Shoulder Training – Standing Overhead Press

The overhead press is one of the most important pushing exercises you can perform for upper body strength.

Muscles Used for this Exercise

Exercise Classification

Exercise Technique

  • Hand placement: Slightly outside shoulder width.
  • Forearm Alignment: Forearms should remain perpendicular to the floor throughout the lift. The bar should remain directly over the wrists and elbows.
  • Foot position: Use a comfortable, stable stance. My preference is just about shoulder width.
  • Posture: Your lower back is slightly arched and your chest up. Keep a slight bend in the knee, but don’t bend them during the lift to create momentum as you do in the push press. Hold your head and chin up at the start of the lift.
  • Start the press with the bar at your upper chest. Push your elbows forward and press the bar straight up.
  • As the bar passes your head, duck your head forward under the bar as you press it to lockout.
  • Think about squeezing the bar and pulling it apart as you press it up. As you do (or should do) with your bench press, and focus on locking your elbows to complete the lift.
  • Your feet should remain flat on the floor, and a keep a slight bend in your knees throughout each rep. Don’t use leg drive to create momentum for the press.
  • Lift your head back up and out of the way as you bring the bar back down to your chest to complete the rep.
  • As with the deadlift, there is no eccentric to your first rep, so it will be somewhat more difficult than subsequent reps.

Strength Standard

  • Your shoulders are a much smaller muscle group than your pecs, so the weight lifted will be less than what you bench press. As a rule of thumb, your overhead press should be in somewhere around half the weight you bench press and a ‘strong’ person should be able to press their body weight.
  • Your shoulders are a somewhat vulnerable joint, use a manageable weight for this exercise. Lifting too aggressively and increasing the bar weight too much too quickly will increase your risk of injury.

Common Mistakes

  • Using momentum: Don’t drive up with your legs to create leg drive on the overhead press – save this technique for the push press.
  • Leaning: Leaning back too far can put your lower back at risk, and can reduce the emphasis on your delts and increase the emphasis on your pecs.
  • Not using the full range of motion: The proper range of motion for this exercise is from your upper pecs up through lock out.

Exercise Safety

  • Use a proper weight for your strength level and skill with this exercise
  • Avoid excessive leaning to reduce strain on your lower back
  • If you do have lower back issues, consider using a seated version of an overhead press
  • If needed, use a weight belt when performing this exercise to stabilize your lower back



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