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August 21, 2021 9 min read

The overhead press is a staple upper body and shoulder exercise for building body mass.  Not only is it perfect for building mass, but it also helps you build enviably broad shoulders and increase your muscular power.

However, like many exercises, the overhead press has a set of risks along with its benefits.  If you want to eliminate those risks, or you just want to change up your existing shoulder workout, you can try one of the many overhead press alternatives!

There are many overhead press alternative exercises, but not all of them are created equal.  To give you a hand, we are sharing the top seven best overhead press alternatives!  These seven exercises give you all the same benefits as the overhead press while minimizing the risks.

Don’t waste any time!  Get going with these seven overhead press alternatives to build your best shoulders ever. 

Basics of The Overhead Press & Its Alternatives

The overhead barbell press is an excellent upper body exercise.

detail of a bodybuilder posing in the gym: side chest

It targets several muscle groups, including the:

  • Shoulders
  • Chest
  • Triceps
  • Core

However, it primarily works the shoulder muscle group.  On top of helping you build strong shoulder muscles, it has several other benefits, including:

  1. Increasing shoulder strength and stabilization
  2. Building muscular power
  3. Improving performance in other upper body exercises

While it works the entire shoulder muscle group and has many benefits, the exercise does come with potential risks. 

Some of those risks include:

  1. Causing shoulder impingement
  2. Compressing the spine to cause lower back pain
  3. Compressing some upper body primary mover muscles
  4. Throwing you off balance easily (requires a spotter)
  5. Stiffening the shoulder muscles

While these are only potential risks, it makes sense why someone might want to do an overhead press variation instead.  With that said, there are a handful of different overhead press variations that you can do in place of the conventional version! 

These variations pack in all the benefits of the exercise while diminishing the potential risks. Therefore, if you want to build excellent shoulder muscles without having to do the overhead press, give one of our top seven overhead press variations a try!

1. Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

The seated dumbbell shoulder press is perhaps the most popular overhead press alternative. More than that, it is one of the most popular upper body strength training exercises.

What makes it such a popular shoulder exercise? It is one of only a handful of exercises that solely targets the shoulder muscles. Therefore, if you want to  build as much shoulder mass as possible, we highly suggest the dumbbell shoulder press!

Here is how to do the seated dumbbell shoulder press with proper form:

  1. Sit on an upright bench with your back up against the backside of it. Hold one dumbbell in each of your hands with an overhand grip and allow your arms to dead hang. 
  1. Exhale to bring the dumbbells up by your shoulders. Your elbows should point outwards and align with your upper body, and the dumbbells should be by your shoulders. Face the palms of your hands forward. 
  1. When you are ready, exhale and channel upper body strength to press the dumbbells overhead. Your arms should almost fully extend at the top of the movement. 
  1. Pause for one to two seconds at the top of the lift, then slowly bend your elbows to bring the dumbbells back by your shoulders. Lead the downward movement with your elbows.

2. Standing Arnold Press

The Arnold press is very similar to the dumbbell shoulder press with one slight difference. Instead of pressing your arms straight overhead with your palms facing forward, you press your arms overhead while rotating your palms. While it is a minute difference, it impacts your muscles differently than how the conventional dumbbell press does.

Some of those differences include:

  • Targeting your shoulder and back stabilizer muscles more than your primary movers
  • Promoting shoulder mobility
  • Promoting building muscular strength more than building muscle mass

Also, instead of using heavy weights as you would for the shoulder press, we suggest using lighter weights. Lighter weights allow you to focus on form and palm rotation.

Here is how to do the Arnold press with proper form:

  1. Hold one dumbbell in each of your hands and stand up tall. Allow your arms to dead hang and roll your shoulders back for good upper body posture. 
  1. Exhale and bring the dumbbells up by your shoulders. Your elbows should be in front of your body, and your palms should face your chest.  You should look as if you are going to do a bicep curl. 
  1. When you're ready, exhale and raise your weights overhead while simultaneously rotating your palms to face forward. 
  1. Squeeze your shoulders to keep the weights overhead for one to two seconds. Then, slowly inhale and drop the weights back by your shoulders while simultaneously rotating your palms to face your body.

3. Landmine Press

Are you looking for an exercise that doubles as an overhead press alternative and targets your arms at the same time? If so, then the landmine press is perfect for you!

Compound exercises are those that work several muscle groups at once. The landmine press works both the shoulders and the arms. In the arms, they fire up the biceps, triceps, and forearms. Moreover, compound exercises are highly efficient because you get many muscles going with a single movement!

Here is how to do the landmine press with proper form:

  1. Set up a barbell in a landmine holder or in a corner. Spread your feet to shoulder-width apart, then squat down and pick up the barbell with both hands. Come up to a standing position. 
  1. Transfer the bar into your right hand and hold it by your right shoulder. Stabilize your upper and lower body by squeezing your core, glutes, and legs. Lean your upper body slightly forward.
  1. When you are ready, exhale and press the barbell overhead by extending your right elbow. Keep the barbell in line with your body as you push the weight overhead. At the top of the movement, there should be only a slight bend in your elbow.
  1. Squeeze your shoulder muscles at the top for one to two seconds, then slowly lower the bar back by your shoulder. As you lower the bar, bend your knees slightly to come into a miniature squat.

4. Handstand Push-Up

Are you a home workout kind of person? Or the type of person looking to change up their workout routine with unconventional exercises? If you answered yes to either of the questions, then you need to try handstand push-ups!

Handstand push-ups are a unique bodyweight shoulder exercise that you can do anywhere there is a wall! Even better, they target more than just your shoulders.

In addition to the shoulders, they also work the:

  • Core
  • Back
  • Glutes
  • Arms

In terms of your shoulder muscles, handstand push-ups work all three shoulder heads and the rotator cuff muscles. The rotator cuff muscle group is a group of upper arm muscles that stabilize the shoulders. They are delicate muscles that many lifters neglect and end up injuring. Therefore, they are critical to strengthen in order to prevent potentially debilitating injuries and improve shoulder stabilization. 

Here is how to do handstand push-ups with proper form:

  1. Stand a couple of feet away from a wall and face it. Bend your upper body down and place your hands on the floor. Your hands should be between six and twelves inches away from the wall. 
  1. Kick your feet up towards the wall to come into a handstand. Your feet should rest on the wall to give you balance, and your arms should have a slight bend in them. Create one straight line from your head to your toes by tightening your core and tucking your tailbone in.
  1. When you are ready, exhale and bend your elbows so that your head drops down to tap the floor. The goal is to get your elbows to bend to a 90-degree angle.
  1. Once you have bent your arms as much as you can, squeeze your shoulders to extend your arms straight.

5. Dumbbell Z-Press

The z-press is a unique overhead pressing variation. It is unique because you do it in a seated position in order to channel the core stabilizer muscles for stability and power. Doing the exercise while sitting on the floor forces you to use your core strength to press the free weights overhead.

Therefore, if you want to strengthen both your upper body and core, the z-press is perfect for you! For this example, we are using dumbbells for the free weights. If you don't have dumbbells, you can also do the z-press with a barbell or kettlebells!

Here is how to do the z-press with proper form:

  1. Grab two dumbbells and sit on the floor. Place one dumbbell on each side of your body next to your hip. 
  1. Extend your legs straight out in front of you and press your heels and glutes into the floor. Hold your torso up tall by lengthening your spine and tightening your core muscles.
  1. Get into starting position by holding both dumbbells overhand by your shoulders. Face your palms towards one another so that your elbows point forward and one end of the dumbbell rests by your shoulder.
  1. When you are ready, exhale and press the dumbbells overhead until your arms are almost straight. Squeeze your shoulder blades to lift the dumbbells while also squeezing your core. 
  1. Hold at the top of the lift for one to two seconds, then slowly drop the dumbbells back to starting position.

6. Single-Arm Push Press

The single-arm push press is a classic bodybuilding and CrossFit exercise. Even if you are not a bodybuilder or extreme athlete, we highly suggest that all lifters try them because of their wide range of benefits, including:

  • Building muscular power
  • Strengthening primary mover and stabilizer muscles
  • Improving shoulder stability and mobility

If your goal is to build pure muscle mass, then having a lot of muscular power can be very beneficial. Muscular power refers to the amount of force that your muscles can generate. The more muscular force you can create, the more type 2 muscle fibers you have.

Type 2 fibers are the muscle fibers that help you build big and bulky mass. Moreover, if you are looking for an overhead press alternative exercise with a wide range of benefits, then this one is for you!

Here is how to do the single-arm push press with proper form:

  1. Grab a dumbbell in your right hand and stand up tall. Pull the dumbbell up by your right shoulder. One end of the dumbbell should point forward, and the other should sit by your shoulder.
  1. When you are ready, slightly bend your knees, then forcefully come back up to standing position while pressing the dumbbell overhead. You want to generate power from your lower body, then transfer that energy into your upper body to forcefully push the dumbbell upward.  
  1. Squeeze your shoulder blades, core, and glutes to hold the dumbbell overhead for one to two seconds. Then, slowly lower it back to your shoulder by bending your elbow.

7. Incline Bench Press

You may be asking yourself why a bench press variation is on this list.  Considering that bench press variations are well-known chest exercises, why would we have one here?

muscular man on incline bench press

Not only does the incline bench press target the chest but also the lower shoulders.  The lower shoulder muscle is the anterior deltoid, and it is a very challenging muscle to reach.  Very few exercises are able to get at this tiny muscle.  While it is small, it is an essential muscle for doing the overhead press.

Therefore, we added the incline bench press to this list to help you cross-train that tiny muscle.  The stronger that the anterior deltoid gets, the better your overhead presses will get.

Here is how to do the include bench press with proper form:

  1. Set up your incline bench between 30 and 45-degrees upward.  The greater the angle of your bench, the more challenging it will be for your upper pecs and lower delts.
  1. Sit on the bench and draw your shoulder blades down and back. The barbell should be directly over your face.  Grip the bar overhand with your heads spread slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  1. When you are ready, unrack the bar and slowly bring it down towards your chest. Keep your wrists stacked over your elbows as you lower the bar. Also, keep a slight arch in your lower back to prevent back injuries!
  1. Let the bar tap your upper chest and squeeze your shoulder blades, chest, and shoulders to keep it there for one to two seconds.  Then, press the bar back overhead.  To get the full range of motion, extend your arms until they are almost straight.

If you want to make the incline bench press an even more challenging exercise, you can attach resistance bands to the barbell. The resistance bands will add more opposing force on your shoulder muscles near the lockout position.  That extra force will make it all the more difficult for you to achieve the full range of motion!

Final Thoughts

Whether you are getting bored of the classic overhead press or simply want to change up your existing shoulder workout, give one of these overhead press alternatives a try!  Each of these alternatives has almost all of the same benefits as the conventional overhead press plus a few extras.

Do not put off getting your dream shoulder muscles for another minute!  Get going with these top seven overhead press alternatives now!


Bonus tip: Want to get even bigger shoulders?  Don’t stop at overhead press alternatives! Check out our  top lifts for building even better shoulder muscles!