The Standing Barbell Shoulder Press

The standing barbell shoulder press, otherwise known as the overhead press is one of my favorite exercises. I remember first discovering it as another way to hit my shoulders besides the seated dumbbell press.

Since then it has become one of my most important and enjoyable movements to perform. I am not alone in this department as many gym go-ers feel the exact same way.

The standing barbell shoulder press looks badass. There is something epic about lifting heavy weight overhead.

Upon completing a successful rep I imagine myself as the Greek Titan Atlas holding the heavens above himself. Some may be thinking “you’re just lifting weights chill bro” but you don’t get it.

Using imagery as inspiration can drive you to perform feats you thought impossible. Superhuman strength requires a superhuman mentality. 

We all need to find a way to channel our energy to achieve things greater than ourselves. Utilizing mythology and stories from the past can be a great way to do so.

Shoulders Need Love Too

The ideal physique structure has been changed over the years. If you go back to statues and classic bodybuilders of old you will see they have well developed shoulders.

In modern times we have seen the shoulders relegated to second division as the chest reigns supreme. 

Judging magazines and on social media, you would think the chest is the only thing that matters.

This has led to most lifters prioritizing the bench press ahead of the standing barbell shoulder press. While there is nothing wrong with the bench press and it is a fantastic chest exercise, it does mean the shoulders are often playing second fiddle.

Thankfully the shoulders are being rediscovered and with that the standing barbell shoulder press is coming back into fashion. The fitness world is starting to wake up to the error of their ways.

There are a lot of reasons why I am happy about this.

The standing barbell shoulder press is great for athleticism. For a pushing movement the plane of motion is best suited to athletes.

As it is a standing exercise it gives us the ability to engage the core and glutes a lot more. This turns the standing barbell shoulder press into more of a full body exercise. 

An athlete will rarely need to isolate muscles for performance. To demonstrate this imagine a punching boxer.

Do they only use their chest, shoulders and triceps to punch? No, they use their hips, glutes and core as well.

The body moves as a chain so only concentrating on one muscle will give you diminished returns.

Powerlifters and other strength athletes have discovered an interesting point.

Any lifter who focuses solely on the bench press instead of the overhead press (OHP)  will not be good at the OHP. But any lifter who focuses solely on the OHP will develop their bench press regardless. 

If you develop your shoulders and triceps enough through the OHP, you will develop a strong bench press because of it.

This demonstrates the importance of the OHP. For the price of one exercise you can improve two major ones. 

In this way you are getting more bang for your buck.

Contrary to popular belief, the OHP does work your chest. All you need to do is look at the chest of olympic lifters to know this.

OK, maybe not as much as the bench press but there is still some activation there for sure.

Not to mention the Overhead Press is a phenomenal exercise to put solid muscle on your shoulders.

This will primarily be on the anterior (front) and medial (side) portions of the shoulders (deltoids).

To ensure the shoulders are balanced and full from all angles it is important to take care of the rear delts as well.

Include rear delt flys or face pulls twice a week in your training. I also recommend doing light rear delt flys for high reps before pressing for shoulder health.

Using precautionary measures will ensure longevity in the iron game. This is key for both mentality and physicality throughout life.

How to Perform The Standing Barbell Shoulder Press

  • Grip the bar just outside shoulder width. Gripping the bar too wide will take your lats out of the movement and make it harder to “stack” your joints.
  • Using a false grip on the OHP is actually one of the few exercises where it is safe to do so. This is where you do not wrap your thumb around the bar.

A false grip on the bench press is dangerous as the bar can easily slip out of your hands and onto your neck.

In the OHP this is not the case.  It will allow you to keep your elbows tucked in throughout the exercise, put less stress on the shoulder joint and engage the triceps more.

  • Elbows should be tucked in and pointing downwards, not in front.
  • Engage your lats to properly extend your thoracic spine (mid back). A common problem lifters experience is lower back pain while performing the OHP. This is because of too much extension in the lumbar area.
  • Squeeze your glutes and core for stability. When I say squeeze I mean really squeeze. This will help to prevent excessive back leaning.
  • The bar should touch your upper chest or shoulders with the beginning of each rep.

With the standing barbell shoulder press the bar should move in an curve. This is the most efficient bar path for our structure.

When pressing the bar overhead, ensure you move your head back to allow the bar to move safely overhead. Once it is past your head you can then move it back into a neutral position. This pattern should be repeated with each rep.

  • Like the deadlift, the OHP begins from a dead stop. It is not like the squat and bench press where there is a eccentric portion before the concentric.

As a result a lot of force is needed to get the bar moving. Once you have unracked the weight and are set, explode up with as much force as possible. 

Here is a great video on the right overhead pressing technique.

The standing overhead press is a fantastic upperbody exercise and test of strength. If you can get strong at these then you know you are in great condition.

A bodyweight overhead press is a tough but good target to aim for. It won’t happen overnight. Make sure you are practising the movement at least once a week to improve longterm.

Thanks for reading,

Stay tuned.

P.S Leave a comment down below to let me know what you think.

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2018-01-14T04:42:07-07:00 By |Fitness|6 Comments


  1. strongbodytoday September 12, 2017 at 4:38 pm - Reply

    love me some OHP. I’m so damn weak at it though, and I also think thats limiting my bench a bit

    • Peter September 12, 2017 at 8:55 am - Reply

      It is a fantastic exercise. It could well be limiting your bench but at least you have a lot of room to improve.

  2. givemumthecoffeean September 12, 2017 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    Great article Peter!

    I’ve always found lifting heavy weights a bit intimidating but have been encouraged to build bone strength.

    Do you have any pictures of posture when doing the shoulder presses? I’m a bit of a noob so just want to make sure I’m doing it right 🙂

    • Peter September 14, 2017 at 4:59 am - Reply

      Lifting weights is amazing for your health. I would recommend everyone start lifting multiple times a week. Posture should be as straight as possible to stack the joints and prevent leaking energy. This will result in the the most strength gains long term. I will add in a video of a great example of perfect form.

      Thank you for the great suggestion.

  3. Owain September 12, 2017 at 6:08 am - Reply

    Great post Peter. I was particularly intrigued to hear how the chest has now taken preference over shoulders. Is there anyone, (bodybuilder or whoever), that does favor the shoulders?

    Anyway, thank you again for te instructions. They will be most helpful for me.

    • Peter September 12, 2017 at 8:54 am - Reply

      Thanks for commenting Owain. I think if you look at the classic bodybuilder physique such as Steve Reeves you will see a more balanced physique.

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