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What muscle does overhead press work? How much overhead pressing should you be able to do?

The overhead press (also known as the military press) is the most effective way to bulk up our shoulders.

What muscle does overhead press work
What muscle does overhead press work

It’s also great for our upper traps, upper chest, triceps, posture, and even our abs, making it one of the best exercises for increasing shoulder girdle size, developing general strength, and improving our looks. And, as you might have guessed, pressing is the polar opposite of depressed. As a result, it’s one of the top five muscle-building exercises.

We’ll go over how to incorporate the overhead press into your exercise, how to min-max your technique for even more muscle growth, and What muscle does overhead press work.

What does overhead press mean?

What does overhead press mean?

The overhead press, often known as the military press, is a compound exercise that focuses on the shoulders to increase upper-body strength. It’s one of the main barbell lifts, along with the squat, bench press, deadlift, chin-up, and barbell row, and it’s used in both strength training and bodybuilding regimens.

The overhead press can be performed with dumbbells or kettlebells, but utilising a barbell makes the lift more stable, allowing you to lift more weight and engage more muscle mass overall. It can also be done while seated, however standing will work more muscle groups.

During the overhead press, muscles are at work.

During the overhead press, muscles are at work.

Overhead press while standing

You’ll work most of the main muscles in your upper body if you execute the overhead press from a standing position, including:

  • pectoral muscles (chest)
  • deltoid muscles (shoulders)
  • triceps brachii (arms)
  • trapezius is a muscle in the trapezius muscle (upper back)

Because standing upright necessitates balance, your core muscles, such as your abdominals and lower back, are activated.

According to Brent Rader, DPT, physical therapist at The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics, “in an upright position, you adjust for balance changes during each phase of the overhead press and develop stability through the spine to ensure a suitable foundation for a loaded overhead movement.”

When you push a weighted bar overhead, your lower body assists in addition to the strength from your upper body.

Overhead press while seated

The core activation will disappear if you perform the overhead press in a seated position with your back pressed against the back of a pad, according to strength and mobility coach Matt Pippin, CSCS. All of the work will be done by the shoulders and triceps.

How to do an overhead press

How to do an overhead press

An overhead press is a type of exercise that requires you to lift your arms above your head
Before you hit the gym, learn how to perform any weight-lifting exercise.

An overhead press, according to Rader, is simply a movement that involves pushing resistance above one’s head. You can accomplish this in a number of ways, including by employing:

  • simultaneously, both hands
  • Taking things one step at a time.
  • both hands holding a single barbell
  • each hand holds a free weight

Examine the flexibility of your shoulders.

With this in mind, you should determine if you have the necessary shoulder mobility (or range of motion) to properly complete the exercise.

Take grip of the situation.

Walk up to the bar and grab it slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, hands facing away from your body, for the standing barbell push. Then proceed as follows:

  • Take a step back as you unrack the bar. The bar should be around your collarbone when you hold it in your hands.
  • Brace your abs, tighten your butt, tilt your head back, and raise the bar towards the ceiling to begin the action.
  • Return your head to neutral and lock your arms out above after the bar has passed your brow. Make sure your core and glutes are engaged at the top of the press and that your lower back isn’t bending.
  • Lower the bar to your shoulders slowly, tilting your head back to make room.

Keep your elbows close to your body.

Keep your elbows precisely behind your wrists or slightly inward, according to Pippin. “At this angle, you’ll be able to produce the most force.” He notes that if the elbows flare out to the side, “you’re losing leverage from which to push.”

Make use of your abdominal and glutes as well.

Keeping your glutes and abs engaged throughout the action is also recommended by Pippin.

“This is the pillar of support you should lean on. “If you lose this stability, the bar will tremble and you’ll be able to push less weight,” he explains.

Overhead press advantages

Overhead press advantages

Including the overhead press in your training programme has various advantages. The following are some of the benefits of overhead pressing:

  • The shoulder muscles’ strength and size
  • The triceps muscles’ strength and size
  • When executing the exercise while standing, focus on your core muscles, such as your obliques, transverse abdominal muscles, lower back, and spinal stabilisers.
  • Moves that are similar to the overhead press
  • Other exercises, such as the bench press, are also performed.

Moves that are similar to the overhead press

Moves that are similar to the overhead press

So, if you want to train the same muscles as the overhead press but want to mix things up, you might be thinking if there are any other exercises you can do. Here are a few to think about:

  • The Turkish get-up is a popular kettlebell or dumbbell workout that works the same muscles as the overhead pressTrusted Source.
  • When doing the overhead press with dumbbells, you can adjust your grip. Switch to a neutral grip with your hands facing each other and elbows directed in front of you instead of palms facing out.
  • Any rowing activity that strengthens the back and rotator cuff muscles could be an appropriate substitute. A seated row machine, bent-over row, barbell row, or dumbbell row are all examples of this.
  • Pushups engage the pectorals, triceps, and shoulders in the same way that the overhead press does. You can also do them anywhere, at any time, because no weights are required.
  • Exercises like scapular retraction and prone lateral raise, which target the tiny muscles in your shoulders and upper back, can help you avoid injuries and improve your overhead press performance.

How much overhead pressing should you be able to do?

How much overhead pressing should you be able to do?

How much can a typical man anticipate to lift in the overhead press? We can make some estimates if we expand the data acquired by ExRx over the last 70 years into rep maxes. These figures correspond to Mark Rippetoe’s strength criteria.

If you’re new to lifting, you might be able to lift around 85 pounds for a single repetition if you’ve never done a barbell overhead press before. The average guy, according to CDC data, is 5’8″ tall and weighs 197 pounds, with a BMI of 30. You may find that you can’t lift as much if you’re taller or lighter than that.

The majority of people have enough muscle mass to perform an overhead press of more than 85 pounds. It’s only that they haven’t yet mastered the lift. Most novices lack the shoulder strength and mobility necessary to perform proper overhead presses, let alone with much weight on the bar. The average rookie lifter can overhead press around: with a few weeks of work.

  • Their 1-rep max is 115 pounds.
  • 5 repetitions at 100 pounds
  • For 8 reps, lift 90 pounds.
  • For 10 reps, use 85 pounds.

F.A.Q what muscle does overhead press work:

What is the purpose of the overhead press?

The overhead press provides excellent carryover for athletes who demand overhead strength as well as other overhead lifts in the gym. It aids in the development of upper-body strength, power, and flex appeal. Before moving anything heavy overhead, make sure you understand proper overhead mechanics.

Will doing an overhead press help you gain abs?

“The press isn’t normally thought of as a traditional exercise to train the abdominals,” says Nathane Jackson, CSCS, a Toronto-based personal trainer. “But whenever you’re required to balance a load above, if done correctly, your core will surely need to be stable to prevent injury.”

Will overhead presses help you develop broad shoulders?

The overhead press should be a staple in your shoulder-building practise. Muscle growth, on the other hand, necessitates lifting heavier weights or performing more repetitions on a regular basis.


The overhead press is a fantastic lift for increasing overall strength and appearance. It works a large number of muscles throughout our bodies, and it’s possibly the finest exercise for gaining broader shoulders.

When the barbell is at forehead height, it doesn’t challenge our shoulders during a deep stretch, and it has an extreme sticking point. This is why lifting explosively, pressing into the bar with full force right at the start of the range of motion, can be beneficial.

This makes it more difficult for our muscles at longer lengths, and it may assist us get through the painful sticking point. And even then, you’ll have to learn to persevere. Reps can be slow in the end of a difficult set.

And this article will help you answer the following questions about what muscle does overhead press work:

overhead dumbbell press muscles worked
military press muscles worked
bench press muscles worked
dumbbell shoulder press
what does overhead dumbbell press work
overhead press vs shoulder press
does overhead press work back
push press muscles worked

Field John

If you are an avid believer in health and fitness and want to do something for your team, I can help. As the founder of Field Goals Fitness, I lead a collective of health and fitness professionals dedicated to helping Australians lead a more active and healthier lifestyle. With a warm, friendly, and supportive approach that gets results, I enjoy helping individuals & organisations achieve sustainable success with their health and fitness goals. Certifying as a Personal Trainer in 2009, was a turning point in my life. I had spent 14 years in the corporate world in Business Development roles and decided to take all that I had learnt in sales and marketing and start my own business.

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