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How to do a Shoulder Press

What is a shoulder press?

What is a shoulder press

See all shoulder press variations

The shoulder press is one of the best exercises for strengthening your shoulders and upper back. The biggest benefactor of the shoulder press is the front portion of your shoulder muscle (anterior deltoid) but you'll also be working out your deltoids, triceps, trapezius and pecs. 

It's not just your muscles that will reap the benefits of the shoulder press. The stress placed on your bones during the exercise causes them to increase their density and get stronger, decreasing the likelihood of osteoporosis.

The shoulder press also brings into action the stabiliser muscles in your shoulders, elbows and wrists, and the motion indirectly targets your abdominal muscles as you keep a straight core throughout. Together, this helps improve your stability and balance.

Making the shoulder press a part of your regular training regime will help you perform daily activities more effectively, and make you less likely to pick up injuries while doing other activities involving your upper body and arms.

To get you started, here are some of our favourites. If you're new to the exercise, start with the shoulder press with dumbbells before moving on to the intermediate level exercises.


  • The Arnold press can be bad for the shoulders, as with any exercise, if performed incorrectly, which can increase the risk of injury. If you’re not sure how to do Arnold presses, ask a personal trainer for guidance. Practice on ensuring good form, rather than how much you’re lifting. Common mistakes when performing Arnold presses include over-rotating, rushing through the exercise, and lifting a weight that is too heavy.

  • Shoulder presses can be a great exercise to strengthen your when performed correctly. But with that said, it can be bad when performed incorrectly, so make sure to take time in learning good technique to avoid injury.

  • The overhead press is commonly associated as a harder exercise to perform because you aren’t pushing against a mass that doesn’t move (as you would in a bench press for example), it requires using multiple muscles at one time where deficiencies can become more prominent, the primary muscles are relatively smaller muscles in comparison to other compound exercises. For reasons such as these, you would expect your one rep max to be lower.

  • A military press is performed with feet positioned more closer together than an overhead press. This removes stability, making it more challenging for the core than an overhead press.

Shoulder press tips

  • To get the most contraction out of your shoulders don't fully extend your arms or touch the dumbbells together
  • When performing the exercise standing up, keep a slight bend in your knees and chin parallel to the floor
  • Keep your wrists straight so your hands are in line with your forearms as you lift the weights 

Shoulder press variations

how to do a Dumbbell Shoulder press

Level: Beginners to Advanced

Equipment: Set of dumbbells

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hold the dumbbells at shoulder height with your elbows at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Slowly lift the dumbbells above your head without fully straightening your arms. Pause at the top.
  3. Slowly return to the start position. 

How To Do An Overhead Press

Level: Intermediate to advanced

Equipment: Squat rack, barbell

  1. Position the barbell in a squat rack so that it sits just below shoulder height. Add plates if you require more weight.
  2. Stand in front of the bar and place your hands with an overhand grip, hands around shoulder-width apart.
  3. Rest the barbell on the front of your shoulders and unrack it. Your elbows and palms should both face forward. Your feet can be either shoulder-width apart, or staggered.
  4. Engage your core and squeeze your shoulder blades back, then press the bar towards the ceiling by extending your arms straight above your head until your elbows lock.
  5. Hold this position for a second before slowly returning the barbell back to shoulder height. Engage your back muscles to help resist gravity for a smooth, controlled movement.

How to do a military press

Level: Intermediate to advanced

Equipment: Barbell, weighted plates, barbell clamps. You can also use other weights instead of a barbell, such as kettlebells and dumbbells for this exercise.

A military press is typically performed with a narrower stance than a standing shoulder press, resulting in greater core activation to stabilise the body than the latter exercise.

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart
  2. Rest the barbell on top of your deltoids and upper chest with hands on the barbell at shoulder width apart and elbows pointing forwards.
  3. Take a deep breathe, and brace your core and glutes, and push the bar into the ceiling, shifting your head back slightly if needed to allow the bar to move straight up.
  4. Extend your arms till they reach overhead and reverse the motion to return the bar to your chest.

How to do the Arnold Press

Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Equipment: Set of dumbbells and a bench.

  1. Sit on a bench with dumbbell in each hand, with arms bent and palms facing you.

  2. Instead of pushing straight up, open your arms so your elbows reach out to the sides, turning your palms forward, as your push up into an overhead press.

  3. As your arms extends with the weight above your head leave a slight bend in the elbow, then slowly return back to starting position.

how to Clean and press

Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Equipment: Barbell, weighted plates, barbell clamps.

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, then bed at the knees to place your hands on the bar slightly wider than shoulder width so your palms are facing you (like the start of a deadlift)
  2. Keep your back flat and your shoulders over the bar and keep the bar close to your body throughout the lift. 
  3. Once the bar reaches your knees, extend your ankles, knees and hips in an explosive motion to power the bar to your shoulders.
  4. Rotate your elbows to hold the bar at shoulder height, then stand straight and press the bar towards the ceiling until your arms are fully straight.
  5. Return to the start position.


If you’re not sure if any of the above exercises are suitable for you, please consult your doctor before you start it. Need guidance on how to perform the exercise? Ask a personal trainer at your gym.