The barbell shoulder press is often referred to as the king of shoulder exercises because it allows you to go heavy and works all three heads of the shoulders collectively.
The barbell version of this movement is favoured over the Dumbbell Shoulder Press due to the fact it’s easier to keep adding weight to the barbell compared to dumbbells.
This exercise has a long heritage in Olympic weightlifting which tells you how highly thought of this exercise is as a true measure of upper body strength.
In this article I’ll show you how to perform this movement correctly so you can work on getting stronger safely.
How To Perform The Barbell Shoulder Press
Depending on where you train you might or might not have a rack to support the barbell at various heights. Here’s how to get the barbell in position with both options:
Starting Position – Racks
Most gyms have stands or racks that allow you to start the movement with the barbell in the correct starting position or close to it. Place the bar at a height that has your upper arms parallel or slightly higher when you grip the bar.
Starting Position – Home Gym with No Rack
For those of you that train at home with a no frills barbell and plates set up, you’ll need to get the bar into place. Here’s how to do it:
- Place the barbell with the appropriate weight on the floor and stand over it with a shoulder width stance, toes pointing slightly outwards
- Bend forwards with a flat back as if deadlifting and grasp the bar with an overhand grip approximately shoulder width apart
- Drive your heels through the floor and straighten your legs keeping your back flat and allow the bar to rest on the front of your thighs
- To get the bar up to the starting position we need to use momentum to get it there, bend your knees and them push through your heels explosively and immediately lift the bar and flip it over so you’re in the starting position
- Your wrists should be straight and the bar below your chin
- The upward movement is simple, push the bar above your head and straighten your arms fully so your elbows are locked.
- Begin the descent in a controlled fashion and keep going until your elbows and upper arms are below parallel, this gives you a good stretch of your shoulder muscles.
- Complete the prescribed number of barbell shoulder press reps and then rack the weight. If you are training at home you need to get the bar back to the ground.
- Reverse the movement you did to get the bar up from the floor but don’t let your form get sloppy! Maintain good form throughout the downward movement otherwise you are more susceptible to injury.
The barbell shoulder press is a compound exercise and works multiple muscles. The focus of this exercise is the three heads of your shoulder, the front, middle and rear deltoids.
However, the barbell shoulder press also works your chest and triceps, your core, upper and lower back, hamstrings and even your glutes and calves!
Barbell Shoulder Press Tips
- This exercise can be done seated or standing, when standing ensure your core is engaged to provide a base to push off
- When the weights get very heavy you can bend your knees slightly and push upwards to lift the bar, this is known as a push press.
- Do not lower the bar behind your head, this puts your shoulder joint in a precarious position and is known to cause injury
- Push through your heels into the floor when lifting the barbell
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