starting strenght by Marc Rippetoe *. From this book I learned a lot about performing and using the basic exercises. I also attended some coaching seminars, which is why I no longer see everything 100% as he does. However, I still consider the book valuable basic reading.
Otherwise there are other basic exercises, the cross lift , the squat , the bench press and the barbell row also similar articles here on my blog, in which I also focused on the absolute basics.
If you don’t waste time and really want to get started with building muscle, I can also read my book Muscle Building Basics recommend. In it you will find out everything that is really important if you want to build muscles. It is the first real “no bullshit” guide for effective muscle building. Depending on the package, there are also some tried and tested muscle building training plans from which you can choose the one that suits you.
Good luck with your training!