HomeExercise LibraryHow To: Barbell Overhead Press

How To: Barbell Overhead Press

Barbell Overhead Press

The overhead press is the best size and strength builder for the shoulders that’s out there, when it comes to shoulder training too many guys are working on excessive amounts of isolation via exercises such as the front raise, dumbbell lateral raise and rear deltoid fly… these exercises are useful for isolating the different heads of the shoulder however to build overall mass and powerful shoulder strength you need to be pressing heavy!

Movement: Compound

Targets: Shoulders & Core

Required: Barbell

Optional: N/A

Barbell Overhead Press Form:

Adjust your squat rack or power cage to chest height for your barbell.

Grip the barbell with your palms facing away from you, slightly beyond shoulder width.

Maintain a slight bend in your knees as you unrack the barbell to collar bone height.

Step back with the barbell and maintain a stance slightly outside of shoulder width.

Drive the barbell upward, keeping it as inline with your body as possible while not flaring out your elbows, continue until lockout.

Slowly lower the barbell back down to your collarbone.

Overhead Press Variations

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

The seated shoulder press is fantastic for bringing up muscular imbalances in the shoulders.
Performed with two independent weights as opposed to one barbell you'll find yourself unable to compensate for your weaker side when performing the dumbbell shoulder press.

See also
How To: Foam Roll Hamstrings

Arnold Press

A rotating variation of the dumbbell shoulder press, hitting all heads of the deltoid.

Here's The Barbell I Use & Recommend...

I've been using one of these 'The Beast" 7 foot olympic barbells in my home garage gym for the last 6 years, it's affordable, high quality and gets the job done regardless of how many 45lb plates are loaded on it.
Check it out and invest in a high quality "The Beast" barbell here.

Common Barbell Overhead Press Mistakes

Not Pushing the Bar Vertically

The barbell should take the shortest path to the top – this is directly in-line with your body.
You should solely be pressing upward, not forwards or backwards.
Not only does pressing forward place more emphasis on the chest and front deltoids (as opposed to working the entire shoulder) you’ll struggle to lift the weight once you’re going heavy as this is more of an isolater and your balance can also be compromised as you push the barbell infront of you, making it a struggle to maintain your ground without falling forward.

Overarching Your Lower Back

Leaning excessively far backwards and ‘planting’ yourself into position when lifting heavy can see you falling backwards if your core stability begins to falter. A large tilt backwards in your upper body also mimics an incline bench press to an extent and will see you lifting heavier on your overhead press as you’re recruiting more upper chest to assist with the movement – we’re isolating the shoulders here and stronger muscle groups intervening with our shoulder press is not what we want. Keep your body upright with a very minuscule lean, not one that resembles an incline bench press angle.

See also
How To: Dumbbell Incline Hammer Curl

Bouncing Your Knees

Throughout the movement your knees should be slightly bent (I do not recommend locking out your knees as this compromises your stability) however your knees should not be moving at all. Bouncing at the bottom of each repetition can quickly turn an overhead press into a push press or god forbid a thruster. These exercises utilize momentum in order to muscle the weight out of the ‘hole’ – the bottom part of the movement which requires the most strength to get the barbell moving.

Consciously ensure your not bouncing the weight up on each rep, if you’re unable to raise the barbell overhead without bouncing it’s time to drop the weight down a bit and perfect that form – lifting with your ego and utilizing poor form to get the weight up will never do you any good in the long run.

Too Much Weight

You should be lifting a weight on your overhead press that you actually can lift with correct form for your prescribed number of repetitions.
If you’re struggling to get the weight up you’re setting yourself up for disaster.

Leaning forwards, falling backwards, utilizing momentum to drive the barbell upwards while pushing it away from your body… when excessive amounts of weight is used for pressing movements you’ll naturally do whatever you can to get it overhead.

See also
How To: Incline Bench Dumbbell Row

Form ALWAYS comes first, muscling weight that’s too heavy for you to manage before dropping it on your head isn’t going to help you build the shoulder strength and size you want.

Using A Limited Range Of Motion

Don’t expect to reap all the results of the overhead press if you’re only working half of the range of the exercise.
This is without a doubt the most common mistake I see being made with most exercises, and the overhead press is no exception! Your arms should be locked out at the top of each repetition with the barbell directly above your head. When lowering the barbell it should come all the way down to the top of your chest – don’t stop once the barbell is in line with your nose and your arms are parallel, you aren’t working the shoulders in their entirety.

Similar & Substitute Exercises 

  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press
  • Arnold Press
  • Clean & Press

Any Questions Regarding The Barbell Overhead Press? Ask Below!

Scott J.
Scott J.
I’m SJ. I’m a fitness enthusiast and published author. I transformed my body from a skinny fat 135lbs with 18% body fat to a solid 192lbs at 8% body fat. I became qualified in a field I was passionate about. I founded several online businesses that allow me to pursue ideas and projects in my life that I am passionate about without having to constantly worry about money. I published several eBooks explaining the training and dieting techniques I used to achieve the body I have today. I learnt a plethora of new information on dieting and fitness by reading and applying what I read, to find out what does work and what doesn’t work, because as I’m sure you’ve noticed the health and fitness industry is full of non-sense claims and BS. I found out what was true and what worked for me and applied that knowledge. And you bet I had fun during the whole process.

Stay in Touch

To follow the best weight loss journeys, success stories and inspirational interviews with the industry's top coaches and specialists. Start changing your life today!

Related Articles