The overhead press has long been a staple in the workout routines of many. It is thought that the overhead press is necessary for bigger shoulder size and overall deltoid development.
But is this long thought out statement taken as fact true? Is the overhead press necessary for shoulder development and bigger shoulders?
At the end of the day no the shoulder press is not necessary for shoulder growth but it is a definite convenience.
What is an Overhead Press?
The overhead press or military press is an exercise used to target the shoulders. It is such a well used lift that it is considered one of the golden exercises or golden five. (see Golden 5 Exercises – The Only 5 Exercises You Will Ever Need)
The military press is performed by holding a weight at about collarbone level and then proceeding to press it up until just before your elbow or elbows would lockout and then return to starting position.
Basically you are pressing the weight over your head hence the perfect name for the movement the overhead press.
This exercise can be done with practically any piece of equipment with either one arm or both arms.
10 Benefits of Overhead Press
The overhead press is a compound exercise meaning that it targets multiple muscles in one movement.
In the case of the overhead press it targets all the muscles of your shoulder.
This includes your front deltoid, lateral deltoid and rear deltoid muscles. As well as working your trapezius and triceps muscles.
All of this makes the overhead press a no-brainer for anyone trying to work all of their shoulder muscles at once.
Besides simply building muscle the overhead press is a great exercise for anyone looking to build strength specifically in their upper body.
This is largely in part because of the fact that this is such a compound movement.
The more muscles an exercise involves the more potential for higher energy output and the more energy a movement produces the more weight an individual can use.
So because this exercise allows for higher amounts of weight to be used the stronger it can make you.
Because after all strength comes down to one’s ability to move heavy weights.
An equipment friendly exercise is an exercise that can be performed with various types of equipment and the overhead press definitely fits that description.
An overhead press can be performed with pretty much anything that has a weight to it.
You can perform overhead presses with kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells, ez curl bars, cables and many more other possibilities.
Whether it be using one arm or using both arms at the same time the overhead press leaves the door open to possibility.
Standing or Seated
The overhead press or military press can be performed either while sitting down or standing up.
This just adds to the possibilities of this exercise and it is good to have different position options to ensure comfortability producing the best results.
Builds Core Stability
Pressing weight straight overhead requires some level of stability to achieve safely. To achieve this stability your body activates its core muscles to keep you stable.
This is especially true if you are performing an overhead press while standing up.
Pressing weight overhead while standing up brings your centre of gravity further from the ground making you even less stable.
This calls for even more core activation to keep your body straight.
Builds Overall Shoulder Stability
Your core is not the only thing that works to stabilise you during an overhead press as not only your trunk must stay stable but your arms must stay stable too in order to keep them from swaying out of place or even slipping out of their sockets.
That may sound alarming but thanks to your shoulder muscles and their ability to stabilise your arm there is a slim chance of that ever happening.
As long as you are being honest with yourself and lifting a safe amount of weight.
Mobility is perhaps one of the most important things when it comes to health and humanity.
Without the ability to move freely life would be very difficult and unenjoyable so it is important that we do things to promote our mobility especially as we start to age.
Doing overhead presses help promote one’s mobility by putting their shoulders and by extension arms through a safe but large range of motion.
Improves Bone Health
If mobility is not the most important thing when it comes to one’s health and humanity then bone health definitely is.
As without strong bones there will be nothing to move and be mobile with.
A large range of motion does not only benefit mobility but also bone health by making the joints also go through that same large range of motion.
Keeping your bones and joints working with weighted resistance is ultimately what will keep them healthy.
King of Shoulder Exercise
If you could only choose one exercise to work your shoulders the overhead press would without a doubt be that one exercise and that is practically inarguable.
Your shoulder muscles cover all sides of your body and that would make it sound impossible to work them all at once but the overhead press shows us that this isn’t true.
With the overhead press you can work all of the deltoid muscles from front to back that is why some people simply refer to it as the shoulder press.
Although you may question it at first the overhead press can indeed be done with nothing except your own body weight.
The first of these variations is simply going through the same movement but simply with no weights.
This is not exactly a movement that will develop your shoulders though and is usually reserved as a rehab movement.
The other bodyweight variation on the other hand is difficult and will definitely offer a challenge but plenty of shoulder development as a result.
It is a floor shoulder press which is an exercise done while holding yourself upside down with the palm of your hand and pushing yourself straight up against the floor to achieve the same movement as an overhead press.
Simply doing this free standing is extremely difficult and advanced so most individuals may opt to perform this exercise by a wall while ever so slightly leaning into it with their legs.
Just remember to stay straight as the more you lean the more it will become less like an overhead press and more like a pushup.
Does Overhead Press Increase Bench?
One reason one may want to incorporate the overhead press into their workout routine is because of the thought that it will help support and increase their bench press but will it actually?
Yes without a doubt the overhead press can and will help increase your bench if done right.
As mentioned earlier the overhead press can be used to build strength and is one of the top exercises to build upper body strength.
Again this is largely due to the high amounts of weight that can be used during the movement.
The bench press is an upper body compound exercise that like the overhead press is a pushing movement. This means if you increase your upper body’s pushing strength you are increasing your bench press strength as well.
With correct form and low repetition sets that focus on building strength the overhead press can be a key to making your bench press better.
It will greatly build shoulder and triceps strength even upper chest strength to an extent.
The overhead press is possibly the best exercise you can do to increase your bench next to the bench press itself.
How Does Overhead Press Work Your Shoulders?
Your deltoid muscles have two main functions one being to stabilise the shoulder joint and the other being abduction of the arm or arms.
Abduction is the movement away from the centre of the body. In this case with your deltoids they all work together in order to achieve this.
Depending on which way you move your arm the movement will benefit one head of the deltoid more than the others.
If you move your arm forward the movement will focus more on the anterior or front deltoid muscles.
If you move your arm out to the sides the movement will focus more on the medial or side deltoid muscles.
And if you move your arms backwards the movement will put a greater focus on your posterior or rear deltoid muscles.
The overhead press works your shoulders by both making the deltoids work to stabilise your shoulder joints and by abducting your arm moving them over your head and away from the centre of your body.
Alternatives To Overhead Press
The overhead press has a great selection of alternatives.
As mentioned previously there are the bodyweight options but in the weight room is where you will find most of this exercise’s alternatives.
Behind The Neck Press
The behind the neck press is a version of the overhead press performed by starting with the bar placed behind your neck and head on the back of your shoulders like it would be if you were performing a back squat.
Other than that this variation is performed the same simply pushing the weight up from behind you instead of in front of you.
The behind the neck press helps put more focus on the rear delt.
Dumbbell Overhead Press
The dumbbell overhead press is the standard overhead press usually performed with a barbell but instead performed with dumbbells.
This is beneficial for two key reasons the first being that each arm moves individually.
With each arm pushing the weights individually there is greater muscular balance and core involvement.
The other key reason being instead of having the weights held in front of you or behind you like in the behind the neck press you can actually hold the weight directly beside you since there is no bar in the way.
Pushing the weight from directly beside you makes for an exercise that targets each deltoid head more evenly.
This is an interesting variation of the dumbbell overhead press named after famous bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger.
It has a unique starting position with a supinated grip and elbow tucked to your sides.
From there arms are moved outwards and put into the starting position of a standard dumbbell overhead press then the press is performed.
The movement is then reversed back to starting position to complete the rep.
This must be performed all as once smooth movement though no stop or pauses in between.
The idea is that the starting position of this exercise leads to a more significant stretch in the medial and rear delts and the exercise overall has a greater range of motion leading to more muscle stimulation.
Perhaps the most underused and little known about exercises the scot press is a great supplement or even accessory lift to the dumbbell overhead press.
In simple terms the scott press is a chest fly but for your shoulders.
You take the usual starting position for a dumbbell shoulder press but instead of pressing up with your entire arm you press up with only your upper arm.
While pressing you leave your elbows in the same bent position throughout the movement until eventually the dumbbells will touch each other overhead.
Then while still keeping your elbows bent you return to the starting position.
Is Overhead Press Important?
The overhead press is extremely important.
While other exercises target the shoulders such as front delt raises and side delt raises and even compound exercises that work your shoulders such as the bench press and pushups no other exercise will compare to the overhead press.
There is no reason not to include the overhead press into your exercise routine if bigger shoulders are what you are looking for.
It will target all aspects of your shoulders in one movement as well as stimulating additional muscles on top of that.
Not to mention the massive strength gaining benefits and even going as far to help improve your bench. That is something everyone would like to improve at one point or another. So the overhead press is ideal for bigger shoulders and bigger strength gains.