What muscles does a shoulder press work and the benefits - Full fitness (2023)

Most gyms come equipped with a variety of exercise equipment, ranging from the smallest little ones to the most massive exercise machines. Whatever piece of exercise equipment you have in mind, 99% of the time every gym will have one. And one of the most common pieces of equipment that has become a staple at almost every fitness paradise is the shoulder press.

If you've never seen a shoulder press and have no idea what it looks like, just follow the sound of the ragged breathing and throaty grunts of the men at the gym and you'll most likely find it. It's almost like a tourist attraction. But despite its popularity with gym-goers, do you really need to use the shoulder press?

The what, why and how of the shoulder press

The shoulder press is a fixed resistance machine that requires you to press overhead from a seated position. Firm resistance means you can't control your movement pattern when lifting the weights; The only thing you can do is follow the movement the machine allows, which is totally different from using free weights where you have more freedom of movement.

But while movement is something you can't control with this machine, resistance is a different story. You can easily control the amount by adjusting the weight stack and loading more plates until you reach the weight you're most comfortable with so you're still maintaining proper form throughout your routine.

Apart from that, the shoulder press can be a good addition to your workout routine as it is an excellent piece of equipment that strengthens and tones the shoulders. Not only will this machine make your shoulders aesthetically pleasing, but it will also improve their functionality to assist you in your daily activities.

But how do you start using this beast of a machine? Here is a step-by-step guide on how to use the device:

  1. Before sitting on the machine, make sure the seat is adjusted for your height and the bars are in front of you at shoulder height. Make yourself comfortable by sitting with your back against the cushion, feet planted firmly on the floor, and knees bent at right angles and shoulder-width apart.
  1. Hold the bars with a firm overhand grip.
  1. Push the weight up. Stop at the top, but avoid extending your elbows.
  1. Lower the bar back down in a controlled manner, maintaining tension at the bottom of the movement to build momentum for the next rep. Avoid dropping the weight all the way back down to rest.

The muscles at work

The shoulder machine press is a piece of equipment that is fairly easy to use. It's fairly simple and straightforward, but don't think for a second that just because it's not as complex as other shoulder exercises, it doesn't do your shoulders little.

(Video) What Does a Shoulder Press Work Out? : Fitness Advice

And while there are a variety of muscles at work in this exercise, these are the main muscles that do the most work.


The deltoids are located on top of your shoulders and are one of the main moving forces when using the shoulder press. This muscle group consists of three parts: the anterior deltoid at the front, the lateral deltoid along the outside of your shoulder, and the posterior deltoid at the back of your shoulder. The function of the entire deltoid is to raise the arm overhead. When you use the shoulder press, the anterior deltoid becomes the most active part.


The triceps are the large muscles at the back of your upper arm. Despite crossing both the shoulder and elbow joints, the triceps stretch the latter when using a shoulder press. But if you want to work the triceps even more, try a different variation of the overhead press with a barbell instead of the overhead press. The closer your hands are to the bar, the more the triceps are activated.


The trapezius is a large muscle that runs from the base of your skull to mid-back and across your shoulders. It consists of three parts - the upper, middle and lower trapeze - which make up the entire upper back and help stabilize the shoulders every time you use a shoulder press. During the exercise, the middle and lower traps help rotate your shoulder blades as you stretch your arms overhead.


The stabilizer muscles are the muscles that, while not engaged in the overhead press, are critical to stabilizing the shoulders. These include the internal and external shoulder rotators, both of which serve to keep the shoulder joint stable, and the finger flexors in your forearms, which contract to give you a firm grip on the bars.

What else does the shoulder press do for your body?

power boost

The most obvious benefit of the overhead press, whether you're using free weights or a machine, is improved strength. The exercise targets several of the key upper body muscles, thereby improving the functionality of your entire upper body.

bones of steel

Another important benefit of strong shoulders is increased bone strength. As you bring your arms up, the weights stress your bones, straining them and causing them to adjust just like your muscles. Your bones respond by increasing their mineral density, which in turn reduces your risk of osteoporosis, among other things.

(Video) How NOT To Shoulder Press

Better stability

You'll probably notice this in your arms and shoulders after several exercises with the shoulder press. The movement requires the stabilizer muscles in your wrists, elbows, and shoulders to ensure your joints stay in place as you push.

But if you're doing standing overhead presses, you'll also experience better stability in your core, and you'll also notice improved posture as your abs and lower back are used extensively to stabilize as you lift the weights overhead lift.

Free weights or machine?

It really all boils down to a matter of preference.

Using free weights requires more total body work compared to overhead presses on a machine. This is because you're relying on your abs and lower back, and using other smaller muscles to stabilize during the press, making the exercise more compounded.

In the meantime, a shoulder press allows you to focus more on larger muscle groups like the deltoids. This is because you are not recruiting other muscles like the abs and lower back as the back pad already gives you enough support and support. It also means you can lift heavier weights because other weaker muscles won't prevent you from performing the exercise.

If isolating a specific muscle group is your goal, then the overhead press on a machine is your way. But if you want to incorporate other muscles into your press to make it more compound, then free weights would be better for you. Either way, you can always incorporate both into your workout routine.

More demanding variants of the shoulder press

Do you think a typical shoulder press on a machine is still too boring for you? Try these other shoulder exercises that guarantee significant gains and see which one gives you the best results.

(Video) The ONLY Shoulder Exercises You Need

press press

The push press is an explosive move that allows you to lift 10-20% more than your regular overhead press. This exercise will hit your shoulders and triceps hard while working your chest, abs, lower back and legs.

Einarmige Bottom-up-KB-Presse

If you want to improve your shoulder stability, this exercise is for you. The one-arm bottom-up press creates strength while developing stability in your shoulder joint. Mastering this exercise will also help improve your performance in other exercises, like the bench press.

Seated Arnold Press

This exercise targets all of the main shoulder muscles, and since this must be done in a seated position, the focus of the load is on your upper body, requiring minimal support from your core and legs.

Half-Kneeling One-Arm Arnold Press

This exercise requires stabilization of your core since you're performing it in a half-kneeling position. You'll find that just like a regular overhead press, it takes effort to keep your spine in a neutral position as you push the weight overhead.


The Z press might seem like an easy exercise since you have to be seated, but it definitely isn't. You won't be able to use your legs for stability since most - if not all - of the load is on your core and upper body. Not only your strength but also your flexibility will be put to the test.


This exercise uses your body weight for resistance, instead of the plates you would normally use in a shoulder press. The pike push-up requires you to be partially upside down, blasting your shoulders and upper body while recruiting your core and legs for stability.

(Video) The Perfect Overhead Press Technique for ROUNDER Shoulders


What fitness component is shoulder press? ›

Pressing is one of the fundamental exercises for developing upper body strength. One of the original Olympic lifts, being able to press serious weight over your head was once considered to be the ultimate feat of strength.

What happens if you do shoulder press everyday? ›

CrossFitters should also avoid overhead pressing every day. Your shoulders already take a beating from movements like snatches, thrusters, wall balls, pullups, and handstand walks. Adding a daily overhead press routine to all of that volume could lead to overtraining.

What are shoulder presses good for? ›

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.

What muscles are targeted by shoulder workout? ›

  • Muscles Targeted: Deltoid (anterior, medial, and posterior) and trapezius. ...
  • Muscles Targeted: Anterior deltoid, medial/middle deltoid, and trapezius. ...
  • Muscles Targeted: Medial/middle deltoid, rotator cuff, and trapezius. ...
  • Muscles Targeted: Posterior deltoid, trapezius, and rhomboids.
Apr 11, 2022

How many reps of shoulder press should I do? ›

For the shoulder press, begin by using a weight that you can control for 2–3 sets of 8–12 repetitions. Choose a weight that allows you to maintain good technique throughout all sets and repetitions.

Should you go heavy on shoulder press? ›

Start With An Overhead Press

Not only is choosing the right move crucial, but so is the weight: Go heavy with a resistance that causes muscle failure at about 6-8 reps. This is the lower end of the hypertrophy rep range, which goes as high as 12 reps.

Does shoulder press make you bigger? ›

The overhead press will absolutely build big shoulders, specifically big front (anterior) delts. I recommend that for a full 3d or 'capped' delt look, you also train your side delts and rear delts separately using movements like dumbbell lateral raises, upright rows and face pulls.

How many times a week should I shoulder press? ›

Generally speaking, each head of the deltoid can be 8-12 total sets per week. This can often be done splitting up overall training volume into 3-4 sets each, 2-3 times per week.

Is it better to do shoulder press standing or sitting? ›

Standing shoulder presses are better for functional strength and for people who do CrossFit, powerlifting, weightlifting, or Strongman. Seated shoulder presses are better for hypertrophy because they isolate the shoulders more. They're also a better option for people who haven't yet built up a lot of core strength.

Why shoulder press is better than bench? ›

Here's why: Overhead pressing brings the shoulder into about 50 percent more ROM than horizontal pressing, when done correctly. There's less counterstrain on joints since all muscles surrounding the shoulder have more involvement than they would when lying flat.

What is the best overall shoulder exercise? ›

Best Shoulder Exercises
  • Barbell Overhead Press.
  • Half-Kneeling Landmine Press.
  • Arnold Press.
  • Push Press.
  • Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Press.
  • Wide-Grip Seated Row.
  • Leaning Lateral Raise.
  • Incline Y Raise.

What is the most important shoulder muscle? ›

The most important muscles in your shoulder are the four rotator cuff muscles. Together with tendons, they cup the front of your shoulder and: Help you raise and rotate your arms. Provide structural support to your shoulder joint.

What weight is good for shoulder press? ›

What weight should I use for a shoulder press? Everyone is different, but it's recommended that beginners – or those that have never tried the exercise before – start off with sets of 10 reps at a weight of about 25% of your body weight. For example, if you weigh 150lbs (68kg), then start with around 35-40lb (16-18kg).

What's the difference between overhead press and shoulder press? ›

In contrast, the overhead press primarily works your delts but engages the triceps as a secondary muscle. The shoulder press, on the other hand, isolates the deltoids. This makes the military press a challenging yet more adequate option for training the shoulders and arms.

Can you get big shoulders with only shoulder press? ›

If you want bigger, stronger and broader shoulders then you can't afford to ignore the barbell shoulder press! It's one of the big four lifts for good reason because it offers the fastest muscle size and strength returns for your training time.

Is 3 exercises for shoulders enough? ›

How Many Shoulder Exercises Should You Do? For optimal shoulder development, I recommend that you include one primary exercise for each shoulder muscle: Front Delts. Examples: bench press, overhead press, dumbbell press, or front raise.

Do shoulders respond better to higher reps? ›

Delts generally respond better to high reps, though the front portion can respond well to lower reps. This is why delt-dominant bench pressers tend to have large front delts. But when training to get that rounded-shoulders look, higher reps of isolation work is best.

Does shoulder press build abs? ›

Upper body strength: The overhead dumbbell press strengthens the muscles of the arms, shoulders, chest, core, and abs, all which contribute to upper body strength. This exercise does more than just strengthen the arms; It hones other muscles, grows them, and makes them all stronger.

Does shoulder press build bicep? ›

The shoulder press is an exercise that can contribute to not only stronger shoulders, but an overall stronger upper body. Sculpted biceps and pecs will only get you so far, but it's the shoulders that can really help make the arms look bigger and provide stability for other lifts.

Does shoulder press slim arms? ›

Exercise Benefits

The dumbbell shoulder press strengthens your upper body and helps to tone and slim down your arms, shoulders, and back. This is a great exercise to increase muscle power and improve your upper body aesthetics.

Is shoulder press a muscle strength or endurance? ›

The Dumbbell Shoulder Press is a compound exercise that works many muscles in your body. It's a great exercise for building strength and endurance in the shoulders, but it also requires muscle involvement from your chest, back, arms and core.

Is shoulder press a muscular endurance? ›

The standing dumbbell shoulder press is an excellent exercise to assist runners in developing additional muscular endurance of the shoulder,” says Siobhain Kilgallen, the Director of Athletic Reconditioning at the United States Air Force Academy.

What type of component is bench press? ›

The bench press is a compound exercise that targets the muscles of the upper body. It involves lying on a bench and pressing weight upward using either a barbell or a pair of dumbbells.

Is shoulder press a push or pull muscle? ›

Pushing: chest, shoulders, and triceps. Pulling: back, biceps, and forearms.

How many reps of shoulder press should you do? ›

For the shoulder press, begin by using a weight that you can control for 2–3 sets of 8–12 repetitions. Choose a weight that allows you to maintain good technique throughout all sets and repetitions. 1.

Does shoulder press work all three heads? ›

It works in sync with the anterior and medial delts to make arm movements and stabilize the shoulders during these movements. The shoulder machine press engages and strengthens all three deltoid heads, improving your shoulder size, strength, stability, and mobility.

Where does shoulder press build muscle? ›

One of the primary muscles targeted in the shoulder press are the deltoid muscles, and they help contribute to a larger upper body. Performing the shoulder press not only has the ability to build bigger shoulder muscles, but it can help build a bigger upper back and arms as well.


1. JYM – Arnold Press Vs. Shoulder Press
2. HOW and WHY you should OVERHEAD PRESS
(Silent Mike)
3. Which Press is Best for Bigger Shoulders? (IRON FACE/OFF)
4. Dumbbell Shoulder Press – Muscles Worked, Variations, And Benefits
5. The Best Science-Based Shoulder Workout for Size and Symmetry
(Jeremy Ethier)
6. Standing Shoulder Press With Kettlebells vs Dumbbells- There Are Benefits To Using Both [FULL GUIDE]
(Fit Father Project - Fitness For Busy Fathers)


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