The barbell shoulder press is one of the most popular exercises to strengthen muscles. It is also one of the most commonly-seen weight exercises done in movies (second only to curls). It is an effective way to work your shoulder muscles if you do it correctly. Let’s look at how to barbell shoulder press the right way, the muscles it works, and some pro tips and techniques.
The barbell shoulder press targets your shoulders, back, and core. You should stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and lift the barbell overhead from the front of your shoulders until your arms lock. Then return the barbell to the first position using complete muscle control, and repeat.
Incorrectly performing a barbell press could lead to severe shoulder and back injuries.
It’s essential to follow the guidelines carefully and compensate with other methods if you have pre-existing injuries.
Let’s go through a detailed step-by-step explanation of the correct way to do a barbell press and the different variations you may prefer to implement in your exercise routine. Also, check out our posts on Best Shoulder Workouts to Get Bigger Delts and How To Build Bigger Traps And Grow Your Shoulders Fast.
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- 1 The Basic Barbell Shoulder Press
- 2 Variations on the Barbell Shoulder Press
- 3 Techniques and Tips
- 4 Why Is the Barbell Shoulder Press So Effective?
- 5 Conclusion
The Basic Barbell Shoulder Press
It’s crucial to follow all of these steps very carefully for your safety, especially if you’re exercising with heavier weights:
- Use a weight rack and set it to your shoulder level. A spotter will do fine if you don’t have a weight rack available. Ensure the rack is on the right level to reach the barbell without stretching far up or down.
- Stand up straight, with your knees and hips fully extended but not locked and your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hold the barbell tightly in front of your shoulders, with your elbows extending forward and your hands at your shoulders. We call this the starting position.
- Exhale while you squeeze your shoulder blades together and tighten your core while lifting the barbell overhead.
- Lift until your arms are fully extended and locked. Your arms should be close to your head as if framing your face.
- Inhale while you use your back muscles to control the barbell and lower it back to the starting position.
- Repeat the steps for the appropriate number of reps.
You can see an excellent video of Dr. Jim Stoppani demonstrating this exercise below.
See our top three favorite barbells below if you wish to get one.
Variations on the Barbell Shoulder Press
The barbell shoulder press has evolved significantly over the years as people adapted the exercise for their purposes.
The most popular variations are:
- The Dumbbell Shoulder Press
- The Military Press
- The Arnold Press
The Dumbbell Shoulder Press
This exercise is nearly identical to the barbell shoulder press, except that you use dumbbells and hold your hands slightly further than shoulder-width apart.
It is popular due to the easy availability of dumbbells.
Watch a video demonstration on how to do it below.
See our top three favorite dumbells below if you wish to get one.
The Military Press
The military press is also nearly identical and follows the same basic steps.
The main difference is the starting position since your feet must be slightly closer than shoulder width.
This messes with your equilibrium and forces you to actively engage your core muscles.
See what the Military Press should look like below.
The Arnold Press
Developed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Arnold Press does more for the anterior deltoids than other overhead presses.
The Arnold Press is done with dumbbells, and the process is quite different from the standard barbell shoulder press.
You start with each hand holding a dumbbell and your palms facing you at shoulder height.
As you lift the dumbbells, you also open your arms to turn your palms away from you. You shouldn’t lock your elbows with this variation.
The Arnold Press should look like this.
Techniques and Tips
Whether because of injury, because you want a better workout, or maybe just some variation, there are some great tips and techniques you can use to adjust the barbell shoulder press to better suit your needs.
Use the Landmine Press if You Have a Prior Injury
If you cannot push directly upward due to a prior injury in your arms, shoulder, or back, you can quickly adapt the barbell shoulder press into the landmine press, ensuring that you still get your workout.
To do a landmine press, follow these steps:
- Set the barbell at an angle so that one end stands on the floor. Be sure to weigh down the end on the floor with some weights or a sandbag to keep it stable and move as little as possible.
- Now lift the other end, with weights included. You should stand at a slight incline, leaning in a little bit towards the end of the barbell that you’re holding up, with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Push the end of the barbell that you’re holding out as far as you can, extending your arms completely. This will lift the barbell upwards but not overhead.
- Hold it there for a second, two max, then carefully lower the barbell back to your chest height.
- Ensure that you tighten your core and your glutes throughout this exercise.
Here’s an excellent demonstration of the landmine press.
Use the Push Press to Lift More Weight
If you’re serious about more strength in your shoulders, back, and core, you may want to add more weight to the barbell.
Once you do this, experts recommend switching to the push press, which utilizes your lower body to activate momentum in your favor.
- Start with the barbell on the floor, feet shoulder-width apart, and your knees slightly bent.
- Grab the barbell with your palms facing inward and straighten your knees, lifting the barbell to hip height.
- Without moving your hands, lift the barbell to chest height.
- Turn your palms to face outward, then extend your arms overhead to complete the overhead press while bending your knees slightly to a bit of bounce to help you with the press.
- Return the barbell to chest height, bending your knees slightly to add bounce.
- Repeat steps four and five for the number of reps you must do.
- After completing the final rep, return your barbell to the floor by going back through the steps in reverse.
You can see a demonstration of the Push Press below.
Further Tips on How To Barbell Shoulder Press
Here are some general tips for doing any variation of the barbell shoulder press correctly:
- Always utilize your core. The core muscles are some of the most important muscles in your daily routine and are essential to the correct barbell shoulder press. You should tighten your core with each lift, hold, and return movement. This will ensure stability and avoid injuries to the rest of your body.
- Don’t overload your barbell, especially when you’re just beginning. Many young people want to impress their friends and gym buddies with what they can do, which usually ends in disaster. You don’t want to impress them with how quickly you can get to a hospital. Start slow; start light and work your way up. No one should shame you for using lighter weights.
- Don’t flare your elbows. This usually happens because of a grip that’s too wide. Ideally, your hands should be aligned just outside your shoulders, which is much closer than most people.
- Keep your barbell path straight. Don’t let the path curve on its way up. The most effective barbell shoulder press takes the shortest path up a straight vertical line.
See more tips in our posts How Often Should You Train Shoulders in a Week and How to Split Shoulder Workouts Between Push and Pull Days.
Why Is the Barbell Shoulder Press So Effective?
The barbell shoulder press is an excellent workout.
Though it focuses mainly on the shoulders, it works for many other muscle groups, so you get a much more complete workout than just the shoulders.
Here are some of the muscle groups it activates and some other advantages:
- It primarily works the anterior deltoid muscles or the front part of your shoulders. The deltoid muscles receive the most benefit from the barbell shoulder press.
- You can also use it to exercise the other deltoids extensively.
- The triceps also get a lot of attention during this workout while extending the barbell.
- The trapezius muscles of the upper shoulder, neck, and spine are exercised extensively and significantly while lowering the barbell since you have to pull in your shoulder blades.
- The pectoral muscles are engaged when lifting and lowering the barbell, which also exercises them.
- You should engage your core during both parts of the exercise, which means you get a good workout for your core muscles.
- Barbell shoulder presses also improve trunk and spine movement in females.
- Your overall posture should improve if you perform this exercise regularly. Improved posture means fewer aches and pains, especially in your back, shoulders, and neck.
- The added strength in your back and shoulders will help you to lift heavy items in everyday life.
Learn more in our article, The Ultimate Shoulder and Triceps Workout for Upper-Body Strength.
The barbell shoulder press is an effective exercise to add to your routine and one of the most potentially dangerous.
We explained how to barbell shoulder press the right way in this post.
You could severely injure your arms, shoulders, wrists, or back if you don’t do it correctly, not to mention the risk of weights hitting your head.
If you follow these steps and tips, your exercise should be effective and show excellent results in no time!
Last update on 2023-09-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API