How often do you press? One type of press you may include in your strength-training routine is the overhead press, also known as the shoulder press or military press. The overhead press is a compound exercise that works your triceps, shoulders, and traps. When you do it with good form, this exercise can help you build a stronger upper body. Let’s look at five benefits of doing overhead presses.
Overhead Presses Strengthen Your Upper Body
When you do an overhead press, your triceps, upper back, and shoulders do the bulk of the work, making it one of the best exercises for strengthening these muscles. Plus, the overhead press works your shoulder muscles in a more balanced manner than many shoulder exercises. It’s an excellent functional exercise too. Almost every part of the upper body is targeted when you perform an overhead press.
The shoulder muscle has three portions—the anterior, medial, and posterior deltoids. Pressing overhead works the anterior and medial portions the most but you get some targeting of the posterior deltoids, a portion of the deltoid that doesn’t get enough focus in most training programs. So, it’s a good exercise for balanced shoulder development.
They Work Your Core Too
When you first look at the overhead press, you might believe it’s only an upper body exercise that works the triceps, shoulders, and upper back. However, pressing overhead also forces your core and even your lower body muscles to contract to stabilize your upper body. So, overhead presses build core stability. Who couldn’t use a stronger core? A strong mid-section and core gives you greater functional strength too.
Overhead Presses Can Improve Your Posture
If you’re looking for a great exercise to improve posture, overhead presses are a no-brainer. Most people could stand to work on their body alignment or posture. Lifting overhead helps strengthen the erector spinae, the muscles that support your spine. However, the form you use is important. To maximize the posture benefits of pressing overhead, use a full range of motion and make sure your elbows don’t move past your ears. The entire movement should be performed from the middle of your shoulders to the top of your chest while maintaining a neutral head position and not arching your back. Don’t get sloppy or distracted when doing this exercise.
They Can Improve Your Bench Press
The overhead press strengthens the muscles in your upper back and that helps you perform better on the eccentric portion of the bench press. Building overhead press strength and proficiency will carry over to your bench press. It will improve your overall pressing strength too, so you carry out exercises like push-ups better too.
Overhead Presses Can Improve Performance for Some Sports
Overhead presses build strength in the overhead position and that can help you with other lifts, particularly the bench press, but also some sports where you need overhead strength and power. Examples of sports that require overhead strength and power include tennis, baseball, volleyball, football, swimming, and lacrosse. If you play those sports, build your pushing power with overhead presses.
One Precaution about Overhead Presses
The overhead press places pressure on the glenohumeral joint in the shoulder, the joint where the head of the humerus connects with your scapula. This is an unstable joint already because of its mobility. If you use poor form or do the exercise too often or with too much weight, it can lead to problems like
patellar tendonitis, rotator cuff injury, shoulder impingement, and AC joint injuries. Plus, if you’re sloppy with overhead presses, you are likely to develop imbalances.
Overhead presses can also injure your back. When you lift a heavy weight overhead, you have a tendency to arch or hyperextend your back. That’s exactly what you don’t want to do if you value a healthy back. That’s why you should not use a heavy weight when you press overhead. Keep the weight lighter and do higher repetitions.
Overhead Presses Can Be Hard on Your Shoulders Too
If you have shoulder issues or upper back issues, check with your doctor before doing overhead presses and listen to your body. If it feels uncomfortable when you lift overhead, don’t do it. The bench press is a safer exercise since you’re in a horizontal position. Some fitness trainers even believe the risks of overhead presses are greater than the benefits.
The best approach may be to do overhead presses in moderation if you have healthy shoulders and avoid them if you don’t. Keep the weight modest and your form impeccable. Have someone critique your form when you press overhead. Many people do them wrong without being aware of it – arching the back is the most common.
If you’re having problems with the overhead press, you may need to strengthen your rotator cuff before adding this exercise to your routine. A weak core is another reason the exercise may seem hard to you and you’re more likely to arch your back and injure it when you lift overhead with a weak core. Do you have shoulder mobility issues? Lack of shoulder mobility makes overhead pressing harder too.
The Bottom Line
The overhead press builds upper body strength, but it also works the muscles and even your glutes and hamstrings since these muscles have to stabilize. So, it’s more like a whole-body exercise but one that requires close attention to form and technique to avoid injury.
- “How to Do the Dumbbell Overhead Press: Techniques ….” 26 Nov. 2019, https://www.verywellfit.com/how-to-do-the-dumbbell-overhead-press-3498298.
- Keogh JW, Aickin SE, Oldham AR. Can common measures of core stability distinguish performance in a shoulder pressing task under stable and unstable conditions?. J Strength Cond Res. 2010;24(2):422-9.
- “Why Is the Overhead Press So Hard? | Livestrong.com.” 18 May. 2021, https://www.livestrong.com/article/13731512-why-is-overhead-press-so-hard/.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “Shoulder Impingement/Rotator Cuff Tendinitis”
- Saeterbakken AH, Fimland MS. Effects of body position and loading modality on muscle activity and strength in shoulder presses. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Jul;27(7):1824-31. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318276b873. PMID: 23096062.
- Luczak J, Bosak A, Riemann BL. Shoulder Muscle Activation of Novice and Resistance Trained Women during Variations of Dumbbell Press Exercises. J Sports Med (Hindawi Publ Corp). 2013;2013:612650. doi:10.1155/2013/612650.
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