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March 12, 2022 9 min read

The overhead press is one of the numerous barbell press variations for building bulging shoulders. It is a favorite of many gym-goers and professional bodybuilders. 

The overhead press is more complicated than your typical barbell deadlift. It might look simple to perform, but its complex range of motion requires a perfect form. Below, we have provided tips and tricks to help you perfect your overhead barbell press.

Muscular man doing barbell overhead press in a dark grungy gym with blue red neon light

What Does The Overhead Press Do?

The overhead press is a strength-training exercise designed to target and engage the muscles of your upper arms. It is an incredibly impressive exercise, and perfecting its movements would undoubtedly earn you some credibility in the gym.

The overhead press is also fondly called the shoulder press because of the effects it has on building the shoulders. While the overhead press has a primary objective to work your arms, it passes as a full-body exercise. Your shoulders and arms are the prime movers of the barbells, but as you execute the upward pressing motion, you engage the majority of your other muscle group fibers. 

Admittedly, the overhead press does not involve intense movements as burpees do. However, the inclusion of a weighted resistance to load your muscles and the unique movements of your arms works your body just as intensely.

Muscles Activated By The Overhead Press

Overhead presses primarily work your shoulder muscles a.k.a the deltoids

Deltoids

The deltoid is the thick mass of muscle on the outside of your shoulders. It spans between your collarbone and scapular, contributing to the width and bulky look of your shoulders. The deltoid is often regarded as one piece of muscle. However, it comprises three heads, namely the anterior deltoid, lateral deltoid, and posterior deltoid. These heads perform different functions independently, but together, they contribute to the movement of your arms.

The anterior deltoid is the primary deltoid muscle activated during the overhead press. Also known as the front delts, the anterior deltoid connect to your collarbone and help to move your arm forward. The lateral deltoid is activated to a lesser degree. Also called the side delts, the primary function of this head is to abduct your shoulders and move your arm away from your body. The lateral deltoid is also essential for lifting heavy loads.

The posterior deltoid, also known as the rear delt, helps move the arm backward. You make use of your posterior deltoid when you throw a football. Although the overhead press mainly targets the anterior deltoid, the side and rear delts are also engaged and strengthened to some extent.

Triceps

The overhead press also works the muscles in your arms, especially the triceps. The triceps are as significant as your bicep muscles but receive even less attention. Also known as the triceps brachii, the tricep muscle is the large muscle on the back of your upper limb. Your tricep is equally essential when it comes to arms size. It possesses a larger mass than the biceps and contributes to having intimidatingly big guns. However, it contains three parts, namely the long, lateral and medial heads; the tricep functions as one major muscle group responsible for arm movements. The overhead press targets and builds the triceps.

Rotator Cuff

Other than your arms and shoulders, the overhead press also works your rotator cuffs. Made up of several muscles, namely the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis muscles, the rotator cuffs facilitate the stability and mobility of your arms. Since  rotator cuff injuries are commonly encountered in the sports world, it is essential to strengthening these muscles.

Pectorals

The overhead press also works the pectoral muscles of the chest. The pecs are a group of two bulky muscles that span the width of the chest. These muscles are essential to arm movements, such as the adduction and rotation of the arms.

Trapezius

Your traps receive equal attention during the overhead press. The trap muscle is a back muscle that extends from the base of your neck to your mid-back. This muscle contributes to the movements of your head, neck, arms, and shoulders. The traps are also crucial for proper posture. Other than these influential groups, your abdominal mucked, core, abs leg muscles are activated during the overhead press. This not only helps you to gain upper-body strength but also targets vital muscle groups in your lower extremities.

Benefits of Overhead Presses

The overhead press is a great foundational and strength-training compound exercise designed to boost your functional and sports performance. It recruits your arm muscles to strengthen and hones them to help you achieve a more buffed look. The overhead press is the ultimate test of stability with many positive impacts. Some of the benefits of the overhead press include:

  1. Buff look: The overhead press is undeniably one of the best exercises for improving arm and shoulder size. It is one of the few exercises that target all three deltoid muscles at once. It also engages the triceps and traps, both of which are key muscles in your musculature and physique. The overhead press is a splendid way to achieve Boulder-like shoulders and massive guns for the v-taper figure that many athletes crave. To expedite your results, pair your routine with our  ULTIMATE MASS STACK for advanced muscle gain, bone-crushing muscle pumps, improved fat loss, and better performance.
  1. Improved arm strength: Arm strength is a big deal in many weighted exercises. Exercises like bench presses and deadlifts require lifting power and lockout strength that many gym-goers lack. The overhead press provides you with a way to work on your upper-body strength by targeting the essential muscles. It is a one-way ticket to a better performance in lifting exercises like bench presses. The overhead press is instrumental if you are a competitive lifter or bodybuilder.
  1. Core strength:  The importance of core strength cannot be overemphasized. Your core strength determines your stamina, stability, balance, and agility in all exercises, functional or not. A strong core makes it easy to navigate your daily activities and even easier to scale up challenging workouts in the gym. Your core strength is what helps you get things done and what ensures that you do not suffer eM injuries during these activities. Unfortunately, other than during typical exercises like crunches and push-ups, core exercises are often neglected. Although the overhead press works your primary mover, your arm and shoulder muscles, it also helps to tighten and strengthen your core muscles.
  1. Sculpted abs: The overhead press might not be an abdominal exercise at heart, but it is a splendid way to tone your ab muscles. When performing the overhead press, your abdominal muscles are engaged to initiate the upward process and keep you balanced. Consistent performance of the overhead press will yield bigger arms and an aesthetically pleasing six-pack physique.
  1. Improved functionality: The overhead press is an all-around exercise. It strengthens your upper body muscles, strengthens your core for improved stability, and increases the mobility of your arm. Completing the full range of motion of the overhead press strengthens your shoulder joints and improves their range of motion. Overall, if you want to tweak up your full-body ability, the overhead press belongs to your workout routine.
  1. Increased lean muscle mass: The overhead press is a splendid exercise for building and improving your lean muscle mass. Compared with proper nutrition, it helps to replace finished muscle cells and build muscle tissue. The overhead press is also a fantastic way to get rid of loose fat pockets like flabby arms and droopy back fat. It gets rid of fat and helps you achieve a more athletic look.
  1. Better posture: The average adult suffers from a bad posture that is often a result of sitting too long and, most times, hunching over a desk. This leads to back pain and a slouching physique. The overhead press targets and engages your back and other connecting muscles. It strengthens and tightens them, helping you to achieve great posture.

How To Perform A Perfect Overhead Press

 

Performing the overhead press half-heartedly is not an option. This would put you at risk of injuries and deny you the full muscle contractions necessary for muscle growth and development. The overhead requires effort and dedication to holding correct form throughout your reps. This guarantees complete muscle response and maximum tension optimization. 

To perform the overhead press:

  • Grab and unrack a barbell using a pronated grip slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  • Stand erect with your shoulder blades pinched and chest proud.
  • Stand with your feet pressed firmly into the floor shoulder-width apart.
  • Distribute your were evenly on your feet until you are balanced.
  • Turn your shoulders so that your elbows point downward.
  • Grip the barbell so that it sits on the heel of your palms.
  • Hold the barbell between your shoulders and upper chest.
  • Engage your core and tuck your chin.
  • Squeeze your quads and glutes to maintain tension.
  • Begin the concentric phase of the exercise by extending your elbows and pressing the barbell towards the ceiling.
  • At the top of the movement, your arms should be fully stretched with a slight bend in your elbows.
  • Hold this position for a second.
  • Bend your elbows to lower the barbell to the starting position.
  • This is one rep. Complete as many repetitions as you can fit in a set.

Tips To Perfect Your Overhead Press

A weak overhead press can cause you to load your muscles improperly, leading to injuries. A weak press also cramps your style; there is no use performing the overhead press if you are going to trip over yourself in the first place. Your inability to perform a perfect overhead press can be due to several factors like a lack of knowledge of proper pressing posture, shoulder mobility issues, previous injuries, or lack of upper body strength. Before you can perfect your problem, you need to find your weaknesses and tackle them. Some tips to help you perfect your overhead press includes:

  • Get Stretching: Mobility of the arms at the shoulder joint is a vital factor determining your ability to execute a perfect overhead press. When performing the overhead press, your arms are fully extended, and the weight loads down your muscle. This part cannot be completed if your shoulder joints and stiff and tight. Stretching your arms is a great way to cause the muscles to become elastic in preparation for the exercise. It will loosen your muscles, improving your mobility and joint stability in the process. Begin with self-assessment tests by touching each arm to the opposite shoulder blades and then pressing your arms upward to the ceiling. Afterward, warm up with arm stretches to loosen your triceps and lat muscles.
  • Choose The Right Weight: A common mistake many gym-goers make when performing the overhead press is picking extremely heavy barbells. While weight is excellent for working your muscles, it ruins your ability to hold perfect form. Don't approach a monstrous-looking weighted barbell without being prepared. Start with light weights and choose a weight that you can lift comfortably throughout your sets without getting fatigued early.
  • Start Easy: The barbell overhead press is a challenging variation, and to learn to perfect your form, you will need all the help you can get. Ease into this exercise by building upper body strength with its easier variation. Going easy also helps you learn proper lifting and build enough confidence to perform the overhead barbell press. Begin with the seated dumbbell press. Dumbbells are more stable and easier to control than barbells. As soon as comfortable with this variation, scale up to the standing dumbbell overhead press and then the barbell overhead press.
  • Work On Your Posture: Good posture is a vital part of the overhead press. It helps you engage the necessary muscle groups without the added risks of injuries. Great posture would also help you train faster for longer. When doing the overhead press, ensure that your back is straight, shoulders back, chest forward, and core tightened.
  • Use Slow Movements: Many gym-goers mistake using momentum to blow through their routines. This sabotages the point of the overhead press and provides your muscles with little contractions. It also opens you up to muscle injuries. Use slow and controlled movements during the overhead press. Since muscle activation declines as you drop your arms, control your movement as you lower the barbell. This helps you milk every bit of tension in your and for contractions. Also, always ensure that you perform the full range of motion from top to bottom.
  • Be Consistent: Practice makes perfect. You cannot perfect the overhead press if you are a weekend warrior and only hit the gym when you feel like it. The overhead press isn't just an exercise; it is a skill. You require time, effort, and consistency to master a skill. You can do this by increasing your overhead press volume and frequency until you are connected with your abilities. Even then, continue to work your muscles as hard as you can. If you need a little pick-me-up, kickstart your training with our  AMPED-AF for intense focus, increased energy, and better muscle endurance to get you going.

A Perfect Overhead Press

You might not be perfect, but your overhead press can be. With a little tweak in your form and some cues to keep you going, you will no doubt master the art of the overhead press. For a bit of challenge, check out our list of  overhead press alternatives for upper-body mass.