6 Best Overhead Press Variations & Their Benefits

The overhead press is one of the best compound exercises that help you build strength, power, muscles, and endurance all at once. I’ve shared everything about the overhead press workout in this article, such as muscles worked, proper form and technique, how to do several variations, benefits, and alternatives.

The overhead press is also called shoulder press, so I’ll use both terms throughout the article.

Muscles Worked During Overhead Presses

The shoulder is the primary muscle that works during the overhead press. It has three parts such as the front, medial and rear deltoid. And out of three, the front delt is highly stimulated during the movement.

Other than that, the core, triceps, and upper trap also worked when you did the shoulder press workout. And it makes it one of the best compound movements for building muscle and strength.

The Overhead Press Techniques and Form

Doing the overhead press with the proper technique produces a better result and reduces the risk of injuries.

In the below video, Jeff Nippard, one of the renowned fitness instructors on YouTube, has beautifully explained how to do the overhead overpress with the perfect technique.

Here are some of the crucial points you can take into consideration while performing a shoulder press.

  1. Hold the bar or the dumbbells at your shoulder height.
  2. Keep your elbows tucked at your sides so they are facing forward.
  3. To get the best out of the overhead press, use a full range of motion. That means extending the elbows completely overhead.
  4. Don’t instantly press the weight up like a barbell push press. Do each rep in a controlled manner.
  5. Keep your chest up, back straight, and core tight during the entire movement. It will reduce the stress on the lower back and allow you to perform it safely and efficiently.
  6. Your arms should align with your body when you press the weight up.

Shoulder Press Variations

You can do the overhead press in various ways and with several types of equipment.

For example, you can do the following:

  1. Sitting overhead press,
  2. Standing overhead press,
  3. Front overhead press, and
  4. Behind-the-neck shoulder press.

And these shoulder press variations you can do with multiple types of equipment, such as:

  1. Barbell (It’s also known as Military press when you do it with a barbell)
  2. Dumbbell
  3. Smith Machine
  4. Shouder Press Machine
  5. Kettlebell, and
  6. Resistance band

The selection of an overhead press variation depends on what suits you the most in safety and effectiveness.

6 Best Overhead Press Exercise Variations

1. Smith Machine Overhead Press

Smith Machine Overhead Press
Overhead Press on Smith Machine
  1. Place the bar in the rack at your shoulder height along with the weight plate.
  2. Now grab the bar with an overhand grip with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  3. Keep your back straight and chest up, and brace your core and glute muscles.
  4. Now press the bar upwards over your head until your arms are fully straight.
  5. Hold for about 2 seconds at the top and then slowly lower the bar back to the beginning position. That’s one rep!
  6. Complete three to four sets, 10 reps each, with 1 to 2 minutes rest between the sets.

2. Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Dumbbell Overhead Shoulder Press
Dumbbell Overhead Shoulder Press

How to:

  1. Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding one dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip, palms facing upward.
  2. Keep your elbows bent at your sides, hold your arms at shoulder height, and ensure the dumbbells are not far from your shoulder.
  3. Keep your back straight, chest up, and core tight. That’s the starting position.
  4. Now, press the dumbbells up toward the ceiling until your arms are straight.
  5. Hold for a second, then slowly lower the dumbbells back into the starting position. That’s one rep!
  6. Do as many reps as you like, but at least six would be good to start. Then, complete three to four sets with 1 to 2 minutes rest between each.

3. Barbell Overhead Press

The overhead barbell press, sometimes called the military press, builds up upper body muscles, especially the shoulder.

If you want to build thick and broad shoulders, don’t forget to incorporate the military press into your shoulder workout routine.

Barbell Overhead Press
Barbell Overhead Press

How to do:

  1. Take out the bar, step back, and stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold the bar at shoulder height with an overhand grip, palms facing up. Your hands should be at least shoulder-width apart.
  3. Keep your back straight and chest up, and brace your core and glutes. That’s the starting position.
  4. Now, press the bar up towards the ceiling until your arms are straight.
  5. Hold for a second, then slowly lower the bar into the starting position. That’s one rep!
  6. Complete three to four sets, 10 reps each, with 1 to 2 minutes rest between each set.
  7. Inhale before pressing the bar and exhale after completing one rep.

4. Shoulder Machine Overhead Press

Machine Shoulder Press
Machine Shoulder Press
  1. Get into a seated position with the handles of the machine at your shoulder height.
  2. Keep your back and head rested on the resting pad, and grab the handles firmly with your palms facing up and elbows forward.
  3. Brace your abdominal muscles, inhale, and press the weight up.
  4. Lower the handles to the start. That’s your first rep.
  5. Do three to four sets of 8 to 12 reps each.

5. Kettlebell Shoulder Press

  1. Hold a pair of kettlebells with your hands at your shoulder height. You can do it both in a seated and standing position.
  2. Keep your abdominal muscles tight, then press the weight toward the ceiling until your arms are straight.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat for the desired reps and sets.

6. Resistance Band Shoulder Press

  1. Start with standing straight with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Place one end of the band under your feet and grab the other end firmly with your hands.
  3. Hold your hands beside your shoulders with your palms facing up. It is your starting point.
  4. Press the band upward until your elbows are fully extended and then lower to the start to complete one rep.
  5. Do as many reps and sets as you like.

Benefits of the overhead press

You’ll get a myriad of benefits if you do any of the variations shoulder press. Let’s see some of the important ones below.

1. Shoulder Press Build Strong Delts

The overhead press is one of the best shoulder workouts, mainly on the front and middle deltoids. It also activates the rear delt muscle to some extent. 1Effects of body position and loading modality on muscle activity and strength in shoulder presses– Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research

Building bigger and rounded delts is an excellent workout because the overhead press contributes nearly 50 percent of all shoulder workouts.

It doesn’t matter how big your bicep and tricep are; your arms will look underdeveloped if you have poor delts.

2. Strengthen The Core

The standing variation of the shoulder press activates core muscles during the movement.

Doing the shoulder press with proper form and technique increase core strength and help you build a solid upper body structure.

A solid core has numerous benefits, such as it helps you push, pull and lift heavier weights and improves overall performance.

3. Improve Grip Strength

The overhead press also increases the strength of your grip. Having a solid grip help you lift heavy weights (such as a deadlift) soundly.

4. Promote Muscle Growth

The shoulder press is a helpful compound exercise that activates several muscles at once and promotes hypertrophy. (check out the free hypertrophy workout routine)

The different types of overhead press work on multiple muscles like delts, traps, triceps, and the core.

If you notice your traps at the time of the overhead press, you can feel how your traps activate and expand throughout the workout. Doing shoulder presses often will help you develop your traps.

The shoulder press may also be great for stimulating the triceps muscles. However, the major tricep muscle engaged during the workout is the long head.

In some cases, it also works on the upper chest, but only when you already did some chest workout like bench press or the dumbbell press.

Overall the shoulder press is the must-do exercise for muscle growth, and you must include it in your overall workout routine.

5. Other Benefits of the Overhead Press include

  • The overhead press may also improve posture.
  • Doing shoulder presses may also improve bench press.
  • In some cases, the standing shoulder press may also enhance arms swing power, increasing the jumping abilities.

Behind the head vs. front Overhead Press

Behind The Head, the shoulder press puts more stress on the Thoracic Spine than the front overhead press. 2Overhead shoulder press – In front of the head or behind the head? – Science Direct (2013)

However, in terms of effectiveness, both are good, and they increase strength and promote muscle growth. Both variations are also safe for the shoulders and spine.

You can include both variations in your workout routine or do each variation in different periods to check which one is more effective for your shoulder.

Overhead Press Alternatives

You can do some of the best alternatives to overhead presses without equipment. The other options are pike and handstand pushups. I’ve already written a thorough article on how to do bodyweight shoulder exercises, so you can check it out.


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Murshid Akram
I'm an online personal trainer, fitness blogger, and fitness enthusiast. I love researching and writing about exercise and nutrition. I share science-based, practical, and logical information that can help you achieve your desired fitness goal.
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