How to Barbell Shoulder Press: Technique, Benefits, Variations

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As the name implies, dumbbell exercises build your shoulder muscles. When done correctly, it can also help strengthen the back and core. Incorporate this exercise into your endurance training, bodybuilding, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout.

Also known as: Vertical barbell, horizontal pressure, military force, strict seal

Target: Shoulders, upper back, mid back and core

Necessary equipment: Dumbbells and dumbbells

Level: Beginners

How to do shoulder weight exercises

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Place the barbell on the power stand so that it is in front of your shoulders. You can remove the bar from the rack without tiptoeing or bending too low.

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, your hips and knees fully extended, but don’t lock your knees. Hold the barbell in a forward rack position (against the front of your shoulders) with elbows forward and hands shoulder-width apart. This is your starting position.

  1. Squeeze your body, squeezing your shoulder blades together, and press the bar upward as you exhale.
  2. Keep pressing until your arm is locked. This move will make you feel like you are pressing your head through the “window” created by your arms.
  3. Engage your back muscles and, with control, bring the bar back to the forward rack position while inhaling.
  4. Repeat these steps for more reps, or return the bar to the power stand to finish this exercise.

You can also do shoulder weights without a rack. Using a point meter helps ensure that you do the unsupported version of this exercise safely, especially if you’re using heavy weights.

Benefits of shoulder exercises

This exercise targets the deltoids and trapezius muscles, along with all the smaller, deeper muscles that make up your shoulders. You’ll also work your triceps, biceps, back, and core for better overall strength.

The simplicity of the shoulder lift makes it a good exercise for people of all fitness levels. It is also of particular benefit to female athletes as research has found that this exercise can improve torso and spine movement in this population.

Since shoulder weight training strengthens your upper body and center of gravity, it can help improve your posture. Improved posture can translate into reduced soreness, especially in the back and neck.

The dumbbell shoulder press also serves a functional purpose. For example, they help build the strength needed to perform everyday activities like lifting a heavier item overhead to place it on an upper shelf.

Other variations of shoulder exercises

With some adjustments, you can make the dumbbell shoulder press easier or harder depending on your fitness level and any limitations you may have.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Using dumbbells in place of barbells is a great option for people who can’t lift weights yet—typically 45 pounds at most gyms—or who experience shoulder pain when pressing up with the barbell.

To perform the shoulder press with dumbbells, hold the dumbbells at shoulder height with your hands just wider than shoulder width. Keep your back straight and steady your weight while pressing the barbell overhead. When the arms are fully extended, bring the dumbbells back to shoulder height.

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

One arm dumbbell shoulder press

If two dumbbells still don’t work for you—this may be the case for people with limited spinal mobility or a neck injury—try using one dumbbell instead. Perform the same steps as you would with two dumbbells, except press only with one arm at a time.

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

This shoulder press variation will seriously test core stability and spinal mobility. To do it, sit on a weight bench while holding weights at shoulder height. Press the dumbbells until your arms are straight, then bring them back to the shoulder area.

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Mine press machine

The mine press is a great modification for those who cannot press directly upwards due to injury. This version positions your body in a different way, removing a lot of stress from the delicate shoulder structure.

To do it, raise your barbell so it’s at an angle and secure, with one end on the floor. Stand in front of the other side, feet shoulder width apart. (You can also do this variation in a kneeling position.)

Hold the dumbbell with both hands so that it hovers in front of your chest. Your palm should be facing up. Press the bar up and out — you should be pressing at an angle, not directly overhead. Lower the bar to chest level and repeat.

Most gyms have a tube for sliding the barbell inward, which is specifically designed for squeezing mines. If you don’t have that pipe, simply wedge one end of the barbell into an angle where the two walls meet.


If you’re serious about lifting more weight overhead, you’ll have to use your lower body. Using your hips to build momentum in a push-up will allow you to push much heavier weights.

This variation, rather than simply pressing the weight upwards, begins with a slight bend in the knee, then pushes through the foot to keep the leg straight while pressing. When your hips are fully extended, press the bar upward before returning the bar to the starting position.

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Push recoil

The push push is even stronger than the push push. Commonly seen in CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting programs, it involves a large hip extension that resembles a push-up exercise but also includes a secondary “dip” where you receive the barbell.

Called “dropping under the bar,” this allows you to hold a heavy object in a stable position and stand all the way to complete the lift.

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, dumbbells in front of shoulders, and hands slightly wider than shoulders. Bend the knees slightly to lower in the dip, then quickly extend the knees and elbows while pressing the barbell upwards, bending the knees again while “catching” the bar in the high position. best.

Next, straighten your legs so that you are standing fully upright with the dumbbells overhead and elbows locked. Lower the bar back to front shoulder level for more repetitions, or finish the exercise by placing the bar on a rack or lowering it to the floor.

Cleaning and press

Combine shoulder weight training with a power tool — called a clean and press — to really improve your strength training. This move also improves your strength, speed, coordination, and power.

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hold dumbbells in front of your shins. Push your hips back and drive through your heels to pull the barbell up to your chest quickly. Next, shrug your shoulders, bring your elbows forward, and push through your heels again to switch to an overhead press.

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Kettlebell Press

If you’re interested in improving your stability (and improving your jump height), Trade your dumbbells for a pair of warm dumbbells. Start with two dumbbells in a forward rack position, resting them on both your arms and forearms and your elbows facing forward (not out to the sides).

Breathe, focus on the muscles and press the dumbbells overhead. Hold your arms close to your head as if you were stroking your ears with your biceps. Lower the bell back to the previous rack position to start the next rep or end this exercise.

Common mistake

Keep these common mistakes in mind while performing dumbbell exercises. Avoiding them makes traveling safer and more efficient.

Lock not completed

Incomplete locking errors are common in all overhead exercises. This means you don’t fully extend your elbows in the overhead position, and instead return to the starting position before the lift is complete.

Unless you have an injury that prevents you from accessing the full range of motion, you will only get the full benefit of the dumbbell shoulder press if you completely lock your arms.

Lack of core engagement

The lack of core cohesion is very evident in the dumbbell exercise. The easiest way to tell if someone isn’t engaging their core is to look at the lower back. If your lower back flexes a lot during shoulder presses with the barbell, your core isn’t working.

This can lead to pain and injury, so remember to squeeze your core muscles. Think about making your entire abdominal area a solid, solid cylinder to protect your spine and prevent it from moving too much in one direction.

Squeeze out

The barbell should move overhead in a straight line. Many people make the mistake of pushing it out in front of their body, forming an arc with an overhead position.

This not only puts your body in an injury-prone position, but it also makes lifting more difficult. That can affect how much weight you can lift when performing shoulder exercises.

Press Press Instead of Press Strictly

If you’re using your legs to push the bar upward, you’re doing a press instead of a tight squeeze. Using your legs can help you hit more weight from the top, but that’s not the goal of traditional or rigorous dumbbell presses.

Safety and Precautions

Before any exercise, take the time to warm up. Warm-up helps prepare the body for exercise by increasing blood flow to muscles, lubricating and loosening joints, increasing core temperature and heart rate, and dilating blood vessels.

To warm up your shoulders, do a few shoulder stretches and presses with light to moderate weights. In addition to a shoulder warm-up, do your strength training before working under the barbell.

If you have a shoulder, neck, or back injury, check with your doctor or physical therapist before performing shoulder weight exercises. And if you feel any pain during this exercise, stop the movement immediately.

Try to do overhead presses 8 to 10 times. If you need to adjust your form at any point, put the barbell back on the rack and start the steps again.


Incorporate this and similar moves into one of these popular exercises:

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