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February 08, 2022 11 min read

There are so many shoulder exercises out there today that it is almost impossible to name them off the top of your head. It is equally challenging to know what shoulder exercise suits your fitness goals and why.

The shoulder press is one of the numerous exercises that isolate the shoulders for a broader, capped look. It is a variation of the seated shoulder press. The shoulder press might be simple, but this tricky exercise requires knowledge of and strict adherence to the game's rules. Below are some tips to get you familiar with shoulder presses.

young bodybuilder exercising on the machine shoulder press

What Is The Shoulder Press Machine?

The shoulder press machine is the Area 51 of boulder-like shoulders boot camp. It is not for the faint of heart and requires strict discipline to utilize. The shoulder press machine is typical in commercial gyms today.

It has become a favorite to many bodybuilders, powerlifters, and gym veterans who hustle after the v-tapered shape worthy of billboards and magazines.

Given that this is a tricky feat, building massive shoulders provides a fitness bragging right in the gym. A piece of fixed bulky equipment with an attached seat, the shoulder press is a convenient machine that brings the dream of brawny shoulders on a tapered frame to life. The resistance hangs overhead so that you can easily reach it while seated in the chair.

The shoulder press machine has a fixed and limited range of motion so that you can only follow one pattern of movement.

These resistances restrict the motions of your arms to follow the motion that is allowed by the machine. The shoulder press machine also features adjustable weights.

The resistance can be made heavier or lighter by adjusting the pin to the chosen weight.

Some other designs of the shoulder press machine come with weighted plates that you can increase for a heavier load.

Why Use The Shoulder Press Machine?

The shoulder press machine is a variation of the seated barbell shoulder press.

Although it features a different range of motions, it is a superb exercise choice option for newbies and professional bodybuilders. The machine shoulder press works and strengthens the muscles of your delts.

Unlike other press variations, the machine shoulder press isolates the muscles in your shoulders, transferring the majority of the contraction to your deltoids. This is due to the fixed movement pattern, which helps activate and engage the proper muscles while isolating the shoulder muscles.

Intensity and range of motion are the significant differences between the free weight dumbbell shoulder press and the machine shoulder press.

Because the dumbbells or barbell are not attached to a steel structure in the conventional shoulder press, your arms are in charge of balance and movement across the entire range of motion.

The shoulder press machine, on the other hand, sports a fixed pathway.

You cannot take the levers out of the fixed range of motion and do not control how you move the weight. You follow the direction of the movement led by the machine.

Muscles Worked

The machine shoulder press primarily activates the deltoid muscles of the shoulder. As secondary and mover muscles, this exercise engages the pecs, triceps, and middle back muscles.

The shoulder press machine is an excellent exercise for building bulky shoulders.

It primarily works the deltoids while chipping in on other essential stabilizer muscles like the supraspinatus muscles, rotator cuff, traps, and rhomboid muscles.

Anterior Deltoid

Contrary to what many gym-goers think, the shoulder is not made up of a single muscle stretch. It involves the connection and dependence of various muscles in the shoulder to make arm movements. One of such muscles is the deltoid.The deltoid is the thick band of triangular muscle in the upper and most significant part of the body.

The deltoid aids the movement of the arm in all directions and helps in protecting and stabilizing the shoulder joint. 

The deltoid is divided into three parts or heads, namely the anterior, medial, and posterior delts. Each deltoid is not only placed differently in the shoulder region but also carries out different functions. The anterior deltoid is so-called because it is located on the front part of the shoulder. It is connected to the clavicle and helps to move the hand forward. It is helpful in functional activities like reaching forward to take a cereal bowl off the kitchen counter.

Medial Deltoid

The deltoid is also used in exercises in the gym that involve the execution of movements like deadlifts and bench presses. Together with the anterior delt, the medial deltoid is one of the primary muscles engaged during the shoulder machine press. The medial delt, also known as the side delt, is the middle head that helps to abduct the arm or move it out towards the side away from the body.

You make use of this muscle when you perform lateral raises.

The medial delt is the most substantial deltoid that provides size and girth. The shoulder press isolates this muscle, stimulating and breaking down its muscle fibers which contributes to bigger and stronger shoulders.

Posterior Deltoid

The posterior delt is targeted as a secondary muscle during the shoulder machine press. Compared to its predecessors, it gets only a lower level of stimulation. The posterior deltoid is also known as the rear deltoid, and it is located at the back of the shoulders. Its primary functions are the extension, external rotation, and horizontal abduction of the arms.

It works in sync with the anterior and medial delts to make arm movements and stabilize the shoulders during these movements.

The shoulder machine press engages and strengthens all three deltoid heads, improving your shoulder size, strength, stability, and mobility. It also extends these benefits to the triceps muscle of the arms. 


The triceps or triceps brachii is the upper arm muscle that enables the arm to appear big at rest and even bigger when flexed. If you want bigger guns, it is often a good idea to start working on your triceps. Thankfully, the shoulder press activates the triceps as a primary muscle during the shoulder machine press.

However, of all three triceps muscles, this shoulder exercise only primarily activates two, which are the medial and lateral heads.

The medial head of the triceps helps forearm extension at the elbow and stabilizes the elbow joint, while the lateral head provides power for high-intensity movements. The long head, which helps keep your shoulder joint in place, is engaged as a secondary muscle, receiving a lesser degree of stimulation.

Pectoralis Major

The pectoralis major, also fondly called the pecs, are activated during the shoulder press. This thick muscle banded over the chest area makes up the bulk of the chest muscles. It helps with the adduction and rotation of the arm. The shoulder machine press exercise not only works this muscle to strengthen and tighten it, but it also helps to grow it more prominent, contributing to an overall v-taper shape of intimidating size.

The shoulder machine press goes on to engage other supporting muscles like the serratus anterior that contributes to having a broader chest and the movement of the ribs, the long head of the biceps that helps with both abduction and internal rotation of the arms, and the traps for a bigger back with improved shoulder stability.

Essentially, the shoulder machine press targets many of the major muscle groups of the upper body. This helps to improve overall upper body health and strength for better performance at daily activities and in the gym.

Benefits of The Machine Shoulder Press

The machine shoulder press is a splendid way to build upper body strength. It is a simple movement that is easy to learn and even easier to perfect.

Some of its benefits are:

Broader Shoulders

The machine shoulder press is an isolation exercise at heart. This means that it focuses muscle stimulation directly on the muscles of the shoulders. This direct stimulation helps to break down the muscle fibers, and the regeneration of these fibers produces a stronger and bigger muscle. Most compound exercises of the shoulders recruit other muscle groups, reducing the stimulation to the shoulders as a secondary muscle. The machine shoulder press focuses your energy on the shoulders, leading to bigger shoulders in no time.


Unlike free-weight shoulder presses, the machine shoulder press requires little effort for its execution. It takes away the demand on your muscles, only requiring you to keep the proper form throughout the exercise. It is nothing like other shoulder press variations that require the engagement and activation of core muscles. You do not need to stabilize yourself, and your range of motion has been prepared for you in the marked pathway system of the machine.

If you are not familiar with free-weight shoulder presses, the machine shoulder press is a great foundational exercise to prepare you for other high-intensity workouts.

Bigger Guns

Although the machine shoulder press primarily isolates the shoulder muscles, it utilizes your arm muscles for movement. This engages the biceps and triceps, which are the most substantial muscles of the arm.

The shoulder machine press activates the biceps and triceps during the movements, leading to bigger and stronger arms.

Since arm strength is a necessity in the gym, it is safe to say that the machine shoulder press is a tremendous low-intensity finisher exercise for your arm day routine.

Broader Chest

The chest muscles also get in on the movement. More muscular pecs mean a more intimidating chest size.

The machine shoulder press works the pectoral muscle, strengthening it and resulting in its growth.

It also engages the serratus anterior, whose growth and strengthening contribute to the fifth of the chest. This is a great way to get the v-taper look thirsted after by many gym-goers.

How To Use The Machine Shoulder Press


The machine shoulder press exercise might look relatively easy, but to get the best results, you need to make proper use of the shoulder press machine. There is much more involved in this exercise than sitting in a chair and pressing a pair of handles towards the sky.

The machine shoulder press requires precision and consistency before you can begin to notice obvious signs of hypertrophy. Like any other exercise, the machine shoulder press requires a strict form for proper performance. The exercise might seem easy, but it packs a punch that you might feel during and after your workout session.

To do the Machine Shoulder Press:

  1. Adjust the machine seat to a comfortable height.
  2. Set the handles, so they are roughly at shoulder height.
  3. Sit upright in the chair. Ensure that you are erect but comfortable with your back against the back pad.
  4. Keep your feet flat on the floor and shoulder-width apart. Your knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle.
  5. Grab and hold the handles with a solid pronated or neutral grip. Your elbows should be bent and pointing towards the floor.
  6. Inhale and press the handle overhead straight to the ceiling.
  7. Hold this position at the top without locking out your elbows.
  8. Exhale and slowly bring your arms down without letting it go to the starting position.
  9. This is one rep. Complete as many repetitions as you can fit in a set.

The machine shoulder press relies on arm strength, focus, and muscle endurance. It is common to get tired mid-training and chicken out without completing your set.

If that ever happens to you, try  CHARGED-AF for increased energy, improved strength, better stamina, extra muscle pumps, and amplified focus. This will provide you with a performance boost and a better muscle response.

Tips To Switch Up Your Shoulder Press Game

Holding form while performing the machine shoulder press can be difficult, especially for newbies. If you find it challenging to keep your form in check, here are some tips to remember.

Proper Setup is Essential

The form of the gym equipment before you use it determines your performance and muscle response throughout the exercise.

When the seat is too low or the handles are too high, you tend to strain your shoulder muscles to overcompensate for this.

This places unnecessary and unhealthy pressure on your neck, shoulders, and back, leading to soreness in those areas and opening you up to risks of injuries. Before getting in the chair, ensure that the chair is comfortable and the handles are not too high or low. Suppose you have problems setting up, as for help from a spotter or personal trainer.

Watch Your Grip

Holding too narrow handles can activate the wrong muscle groups and put unnecessary strain on your shoulders.

Grab the handles with a neutral grip, keeping your arms a little wider than shoulder-width. Your elbows should remain flexed at your side to parallel your arms to your body.

Use Controlled Movements

Don’t make use of momentum by swinging the machine's handles forcefully. Keep your movements slow and under control when you lift and do the same when you lower them. It is vital to retain tension in your shoulders by keeping the weights above the rest of the stack.

Keep Your Back Straight

A common mistake amongst people who are just learning to use the shoulder press machine is rounding the shoulders. Your shoulders should be straight throughout your set.

A helpful cue is to sit with your chest proud, and your shoulder blades slightly pinched together.

This would help you catch any lag in your posture quickly and activate the correct muscle groups. Your head, back, and butt should be kept in contact with the pack pad.

Eat Right

Your nutrients are vital for muscle growth. Your meals should consist of the right amounts of micro and macronutrients. Most important is your protein.

Proteins contain amino acids that help build, repair, and maintain muscle tissue.

If you are worried about not downing enough proteins, pair your workout with VEG-PRO plant-based protein powder.

Choosing Free Weights Or The Shoulder Press Machine

Choosing a suitable workout method depends on your current fitness level and the fitness goals you wish to achieve. Each technique works as a unique process, and no two exercises will provide the same results. Your workout method also depends on your preference. Many people consider the machine a safer and easier way to work out why many others consider it a waste of time. Ultimately, it is vital to understand how each training method works before making a choice.

What are the benefits of using free weights? 

Using free weights for presses of any kind demands an increased level of attention and muscle recruitment. Unlike the shoulder press machine that helps you align your form while creating a smooth pathway to exhibit your range of motion when using free weights, you would be required to do the work yourself. A lot of things when you use free weights, including your center of gravity. The most common free weight for the shoulder press is the dumbbell.

This is mainly because the  dumbbell yields greater anterior deltoid activation compared to other weight choices.

When you use free weights, you are either standing or sitting on your own to perform the press. This demands extra effort to stabilize yourself while engaging the necessary muscle groups.

The free-weight shoulder press exercise is more compound. It requires the activation of your stabilizer muscles, lower extremities, posterior chain, and even smaller muscles like the rotator cuff.

What is the benefits of using the shoulder press machine?

The shoulder press machine removes the need to engage your core and focuses instead on activating your deltoid muscles. While isolation exercises help target specific muscles, keep in mind that you require compound exercises for full-body strength and endurance. The machine shoulder press is less effective as a full-body exercise and needs to complement other compound exercises. 

muscular guy doing seated dumbbell shoulder press in gym

Machine Shoulder Press Variations

There are not a lot of shoulder press variations that you can substitute for while using the machine. You can, however, continue to experiment with different hand placements utilizing this machine. There are, however, lots of exercises that you can replace the machine shoulder exercise with.

Some of these exercises are:

  • Seated dumbbell shoulder press
  • Smith machine shoulder press
  • Seated barbell shoulder press
  • Seated front military press

While these exercises might stimulate the same muscle groups as in the machine shoulder press, they might do so to various degrees. Body position and equipment affect muscle response during shoulder presses.

Your form and equipment, regardless of the press variation you choose to work with, will determine the success of your routine.

Getting You Started

Machine shoulder presses are an excellent choice for more extensive and stronger shoulders. At the same time, you get to build your chest and arm muscles for a more impressive, shredded look. Machine shoulder presses make impressive additions to shoulder day routines.

Coupled with other side exercises, you are well on your way to getting the bulky build that you crave.