Overhead Press: How to Properly Perform this Workout Routine

Overhead Press

Bodybuilding is a comprehensive endeavor, but when broken down into its components can be done with ease. To build up well, the overhead press is essential.

Strategizing which exercises that make it into your routine from the many hundreds of various forms available can be difficult. While we know which body groups to hit, it can still be hard to decide what to use in order to achieve the best kind of development we desire. Whether targeting chest, shoulders, arms, back, or legs, we have endless options from which to choose, but some very essential basics, the bench press, overhead press, curl and reverse curl, and squat, respectively.

The overhead press is the most essential shoulder exercise available to us and performing it with proper form is essential to support development and prevent injury. Read on for a thorough explanation of overhead presses, including which muscles it works, how to perform it, and common techniques to avoid to prevent injury and support optimal development.

Overhead presses are central to our routine at Sexy Body Fitness, and to build best, check it out to see how it can complement your shoulder routine.

What Muscles Do Overhead Presses Work

What Muscles Do Overhead Presses Work

There are many variations of the overhead press, and the version you opt for will determine which muscles are worked. The most basic form of overhead presses is the standing overhead press, and alternative versions include the seated barbell shoulder press and seated dumbbell overhead presses.

Standing Overhead Press

Generally, you’ll rack the weight at about shoulder height, un-rack and take a step back, and beginning with the bar on the top of your chest, press straight upward. Keep your legs straight but don’t lock out your knees. This form of the shoulder press is a compound motion that helps to build your entire body as it requires the coordination of all of your muscles to get the bar overhead. It works your legs and core for balance, your deltoids primarily, and to a limited extent your triceps and chest for stabilization.

Seated Overhead Barbell Presses

In this variant, you’ll sit down with the barbell mounted generally above your head. We un-rack the weight, and lower it to our chest and press, repeating. This version isolates the shoulders more by removing the legs, and with the back-pad, the strain on the lower back is minimized. Barbells provide greater stability, so watch out for tipping to make sure your presses are straight alongside the bar.

Seated Overhead Presses With Dumbbells

In this version, we’ll take a seat on a bench, with or without a back, and clean the dumbbells up, and begin with them at our shoulders and press straight up. This version isolates the lateral deltoid caps more than the barbell version. Without a back on the bench you select, the strain and work on your lower back will be significantly greater.

Proper Form and Setup for an Overhead Press

Proper Form and Setup for an Overhead Press

Overhead presses are compound motions that are performed through ongoing repetitions and continuous motion, avoiding jauntiness and violent motions. Following are the recommended steps for standing overhead presses, seated barbell overhead presses, and seated dumbell overhead presses.

Standing Overhead Presses

The traditional standard overhead presses are useful in building upon your strength and the overall balance of your body. Hoisting weight above your head then lowering it back down takes the effort of all of your upper and lower body.

If you have a rack for your barbell, set it at shoulder height, then un-rack to begin with the barbell atop your chest. Without a rack, we must clean the weight up, taking care to use our legs and deltoids and not our lower backs to prevent injury.

Press the weight with control overhead, locking out the arms briefly then again lowering it. Continue repetitions to fatigue. As you progress through your workouts, up the number of repetitions and amount of weight as you feel your strength increasing. While dumbells can be used for the overhead press, it is best to use the barbell for the balance-building benefits and to minimize the stress on our lower backs.

Seated Barbell Overhead Presses

For this exercise, we’ll take a seat at a shoulder press, either free-standing on the barbell, or at a smith-machine if you’d prefer to have the safety of the latch if you don’t have a spotter and are going for a higher weight than usual. Begin by un-racking the weight and lowering it to the top of your chest, and again raise it overhead, stop at the lock, then lower it again to the chest, performing the exercise continuously until you are no longer able to perform reps, re-racking the weight. Use a spotter if possible to allow you to push yourself and to prevent injury.

Seated Dumbell Overhead Presses

To round out your deltoids the most with your shoulder workout, using dumbbells can be of particular value. This form allows you to lower the weights down a bit lower than with the front barbell press, with the extra upward push working your lateral deltoids. Stronger lateral deltoids will increase the breadth of your shoulders. To perform this exercise sit with the dumbbells on your knees, then press them up to rest to the sides atop your shoulders. Press them vertically upward, locking your arms out briefly then lowering them back down. Maintain continuous motion and to until fatigue sets in.

The dumbbell overhead press is useful if you don’t have a spotter available, as they can be easily dropped by your sides without risk of being trapped beneath it like with bars.

Common Faults and Failing Reps

With bodybuilding as with any sport, it is important to take your time and develop correct form. An aspiring basketball player will never be able to perform well in the game without first mastering how to dribble, and weight-lifting is no different. Before we can increase the number of reps we perform and the stack of weights we perform it with, we must first develop correct form. Without the correct form, the muscular development that is achieved will be lacking.

Speeding Through It

When performing the overhead press, it is important to exercise control. While we may be inclined to violently hoist the weight overhead then toss it aside laughing at our accomplishment, this is not acceptable gym etiquette, and it can lead to injury. For the best results from the overhead press, perform the reps slowly and intentionally, and with a continuous motion for the duration of your set. Stopping for an excessive amount of time at the top or bottom of the rep can be detrimental to your strength and can cause injury, particularly if locked out at the top. Perform reps at a moderate and consistent speed to fatigue, using a spotter for safety.

Bar Placement

When performing the overhead press with a fixed bar as opposed to dumbbells, it is important to keep the bar in front of your chest if you intend upon bringing the weight all the way down at the end of the rep. Should you prefer rear shoulder presses, it is best to not lower the bar below the height of your ears. Moving the bar lower than that places undue stress on your shoulders and related joints and ligaments and is more likely to cause injury than the safer and more efficient and effective front overhead press.

Balance and Equality

When working on building strength and muscle, proper form is essential, as mentioned above. A key facet of quality form is balance and equality. When pressing the bar overhead, make sure that your hands are equally spaced out on the bar. Move at a rate that allows you to keep the bar perfectly level with the ground to ensure that you are providing an equal workout to each side of your body as you lift. Ensuring equality takes time and deliberate effort, as does balance. Through the maintenance of deliberate that and careful effort alongside balance, your strength gains will be maximized.


The overhead press is the most essential exercise for you if you’re looking to add bulge to your deltoids. To achieve the truly pumped look on your upper arms, shoulder presses will lay the foundation for proper development, and add the size you’ll need to further sculpt your delts with lateral, front, and side raises. When working to build out your shoulders, shrugs are also recommended. For a basic shrug pick up dumbbells that are comfortable but somewhat heavy to you, allow your arms to hang straight, and pull your shoulders straight up towards your ears, keeping your neck firm but not strained.

The overhead press is to the shoulders what the bench press is to the chest, or the curl is to biceps. It is an essential piece of your overall workout puzzle, with the tips presented above that provide us with the appropriate technique to use to keep our shoulders safe as we build upon our strength and size.

For more tips, techniques, and methods for improving upon your condition and appearance, check back to Sexy Body Fitness.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *