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How to do the Overhead Press the Right Way

How to do the Overhead Press the Right Way
Chris Appleton
Author & Editor3 years ago
View Chris Appleton's profile
Also known as the Shoulder Press, the Overhead Press is one of the best exercises and one of the main compound movements within the lifting world. It is ideal for building strength and muscle in your shoulders. The Overhead Press targets mainly your deltoids but also uses supporting muscles such as the Triceps, Traps, Forearms and your Core. This is due to the stabilization of the body during the movements.  To avoid potential injury, it’s important to get the technique right.

Before You Begin

There are a number of supporting movements that will benefit your Overhead Press by building the strength of the muscles that make up the deltoids of which there are three.  The medial, posterior and lateral deltoid.Front raises, lateral raises or rear delt flyes are all movements that will target each muscle and help support strength.  You could also throw in an upright row to help the delts and traps in order to support the movement.We would recommend starting with warm up movements to aid the rotator cuff and increase flexibility in the shoulders.

Performing the overhead press

Barbell or dumbbells?

Dumbbells offer a wider range of motion during the move but the weight lifted may be lighter as you are isolating each arm.The barbell is one of the major compound lifts and will offer the ability to add more weight to it.


Selecting the right weight

Pick a rep range suitable for your training and offer a 2-4 rep swing so for example, 8-12 reps.  If you are failing before 8, it is too heavy.  If you are hitting above 12, it is too light.


Should you sit or stand?

The shoulder press can be done while in a standing or seated position.  Being seated offers more support for the body whereas standing requires more stability support from the legs and core.  Standing does have more benefits however if you need the support after an injury or due to weaker areas, the seated version will be more beneficial.


  1. Pick the barbell off the rack in the front rack position.
  2. Hold the bar with a 90°angle at your elbow.
  3. Embrace your core and back to support the movement.
  4. Exhale and press upwards from this position until the barbell ends up back at the starting point.
  5. Control the barbell down on the eccentric portion of the movement in front of you until it reaches just above your collarbone.
  6. Do not lock out the elbow


  1. Sit on a bench with the seat support up with a pair of dumbbells by your feet.
  2. A partner can help place the dumbbells in position above your head, or you can pick the dumbbells up off the floor by deadlifting them onto your knees and then bring them up to your start-pressing position by using your knees to kick them up.
  3. Start from the top of the movement with your arms straight but don’t lock your elbows out.
  4. Control the weight down until your arm breaks parallel with the ground (the dumbbells should be in line with your head on either side).
  5. Pause for a second at the bottom of the movement and press upwards to perform the concentric contraction.
  6. Once you reach the top of the movement continue to perform the rest of the reps within the set.
  • The dumbbells shouldn’t touch at the top of the movement.
  • You should also remember not to lock out your elbows.
  • Try creating a slight arch in your lower back and bringing your chest up and out to aid your range of motion.


Complete your shoulder workout here:

Common mistakes and how to fix them

Warm Up

Build to your working sets with some lighter lifts and loosen the rotator cuffs to aid mobility.  Going straight in can bring complications especially if you are in a job that is limited movement.

Hyperextending the wrists

Wrists and palm will need to be parallel with your forearm.  This will offer maximum support rather than your wrists sitting back taking all the weight.

Keep the elbows in

Keep the elbows in to your side to allow better strength and mobility.Arching the backAvoid putting unnecessary load on your lower back with weight overhead.  Keep the chest out and back straight with your core engaged.

Muscles Worked


The three heads that make up your shoulder.  Performing this movement will hit all three when done correctly with more focus on the Medial and Lateral heads.  Some rear flies will add support for the Posterior head though.


As with any pushing movement, the likelihood is that the triceps will support in the lift therefore, extra strength and mass can be added too.


Keeping your core engaged, including your glutes, will help stabilise the movement but as they are being worked, will help increase strength slightly in these areas.


Take Home Message

When this move is done correctly, this movement will help improve a number of areas in your body including your shoulders, trapezius, rotator cuff, arms, legs, core.As one of the main compound lifts, this will utilize all the above areas as support to ensure the lift is done correctly.  To see progress, ensure you are using the correct technique and using the progressive overload philosophy.



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Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you're concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.

Chris Appleton
Author & Editor
View Chris Appleton's profile
Chris is an editor and a level 3 qualified Personal Trainer, with a BA honours degree in Sports Coaching and Development, and a level 3 qualification in Sports Nutrition. He has experience providing fitness classes and programs for beginners and advanced levels of clients and sports athletes. Chris is also a qualified football coach, delivering high-level goalkeeping and fitness training at a semi-professional level, with nutritional advice to help maintain optimal performance. His experience in the sports and fitness industry spans 15 years and is continuously looking to improve. In his spare time, Chris likes to dedicate it to his family while training in the gym.