What Is an Overhead Press: Muscles Worked & Technique

woman performing Overhead Press

Overhead Press is a must-have in your upper-body workout routine. Whether you’re a beginner or pro, every athlete can benefit from this exercise. A wide range of variations is a plus to diversify your fitness routine. Here’s an ultimate guide on how to do the Overhead Press properly.

What Is an Overhead Press?

An Overhead Press is also called a Shoulder Press or a Military Press. This is an excellent compound exercise for your upper-body workout. Overhead Presses can be performed seated or standing. The Press is done by pressing the weight upwards above your head. Dumbbells and barbells are common equipment to be used in the Overhead Press.

Let’s get all the nitty-gritty of Overhead Presses. Before you start working out, check the proper form of the Shoulder Press.

man performing Shoulder Press with dumbbells

Proper Shoulder Press Form

There are two variations – seated and standing Shoulder Press. It’s up to you what option to choose. Grab the dumbbell weights and lift them up with your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle. The items are by your shoulders. That’s your start position.

Extend your elbows raising the dumbbells upwards. Press the items overhead slowly. Then return to the starting position. Make sure your back isn’t arched too much. Otherwise, you’ll end up using upper chest muscles instead of shoulders.

The Shoulder Press is an excellent dumbbell workout to add some strength. Do 10-12 reps per set.

man doing the Overhead Press

What Does Overhead Press Work?

So, what muscles do Overhead Press work? Depending on what variation you perform – standing or seated – you target various muscle groups. Standing Overhead Press engages large upper-body muscles. They include triceps, traps, deltoids, and pectorals. While Seated Overhead Press activates your shoulders and triceps more.

Standing Shoulder Press is beneficial for your core. As in an upright position you have to keep your spine stable. A contracted core supports your torso to keep the balance. This creates a solid foundation for a loaded Shoulder Press move. Besides, your lower body is activated when you push the weight upwards while standing.

Speaking of the Seated Overhead Press, your core isn’t engaged. As you seat on a bench with your back touching the backrest. Instead, your triceps and shoulders do all the work.

woman performing seated Overhead Press

Overhead Press Benefits

1. Improve Core Strength

The Shoulder press hits a range of core muscles. They include obliques and transverse abdominal muscles. As well as your lower back and spinal stabilizers are amped up when you do the standing Overhead Press.

When you do the Shoulder Press, brace your core. This helps to keep your spine in a proper form. And don’t arch your back during the exercise. Your core stability affects your overall body strength.

2. Excellent Upper-Body Exercise

Get your shoulders bigger with the Overhead Press. The workout activates the anterior and medial deltoids and slightly posterior deltoids. Your shoulders are highly boosted when you push the weights overhead.

Apart from shoulders, trapezius (upper back muscles) are also engaged. As well as triceps and pectorals (arms and chest). Want to ramp up your upper body? The Shoulder Press is a must.

man doing seated Overhead Press

3. Level Up Your Bench Press

The Bench Press is another tremendous upper-body exercise. The technique is similar to the Shoulder Press. Both target the same range of muscles. These are triceps, chest, and deltoids. But from different angles. Improve your upper back to perform the Bench Press more efficiently.

4. Improve Your Strength and Power

Fostering your upper-body strength affects your power. This leads to gaining muscle mass and improving endurance. The triceps is one of the important muscles to perform the Shoulder Press. Increasing its strength leads to honing your overhead position. You’ll able to push heavier weights over time.

Improving strength is advantageous for other lifting exercises. Like the Olympic Lift, Overhead Squat, and Overhead Carry.

Overhead Press Variations

Overhead Presses can be performed with different free weights. These are dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells. You can alternate them to level up your strength power.

Standing Overhead Press with Dumbbells

1. Standing Overhead Press with Dumbbells

That’s a standard variation that was previously described. You need a pair of dumbbells to perform the exercise. Push the weights upwards while standing.

Seated Overhead Press with a Barbell

2. Seated Overhead Press with a Barbell

Seated Overhead Press variation helps to get a bit of stress off your lower back. Plus, it ensures you don’t engage your lower body to shift the weight. Such an option is more joint-friendly.

Place a bench in a power rack where the bar is placed. The barbell is set so you can reach it when you sit. Load some plates if needed. Unrack the bar with a pronated grip (with palms looking out). Lower the barbell to the top of your chest. Then raise your arms overhead to lockout. That’s one rep. Do 10-12 reps per set.

man performing Barbell Thrusters

3. Barbell Thrusters

That’s a standing Overhead Press variation. Thrusters aim to do a full Front Squat with a barbell. Your legs are engaged to help you lift the weight up. This move makes the exercises a full-body workout.

Stand up with a bar in front of the shoulders. Your shoulders are down and back. Your chest is up. Contract your core while standing. Your stance is wider than hip-width apart.

Bend your knees to do a squat. Your thighs are parallel to the ground. Keep your core squeezed. Your back is in an upright position. The barbell is still at the shoulder level with a pronated grip.

Stand up to strengthen your legs. Drive through your heels and hips to push the weight up. Keep raising your arms until they are stretched out overhead. Hold on for a second.

Get back to the start position by lowering the bar back to the shoulders. That’s one rep. Do 6-10 reps per set.

Alternative to Overhead Press

woman is doing Bench Press at gym

1. Bench Press

You need a bench and a pair of dumbbells to perform such an exercise. The bench press is highly efficient even with minimum weight. It works out chest and shoulders greatly. That’s an efficient exercise before starting lifting heavy barbells.

Lie on a bench with your face up. Your feet are flat on the floor. Hold a weight on each hand above your chest. The dumbbells are parallel to the chest. The elbows are bent with palms facing out.

Press the weights upwards keeping your arms straight. Make a pause for a second. Slowly lower the dumbbells to the starting point. Do 10-12 reps per set.

Machine Shoulder Press

2. Machine Shoulder Press

This alternative option is great for beginners. It limits your free range of motion to focus on specific muscles needed. The exercise requires a Shoulder Press Machine.

Get into the machine and set the desired load. Grip the handles with your hands. Raise your arms overhead with a full range of motion. Make a pause for a second. Get back to the starting position. That’s one rep. Do 10-12 reps per set.

man performing Dumbbell Arnold Press

3. Dumbbell Arnold Press

Unlike the regular Shoulder Press, the Arnold Press targets medial deltoids more. That’s a good exercise to level up your Press with.

The Arnold Press is usually performed seated. Place a dumbbell in each hand. Bend your arms to set the weights with palms facing you. That’s your starting point.

Twist the arms laterally so your palms facing out. Raise your arms to do the overhead motion. Hold for a second and get back to the start point. Your palms are facing you again. That’s one rep. Do 6-10 reps per set.

woman doing Overhead Press with dumbbells

Frequently Asked Questions

How Much Should I Overhead Press?

  • 50% of your body weight is the desired result for beginners.
  • 100% of your body weight is a good Overhead Press.
  • 150% of your body weight is an excellent Overhead Press.

There are Shoulder Press Standards designed for men and women. You can calculate your lifts to track your progress.

How to Increase Overhead Press?

So, how to improve Overhead Press? First, check your grip. It shouldn’t be too wide or too narrow. A grip slightly wider than shoulder-width is ideal. Next, keep your core braced when you do Overhead Presses. Improved core stability leads to better strength and endurance.

Watch your head position when you lift up the bar. You’ll naturally tend to look up at the ceiling but try to avoid that. The best position is to push your head back like when you do a double chin. This will keep your face safe out from the bar-lift line.

Why Is Overhead Press so Hard?

The Overhead Press requires a form that is challenging to perform. You have to brace your core and push your arms with loaded weights overhead. Most athletes find Bench Presses easier to perform. Thus, to progress the Overhead Press, start with light weights and lots of sets. You should nail the proper form first before adding extra weights. No pain, no gain – right?

man and woman performing Overhead Press

Overhead Press Benefits and Form Explained

The Overhead or Shoulder Press is a superb exercise for your upper body. The training targets your shoulders, chest, arms, and back. Your core is activated as well. Overhead Press variations engage even more muscle groups.

Overhead Presses are challenging. Improving your strength takes solid time. But once you slay the Shoulder Press, your body will gain more power and endurance.