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How to barbell shoulder press [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Jan 31, 2019 1:04:00 AM

How to barbell shoulder press

How to barbell shoulder press


To barbell shoulder press set up the bar at shoulder height in the rack. Get under the bar and drive the bar up. Take care of your shoulder mobility to prevent injury.

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What is your why 


Before we go into the details of the shoulder press let me ask you some questions:


  • Why do you want to shoulder press 
  • Why do you want to get stronger
  • Why do you want to get muscle 
  • What happens when you do 
  • What happens when you don’t 


These are very simple and important questions for you. Going deeper on your motivation will form a long-term commitment. The single biggest reason that you will not reach your goals is that you drop out. Giving up was the end of a great many dreams. Avoid this trap by paying attention to your inner world. Many people go about their life like this:


  • What do I want 
  • How do I get it 
  • Why do you want it


Structuring your goals and days like this will leave you in a reactive mode. What we want and need is highly determined by our surroundings. You are a victim to the psychological principles which govern your brain. Based on your mood, the season, weather and job situation what you want will vary considerably. It is also easy to manipulate this wants. The more stressed and reactive you are the easier it becomes to change what you want. 


To be more productive and happy you have to flip this dynamic on its head. Operate with 


  • Why do you want something 
  • How do you get it 
  • What do you need to do 


This way all your thoughts and actions will be tied to what matters most to you. You will be more satisfied and productive. Others will be more likely to help you as your message is more likely to resonate with them. If you want to know how this works on a psychological basis check out Daniel Kahneman’s TED talk and book. This simplified practical advice was outlined by Simon Sinek in his TED talk on the golden circle. 


What helped me most to flip from couch potato with regular nosebleeds and a beer belly to reliable stepdad was the best self journal. It will structure your day focused on your personal goal and help to stay positive.


Overhead / Shoulder press 


The overhead press is one of the most classic feats of strength. It is synonymously used with the shoulder press. Since ancient times humans test their strength by lifting heavy things over their heads in different ways. There are many things you can press over your head: 



Just to name a few. Most trainers and gym rats will think of the barbell shoulder press when you talk about lifting. 


To perform a good shoulder press follow these steps: 


  1. Set the j cups up at the right height in the rack. You should be able to get under the bar and unrack it by popping your hips forward 
  2. Load the bar symmetrically 
  3. Grip the bar one thumb away from the inner knurling 
  4. Wrap your thumbs around the bar 
  5. Squeeze the bar as hard as you can
  6. Keep that tension 
  7. Your elbows inward 
  8. Get under the bar 
  9. Unrack the weight to your shoulders 
  10. Step three steps back 
  11. Push the weight up to lockout


Make sure you lock out your arms at the top. Rinse and repeat to make your arms and shoulder grow. 


The biggest advantages of the shoulder press are that it has a lot of carryover to real life and attacks muscle groups which will be undertrained if you only bench for your chest and shoulders. 


The biggest disadvantage of the barbell shoulder press is that it is hard on the shoulders. This is mainly because the wrists can’t move freely. That is why many bodybuilders prefer dumbbell shoulder presses. 




Shoulder mobility can be a big inhibitor for the overhead press. If you cannot follow extend your arms work on the mobility in the shoulder. I am a big fan of morning yoga to achieve this. 


Suicide or normal grip 


The suicide grip is discussed on some blogs and forums as a good grip for the shoulder press. 


In this variation, you leave your thumbs behind the bar rather than wrapping them around the bar. This provides extra strength and more freedom to move your wrists during the lift. This comes at the expense of control during the lift. 


Personally, I am not a big fan of the suicide grip. Some top Strongman competitors swear by it. I recommend to start cautious and try variations once you can overhead press 100kg. 


Push press 


Another discussion is between the press and overhead press. The internet usually goes up in flames when you claim a new shoulder press record when you have actually done a push press.


A push press allows for a little dip from the hips before you initiate the press. By this, you get your back and leg muscles involved in accelerating the bar. That is what most people do intuitively when it gets heavy. 


If you do the shoulder press for bodybuilding purposes you can eliminate this dynamic by using dumbbells and a bench. You can not dip from the hip when you are seated. 


Otherwise, I think the push press versus overhead press debate is nonsense. Almost all strongman competitions allow for the hip drive. Also, only a sour professional or picky teenager will comment “this was not an overhead press” when you lift 100kg+ over your head. 




Speaking of jerks let’s move on to the next variation. The jerk combines driving from the hip, pushing the bar and lowering your hip at the same time. By getting yourself under the bar with speed you can press more overhead. 


This movement is very technical and takes a lot of practice. It is the final part of the lifts you see at the Olympics. A professional instructor and caution are advised. 


Seated shoulder press


Another variation of the standing barbell shoulder press is rondo it seated. This gets rid off any hip or leg drive. It is also a good option for home gym owners with low ceilings. 


How to barbell shoulder press 


Set the bar up correctly, be safe and load the bar symmetrically. This will avoid injury. From there follow the same protocol and add weight consistently. A good program to start with is Stronglifts 5x5


Further reading 

Bench Press vs Military press? [Article]

Which Rogue barbell to buy? [Article, Free download]

Topics: Lift stronger, Fitness, Strength