The right technique for a barbell press. image via Unsplash/John Arano

Barbell press: Technique, tips, and benefits

The barbell press, also known as the military press or overhead press, is a variation of dumbbell shoulder presses that is performed with a barbell, as the name suggests. This variation allows you to stabilize your movements and gain more control while exercising.

The barbell press works several muscles in the upper body, namely the shoulders, chest, triceps, and upper back. When performed standing, the core is also required to be engaged to keep yourself balanced and stable. Additionally, the force to push is also sometimes generated in the lower body, in the case of heavy weights.

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How to perform a barbell press

Let’s walk you through the steps on how this exercise is performed. Start with an empty barbell and increase the load gradually as you progress.

• Stand straight and grip the barbell in both hands. Bring it up to your collarbones and hold it there. This is the starting position. Breathe in.

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• Upon exhalation, push the barbell up above your head. Straighten your arms completely and squeeze your shoulders.

• Lower it back down to the starting position slowly.

It sounds and looks really simple, and it is! However, if you’re a beginner, chances are you may make a few mistakes and risk injuring yourself. Shoulder injuries are no joke. Your entire upper body takes a hit when your shoulder is impaired.


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Some pointers to get the barbell press right

Start light

Opt for a smaller barbell if you’re a beginner, and don’t worry about lifting heavy. It’s quality over quantity, and technique comes first.

Engage your legs and core

Keeping your core and legs engaged throughout the exercise will ensure that your spine doesn’t get injured by taking on the weight. Moreover, you will be able to exert more power while pushing the barbell up.

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Keep your back straight

Keeping your spine straight is of utmost importance. Do not let your shoulders or upper back sag as you perform this exercise. You might injure yourself.

Keep your elbows close

Make sure your elbows are directly below the wrists throughout the movement. Do not let them protrude out the sides when pushing the bar up or lowering it down.

Don't let your elbows flare out. Image via Pexels/Antoni Shkraba

Alright, great tips, but why are we even doing the overhead press in the first place? What is so great about an exercise this simple?


Benefits of doing the barbell press

Let’s look at the benefits this simple exercise provides:

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Builds strength for everyday activities

The overhead press is a functional exercise, meaning it mimics movements of daily life, such as putting heavy items on a shelf. Performing this exercise regularly will help make lifting and pushing movements easier.

Improves posture

Since this exercise targets the shoulders and upper back, it strengthens these muscles and improves posture, eliminating a number of problems, especially back pain.

Builds and sculpts the shoulders

The most obvious reason to perform this exercise - the aesthetics. The barbell press is a killer workout to shape your shoulders, traps, and upper back. What’s more, it adds tension to your core as well, strengthening it during the movement.


Although simple to execute, the barbell press is effective in strengthening the upper body. When performed in the right form and at the right pace, you needn’t worry about hurting yourself. Remember to start light and only progress to heavier weights when you are comfortable enough to do so. Incorporate this into your next upper body/push day and stretch yourself well after.

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Edited by
S Chowdhury
 
 
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