How to do a Shoulder Press

How to do a Shoulder Press

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The proper way to start an overhead press is standing with the bar on your shoulders. Push the bar up and over your head until your elbows are locked. Do not use your legs make sure to keep them straight. Then lower the bar to your shoulders and repeat.

The overhead press is a full body exercise. Your shoulders and arms are what push the weight up and over your head. Your legs, lower back and abs is what helps you maintain your balance. The overhead press is one of the best exercises to build strong and muscular shoulders and to gain bigger arms. To avoid shoulder pain you want to overhead press with a narrow grip to ensure you don’t flare your elbows. Then you want to shrug your shoulders at the top. Push the bar up and over your head, lock your elbows and shrug your shoulders upwards towards the ceiling. This is what engages your traps and prevents shoulder injury. You’ll definitely struggle to add weight more than you would on other exercises. The poorer your form is the more you will struggle with this exercise. Which is why I emphasize on proper form so much with this exercise.

You can overhead press inside your power rack if it’s tall enough for you. If it’s too low you can set the bar in the outside uprights of your power rack and then unrack it. If your power rack does not have outside uprights, or you simply do not have a power rack, pull the bar from the floor on to your shoulders, which is called power clean. Once the bar is on your shoulders, you can follow these simple STEPS to overhead press. Again with proper form…

  1. Put the bar on your front shoulders. With a narrow grip, keep your wrists straight and your forearms vertical. You want to make sure to lock your knees and hips.
  2. Raise your chest towards the ceiling by arching your upper-back. Try to touch your chin with the upper part of your chest.
  3. Take a deep breath. Hold it and push the bar in a vertical line. You do not want to press it in front or behind your head. You want to press it over your head.
  4. Go forward. Stay close to the bar as you press the weight up. Once the bar has passed your forehead you need to shift your torso forward.
  5. Locking it in, hold the bar over your shoulders. Lock your elbows and shrug your shoulders up to the ceiling.
  6. Return the bar to your shoulders. That is one rep.
  7. Exhale, raise your chest and set your forearms vertical. Do not bend your legs; you will be taking the work away from your shoulder muscles because you will be engaging the stronger muscles in your legs; and that would defeat the purpose of this exercise. You do however want to keep your hips and knees locked from start to finish. If you can’t lock in your knees and hips than the weight is too heavy.

The overhead press looks dangerous because you’re putting weight right above your head, however it is a lot safer than the squat or bench press. If you are not able to push the weight, you can simply lower it back your shoulders. You then return it on the floor or drop the bar if you use bumper plates. But you will never get stuck under the bar.


-Terry Asher


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  1. hey vic.
    when i do shoulder press or lateral raises, the next day, it will be my traps aching and not my shoulders. i need your advice. thanks.

    • I’d have to watch you do the movement, but my guess is that there is a technique issue that needs addressed. The traps are involved in pulling and should not be sore from the pressing movements. Lateral raises maybe, but I haven’t done them or had clients do them for years so can’t speak directly to them.

      Even if you’ve been lifting for a long time, it never hurts to have a trainer or coach check out your form. Even Tiger Woods still uses a coach.

      • Why do you not have clients do lateral raises? Do you instead do a cross lift? I would love to hear hard facts on why lateral lifts are not a good move. Thanks

  2. Sometimes the elbows forward position can be uncomfortable on the wrists. As much as I’m not a fan of the elbows out-to-the-sides position, it might be more comfortable on your wrists and worth experimenting with. Let us know how it goes!

  3. […] perform more than 5 repetitions per set. The movements I use primarily with my own clients are the push press, squat, and the deadlift. The pull up (with additional weight if your fitness level dictates) and […]

  4. […] perform more than 5 repetitions per set. The movements I use primarily with my own clients are the push press, squat, and the deadlift. The pull up (with additional weight if your fitness level dictates) and […]

  5. Hey Vic,

    This is a great guide. Thank you for sharing you knowledge with us all. I’ve been a long-time lurker of the site, and have recently been revisiting some of these articles. I just got myself a pair of olympic dumbbell handles, and was wondering if there was a way to modify the shoulder press for dumbbells… any ideas?

    • I prefer the elbows in version of the press as opposed to the elbows out. With dumbbells, I find it feels more natural with your palms facing each other instead of trying to keep them pointing away from you as you would with a barbell.

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