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Shoulder Press Exercises

author image Patrick Dale
Patrick Dale is an experienced writer who has written for a plethora of international publications. A lecturer and trainer of trainers, he is a contributor to "Ultra-FIT" magazine and has been involved in fitness for more than 22 years. He authored the books "Military Fitness", "Live Long, Live Strong" and "No Gym? No Problem!" and served in the Royal Marines for five years.
Shoulder Press Exercises
Pressing a weight overhead is an effective way to develop your shoulders. Photo Credit LIVESTRONG.COM

Shoulder pressing is an effective exercise for building, strengthening or toning your shoulder or deltoid muscles, delts for short. All overhead pressing exercises emphasize the medial (central) and anterior (front) aspects of your delts. Shoulder pressing also utilizes your triceps brachii muscles located on the rear of your upper arm and your trapezius, located between the shoulders and the neck. There are a number of ways that you can perform shoulder presses.

Barbell Shoulder Press

The barbell shoulder press can be performed either seated or standing. Grasp a barbell with a slightly wider than shoulder-width overhand grip. Hold the bar in front of your neck at just above shoulder height. Press the bar directly overhead to arms length and then lower it back to the starting position. When standing, you can also perform this exercise using a slight leg drive to allow you to lift heavier weights. This variation of a barbell shoulder press is called a push press.

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Bradford Press

The Bradford press is a variation of a barbell shoulder press and can be performed either seated or standing. Grasp a barbell with a slightly wider than shoulder-width overhand grip. Hold the bar in front of your neck at shoulder height. Push the bar up and over your head and then lower it behind your neck; the bar should only just clear your head. Immediately return the bar to the starting position and repeat. This shoulder press variation places a lot of tension on your shoulders and reduces the involvement of your triceps muscles.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

You can also use dumbbells for shoulder pressing. Dumbbells require a greater degree of control, coordination and balance than barbell shoulder presses. Perform dumbbell presses seated or standing. Swing the dumbbells up to shoulder height and then turn your hands so that they are facing forward. Press the dumbbells overhead to arms' length. The dumbbells should describe an arc and meet above your head. Lower the dumbbells back the starting position and repeat.

Arnold Press

Combining a lateral raise with an overhead press, the Arnold press was popularized by Arnold Schwarzenegger during his bodybuilding days. Sit or stand and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Position your arms in front of you so that your forearms are vertical and your hands are facing your body. Swing your arms out to the side and then smoothly press the dumbbells overhead to arms' length. Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position and repeat.

Shoulder Press Machine

Unlike free weight shoulder pressing movements, using a shoulder press machine requires very little coordination or balance. By removing the need to control the weight, you are free to concentrate on simply pushing your arms above your head. To get the most from using a shoulder press machine, adjust the seat so that the handles are level with the tops of your shoulders. Press the weight above your head to arms' length and then lower the weight back to shoulder level. Don't let the weights touch down between repetitions as this will reduce the effectiveness of the exercise by providing mini rests between reps.

Handstand Pushups

Handstand push-ups mimic barbell and dumbbell shoulder pressing but instead of pressing a weight overhead, you push your body away from the floor. Face a wall, place your hands on the floor around 12 inches way from the wall and kick your legs up into a handstand. Once you have your balance, bend your arms and lower your head to the floor. Push back up to full arm extension and repeat. If you are concerned about hitting your head on the floor, place a cushion or folded towel between your hands.

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  • "Anatomy of Exercise: A Trainer's Inside Guide to Your Workout"; Pat Manocchia; 2009
  • "Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding: The Complete A-Z Book on Muscle Building"; Robert Kennedy; 2008
  • "Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder"; Arnold Schwarzenegger; 1993
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