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Muscle Usage in an Overhead Press

author image Rick Rockwell
Rick Rockwell is a self-employed personal trainer and experienced freelance writer. His articles have been published throughout the Internet. He has more than eight years of experience as a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor and lifestyle coach. His company, Rockwell Fitness, is dedicated to educating and empowering others to live healthy lifestyles.
Muscle Usage in an Overhead Press
The overhead press primarily targets the deltoids. Photo Credit Ibrakovic/iStock/Getty Images

The overhead press, one of the exercises most associated with weight training, involves pressing a weighted barbell from the front of the shoulder up over the head. With your arms extended and elbows locked into place, you hold the barbell over your head for several seconds before lowering it to the starting position. Variations of the overhead press, including the military press and the dumbbell press, can be performed either standing or seated. All standing overhead press exercises develop and strengthen the shoulder muscle group, the upper-arm muscles and the leg muscles, with emphasis on all three parts of the deltoid muscle. For the seated versions, the lower half of your body is no longer being used. Therefore, the leg and hip muscles are not being strengthened.


The deltoid is the main muscle in the shoulder, facilitating movements necessary in pushing, lifting, pulling and shoulder-joint movement. The anterior, lateral and posterior portions of the deltoid are involved in abduction, rotation, flexion and extension of the arm, as well as being responsible for generating successful overhead presses. To prevent injury to the deltoids, perform shoulder-stretching exercises, such as extending arms above the head and pulling each arm to the opposite sides of the shoulders, prior to overhead presses.

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Biceps and Triceps

Biceps and triceps muscles facilitate upper-arm movement and strength, with the triceps lying behind the upper arm and the biceps lying in front of the upper arm. Overhead presses require the assistance of the biceps and triceps to provide support for the deltoids in pushing the barbell up above the head. These muscles also sustain elbow locking during the elevation part of the exercise, as well as control the difficult act of lowering the barbell after a successful lift. Lowering the barbell improperly could result in damage to shoulder and back muscles.

Hip Muscles

When performing a standing overhead press, hip muscles like the iliopsoas, gluteus maximus, ventral hip muscles and various adductor muscles are strengthened. All of these hip muscles working together during execution of an overhead press provide necessary support for the body's core, as well as reinforcement for back muscles. However, the hip muscles are not used during a seated overhead press because the seat and back support provide the support and stability needed for the upper body to perform the overhead press.


The quads are the four muscles located on the front of the thigh, and they control knee extension and hip flexion, which occur in activities such as running, squatting and jumping. These muscles facilitate overhead presses by absorbing the weight of the barbell as it is pushed upward, as well as supporting the body in its effort to complete the exercise during a standing overhead press. The quadriceps, along with the other muscles utilized during overhead presses, receive immense enhancement from regular routines of presses, building mass and strength over a period of time. However, when the exercise is performed while seated, the quads and other leg muscles are not used.

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