Shoulder Press – Standing Barbell

Shoulder Press: The Standing Barbell Shoulder Press is a full body, compound exercise. The shoulders and arms press the weight over head while the legs, lower back and abs provide balance.

  1. Stand with the bar resting on the front shoulders with hands next to shoulders.
  2. Press the bar over head, until it’s balanced over the shoulders and mid-foot
  3. Lock the elbows at the top, and shrug the shoulders to the ceiling.

To avoid shoulder pain, press with a narrow grip so you don’t flare your elbows. Press the bar over your head, lock your elbows and shrug your shoulders towards the ceiling. This engages your traps and prevents shoulder impingement.

  • Stance. Heels hip-width apart. Feet flat on the floor. Point them slightly out.
  • Grip. Full grip. Bar in the base of your palm, close to your wrists. Squeeze the bar.
  • Grip Width. Narrow grip just outside your shoulders.
  • Wrists. Straight line bar to wrist to elbow. Try not to let your wrists bend back or they’ll hurt.
  • Elbows. In front of the bar from the side view. About 45° in from the front. No flaring.
  • Forearms. Vertical to the floor from all angles: perpendicular from the side and front view.
  • Upper-arms. Not parallel to the floor. This isn’t a Front Squat. Your forearms must be vertical.
  • Shoulders. Hold the bar on your front shoulder muscles. Shrug your shoulders to the ceiling.
  • Chest. Lift your chest by arching your upper-back. Try to touch your chin with your upper-chest.
  • Upper-back. Arch your upper-back to lift your chest up. Do not squeeze your shoulder-blades.
  • Traps. Shrug your traps at the top. Lockout the bar by shrugging your shoulders to the ceiling.
  • Head. Keep your head neutral. Look forward. Don’t look at the ceiling or the bar while you press.
  • Lower Back. Keep your lower back neutral. Don’t over-arch and hyper-extend your lower spine.
  • Torso. Lean slightly back at the bottom. Move forward at the top. Don’t over-arch your lower back.
  • Way Up. Press the bar in a vertical line. Stay close to the bar by moving your torso forward at the top.
  • Lockout. Hold the bar over your shoulders. Shrug your shoulders to the ceiling. Lock your elbows.
  • Way Down. Lower the bar to your shoulders. Lower it under control but not slow. No elbow flaring.
  • Breathing. Inhale at the bottom before you press. Hold your breath at the top. Exhale at the bottom.
  • Bar Path. Press the bar in a vertical line from your shoulders over your head, above your shoulders.
  • Between Reps. Exhale, raise your chest, put your forearms vertical, take a big breath, press again.

Muscles Worked

The Overhead Press works your whole body. Your shoulders and arms are the prime movers to press the weight over head. But everything between the floor and your shoulders must stay tight to balance you and the bar. This makes the Overhead Press a full body exercise that works several muscles at the same time with heavy weights.

  • Shoulders. You must raise your upper-arms to lift the bar when you Overhead Press. This works your shoulder muscles: your front, side and back deltoid. It develops these three muscle heads evenly with heavy weights.
  • Arms. You must straighten your elbows to press the weight overhead. This works the triceps. Your forearm muscles also work to hold the bar.
  • Rotator Cuff. Balancing bar overhead works the small muscles that cover you shoulder-blades: surpraspinatusinfraspinatusteres minor and subscapularis. These rotator cuff muscles stabilize your shoulders. Strengthening them protects your shoulders.
  • Trapezius. You must shrug your shoulders at the top of each rep to avoid shoulder impingement. This tilts your shoulder-blade to the side. It creates space for your rotator cuff tendons. Shrugging works your trapezius muscles on the side of your neck.
  • Abs. Your core muscles stabilize your body while your shoulders and arms press the weight overhead. They keep you from collapsing under the bar. This strengthens your abdominal muscles, obliques and lower back.
  • Legs. Your legs balance your body while your shoulders and arms press. This works your hips, thighs, calves and ankles.

Common Mistakes

Excess Arching

Keep the lower back in neutral spine when you Standing Barbell Shoulder Press. Try not to lean back when pressing the weight. Extreme arching of the lower spine (hyper-extension) squeezes the spinal discs from the back. Note that you should lean back when you Overhead Press. This moves your head out of the way of the bar. It allows you to press in a vertical line which is more effective. But this lean back must come from your hips. Keep your lower back neutral while moving your hips forward.

Bent Wrists

Overhead Pressing with bent wrists hurts and is ineffective for lifting big weights. The goal is to hold the bar close to your wrists, on top of your forearm bones. This stops the bar from hurting your wrists by stretching them beyond their normal range of motion. It also makes the weight easier to press because your vertical forearms can press directly into the bar.

Elbows Back

Some Overhead Press with their elbows behind the bar. Move your elbows forward. They should be slightly in front of the bar so your forearms are vertical.

Learn more about resistance training the  Cert 3 in FitnessCert 4 in Fitness,and Diploma of Fitness Courses.