How to Do a Shoulder Press

The shoulder press is a great exercise for those looking to strengthen the upper body as well as improve the overall mobility of their upper body. This is a compound exercise that targets the pectorals of the chest, the trapezius of the back, the deltoids of the shoulder, and the triceps of the arms. As well, the abdominals and lower back are activated for stabilization.

The maneuver can help with everyday activities such as putting dishes up in the cupboard and lifting heavy objects overhead.

How To

  • The standard shoulder press takes place in a standing position with feet planted firmly on the floor at about shoulder width apart. Squat down and hinge at the hips while leaning forward to grip the bar. Make sure to keep a straight back. Hands should be placed just slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Use an overhand grip, so that the palms are facing toward your body.
  • Come to a standing position with the barbell resting against your thighs. Pull your shoulder blades together and down as you use your shoulders to lift the bar up to chest height. Push your elbows in front of your chest and allow your wrists to rotate back slightly until the bar is resting on your chest. You can practice this movement without weight until it feels more natural.
  • At this point you should check in with your posture. You back should still be straight and not arching. Squeeze your abs and glutes, and exhale as you slowly push upward. Tilt your head back slightly to move your chin out of the way of the bar.  Press the bar up until the arms are fully extended. The bar should be in line with your body.
  • To finish the movement, slowly lower the bar back down to rest on your chest. The next repetition will start from this position.


Lifting overhead can be especially taxing on the body. When you are performing shoulder presses as a beginner, aiming for one set of 8-10 repetitions is all you need per session. You can increase the number of sets as you get stronger and more comfortable with the exercise.


Seated: For those unable to stand or simply needing to give their lower body a break, this exercise can be performed from a seated position. Always check your form to make sure you have a straight back, and avoid slouching or arching the back.

With Dumbbells: If you have any movement restrictions with your shoulders or wrists, using dumbbells allows for more range of motion. You can hold the dumbbells with palms facing toward each other or facing away from the body.

Exercise Band: If you don’t have access to weights, you can also use a resistance band. Stand in the center of the band and take hold of the end of the band. Lift your arms up to shoulder height as you would with the bar, and then press your arms overhead. You may need to adjust where you grip the band to find the correct tension.

Cautionary Notes

Avoid snapping the elbows into a locked position at the top of the movement; this can be really hard on the joints.

Be careful to keep a straight back with abs engaged at all times during the exercise. Arching the back can put an excessive amount of stress on the lower back.

A standard barbell weighs 45lbs. If you are new to weight lifting, or overhead lifting, starting with just the bar is a great way to learn the movements with less risk of injury. Slowly add weight as you become more confident. Always remember to breathe. It may be tempting to hold your breath, and can be beneficial when lifting extremely heavy weights, but it’s important to remember that muscles require oxygen to perform at their best.

Other Deltoid Exercises

Front Raise
Lateral raise
Military Press
Rear delt raise
Upright row

More Shoulder Press Related Resources

Dumbbell Shoulder Press | Illustrated Exercise Guide
How To Do A Dumbbell Shoulder Press | Coach
Dumbbell Shoulder Press | Exercise Videos & Guides |
How to Do the Dumbbell Shoulder Press – dummies
How To Perfect The Overhead Press | Coach
Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press Exercise Demonstration | SparkPeople

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