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How to Shoulder Press

What is a shoulder press?

What is a shoulder press

See all shoulder press variations

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. 

It's not just your muscles that will reap the benefits of the shoulder press. The stress placed on your bones during the exercise causes them to increase their density and get stronger, decreasing the likelihood of osteoporosis.

The shoulder press also brings into action the stabiliser muscles in your shoulders, elbows and wrists, and the motion indirectly targets your abdominal muscles as you keep a straight core throughout. Together, this helps improve your stability and balance.

Making the shoulder press a part of your regular training regime will help you perform daily activities more effectively, and make you less likely to pick up injuries while doing other activities involving your upper body and arms.

To get you started, here are some of our favourites. If you're new to the exercise, start with the shoulder press with dumbbells before moving on to the intermediate level exercises.

Shoulder press tips

  • To get the most contraction out of your shoulders don't fully extend your arms or touch the dumbbells together

  • When performing the exercise standing up, keep a slight bend in your knees and chin parallel to the floor

  • Keep your wrists straight so your hands are in line with your forearms as you lift the weights 

Shoulder press variations

Shoulder press with dumbbells

Level: Beginners to Advanced

Equipment: Set of dumbbells

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hold the dumbbells at shoulder height with your elbows at a 90-degree angle.

  2. Slowly lift the dumbbells above your head without fully straightening your arms. Pause at the top.

  3. Slowly return to the start position. 

Clean and press

Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Equipment: Barbell and weights

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, then bed at the knees to place your hands on the bar slightly wider than shoulder width so your palms are facing you (like the start of a deadlift)
  2. Keep your back flat and your shoulders over the bar and keep the bar close to your body throughout the lift. 
  3. Once the bar reaches your knees, extend your ankles, knees and hips in an explosive motion to power the bar to your shoulders.
  4. Rotate your elbows to hold the bar at shoulder height, then stand straight and press the bar towards the ceiling until your arms are fully straight.
  5. Return to the start position.


If you’re not sure if any of the above exercises are suitable for you, please consult your doctor before you start it. Need guidance on how to perform the exercise? Ask a personal trainer at your gym.