5 Shoulder Press Variations For Big Shoulders

5 Shoulder Press Variations For Big Shoulders

The Shoulder press is the ultimate upper body exercise, undoubtedly superior to the bench press. 

Aside from the upper body stimulus, the movement significantly engages your core and legs to stabilize the weight overhead. 

When performed correctly, it puts your shoulder through a full range-of-motion which is paramount for posture and overall physical health.

Let's look at five variations to help you get the most out of it!

Standard Military Press

Assume an athletic posture with your chest up, core braced and shoulders down & back. Maintain a slight bend in the knee with a grip just outside shoulder width. 

As you begin the lift, maintain a slight arch in the upper back (thoracic spine) and neck. When the bar clears your head, tuck your head underneath the bar. You will want to maintain a relatively straight bar path from start to finish. 

Do not aid in raising the bar with movement/momentum from your lower half. Keep your knees slightly flexed the entire portion of the lift.  

Behind the Neck Shoulder Press

This variation places the bar behind the neck as opposed to in front of it, resulting in a lesser emphasis on the recruitment of the chest muscles and a more isolated effect on the delts. 

Remember, the shoulder joint is very intricate. If performed incorrectly, this variation can become dangerous because if set up and executed poorly, you are placing your shoulder in a poor position under load = injury. 

Leave your ego at the door and use a slightly lighter weight than you would on the standard press.

Assume the athletic posture with your chest up, core braced and shoulders down & back. With a grip slightly wider than shoulder width, begin the lift with the bar parallel to roughly the middle of your head, raising above your head and back down to the same position. 

Arnold Press

Conceived by the 7x Mr. Olympia winner himself, the Arnold press is a multifaceted dumbbell press that effectively targets all three heads of the shoulder (front, side and posterior delt).

Beginning with your palms facing towards each other, press the weight above your head while simultaneously externally rotating your arms. At the top of the lift, your palms are now facing forward. 

Neutral Press

Considered one of the safest shoulder press variations on account of a reduced vertical pressure on the shoulder joint, begin the neutral press using dumbbells and palms facing towards your ears (known as a hammer grip).

Press the weight above your head and back down into that neutral position.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

The dumbbell shoulder press functions similar to the military press. Palms facing away from you, press the weight above your head and back down, focusing on controlled form and a stable core. 

Barbell shoulder pressing is going to allow you to move more weight and therefore elicit faster progressive overload, where dumbbells often allow for better range of motion and slightly higher muscle activation in the chest and anterior delts.

As such, it’s important to utilize both barbells and dumbells accordingly in your workouts to gain the benefits of both!

Practical Recommendations

Could you do these exercises seated? You could, but you’d be missing out of the proven benefits of performing them in the standing position!

Standing presses utilize the entire posterior chain forcing your body to stabilize itself. This type of lifting posture possesses greater ability for physical progress because of the muscles activated and central nervous system stimulus. 

Seated shoulder presses can also place a greater amount of stress on the low back, on account of the absorbed force of the lift not being distributed through the entire body. 

In order to maximize gains and minimize injury, go with the standing press! 

A general rule of thumb, try to shoulder press at least once a week at four to five sets with whatever rep range your current program calls for, and you should be on the right track for some serious shoulder gains. 

Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of sports sciences, 35(11), 1073-1082.
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