Get those shoulders you’ve always wanted

Standing Overhead Press


What is it?


The standing overhead press is exactly as it sounds and involves pressing a weight above your head whilst in a standing position. This is usually performed with a barbell or dumbbell weights. Starting with the weight at the shoulders and pressing overhead until the arms are fully extended. For this kind of press the legs stay straight and are not really used during the press but act as support for the upper body and balance.




Key Benefits

  • Increases shoulder strength and stability when performed correctly and therefore reduces susceptibility to other shoulder injuries
  • Improves core stability
  • Increases upper-body push strength which can transfer to other pushing exercises
  • Increases jumping ability through increased arm swing power
  • Desirable looking shoulders 😉


Main Muscles Worked

  • Shoulders (deltoids) and rotator cuff muscles
  • Upper Pecs
  • Arms
  • Traps
  • Core muscles (abs, paraspinals, glutes) to stabilize
  • Legs – worked isometrically to stabilise and balance


Common errors and remedies

Hyperextending lower back One of the most common errors is excessive arching through the lower back in order to gain momentum to drive the weight overhead. This puts a lot of pressure on the spinal discs and can lead to back injury.



Remedy Engage abdominals when you overhead press in order to maintain a neutral spine and keep the ribcage from flaring. If you still find yourself hyperextending in your back, drop the weight down and build up slowly.

Using legs to ‘push-press’A standing overhead press is designed to strengthen the shoulders. It requires strict form using only the arms to drive the weight overhead. Often when the weight is too heavy, people will engage the lower body and use the momentum from the legs to get the weight overhead. This taking workload off the shoulders and reducing strength gains for the shoulders only.



Remedy Keep your legs straight when you overhead press, keep the knees soft but don’t bend them. If you can’t get the weight overhead without using your legs to push then lower the weight.

Pressing weight(s) too far in front of body When you overhead press the dumbbells or barbell, it should be pressed in a vertical line aligned over the spine. When the weight is pushed forward, out of alignment, this creates additional shearing forces on the back and shoulders. This places more emphasis on the chest rather than shoulder muscles.



Remedy – When you press, the barbell or dumbbells should end directly over your neck/spine. This results in you looking through the ‘window’ that is created with your arms holding the weight overhead. Doing some warm-up exercises involving thoracic mobility and rotator cuff activation will help you to recruit the muscles needed to drive the weight overhead in a vertical line.


Pre-Overhead Press Warm-Ups/ Activation


Side-lying open books (Thoracic mobility warm up)

  1. Start lying on your side with knees bent at 90 degrees, knees and hips stacked directly on top of each other and arms straight out in front, hands clapped together.
  2. Slowly move your top arm away from your bottom arm, toward the floor behind you and rotating your trunk at the same time. Take your top arm as close to the floor behind you as possible without letting your knees and hips slide back. Knees and hips should remain stacked on top of each other and lower back should stay neutral.
  3. Hold in this stretch for a few seconds then return top arm back to join other arm in front. Repeat x 8-10 times each side.




TRX ‘TY’ Raises (Rotator cuff activation and strengthening)

  1. Stand with feet about hip-width apart, holding the TRX handles in each hand and facing the TRX anchor. Lean back so your arms are out straight in front of you and elbows are about chest height, palms should be facing in toward each other.
  2. Activate your abdominal muscles by thinking about drawing your belly button in toward your spine.
  3. Extend your arms out to the sides (at shoulder height) to form a ‘T’ shape, pulling your entire body towards the TRX anchor – think about skidding your shoulder blades down your back as you do so. Return hands to start position, then extend arms out into a ‘Y’ position, again drawing your shoulders back and down as you do so. Return hands to start position and continue alternating the ‘T’ and ‘Y’ shapes. Repeat x10.