How to Do a Barbell Shoulder Press? Tips, Technique, Correct Form, Benefits and Common Mistakes

A barbell shoulder press is a compound exercise targeting several muscles in the body. (Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko via pexels)
A barbell shoulder press is a compound exercise targeting several muscles in the body. (Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko via pexels)

A barbell shoulder press, also known as a standing barbell shoulder press, military press or overhead press, is a compound upper-body exercise that helps build strength and mass. This exercise not only targets your shoulder muscles, but when done correctly, it strengthens your back and core muscles as well. Moreover, if you perform a standing version of this exercise, your hamstrings, glutes and quads all get targeted too.

You can incorporate a barbell shoulder press into your bodybuilding, strength training, or HIIT workout sessions.

How to do a barbell shoulder press correctly?

To do this exercise, follow the given steps:

  • Place a barbell on the rack so that it is just in front of your shoulders.
  • With your feet parted shoulder-width and knees and hips extended, stand straight but do not lock your knees.
  • Hold the bar tightly in a front rack position with your elbows forward and both hands at a shoulder-width distance.
  • Squeeze your shoulders together, engage your core muscles and press the bar overhead.
  • Continue to press the barbell until your arms get locked out.
  • Now engage your back and slowly return the bar to the initial position, i.e. the front rack position.
  • Repeat.

Key tips to consider:

When doing this exercise, follow the below-given tips to make it easier and more convenient.

  • Grip the bar inside your normal bench press grip. Instead of flaring out your elbows, bring your elbows forward.
  • As you start to press the barbell overhead, the bar should go above your face as you push your elbows back and out.
  • Once the barbell reaches above your head, move your shoulders back and your head forward to lock out the barbell over the top of your head.

Benefits of a barbell shoulder press:

There are plenty of advantages to incorporating a barbell shoulder press into your exercise routine. It can enhance the strength and size of your triceps, shoulders, and trapezius. It can also strengthen your core muscles, including transverse abdominal muscles, obliques, spinal stabilizers, and lower back.

The convenience of this exercise makes it an ideal workout for individuals of all fitness levels. Plus, it is also considered appropriate for female athletes as various studies suggest that this exercise can improve spine and trunk movement. Since it strengthens your core and upper body muscles, it may even help to improve your overall body posture.

Common mistakes to avoid:

When performing a barbell shoulder press, keep these given mistakes in mind to make this exercise safer and avoid injuries.

Incorrect grip:

When doing this exercise, you must grip the bar tightly, making sure both your hands are in the correct position to safely press the weight overhead. Your grip should be slightly wider than your shoulder width.

Wrong elbow movement:

If your elbows are not fully extended in the overhead position, you may strain your shoulders and forearms very badly. So, unless you have an injury or existing pain, make sure to keep your elbows fully extended to get the complete benefit of the exercise.

Not engaging your core muscles:

Lack of core engagement is very common in this exercise, which leads to injury and pain. So be sure to embrace your core muscles and contract your abdominals strongly while performing the movement.

Pressing the barbell outward:

When pressing the barbell overhead, make sure to move it in a straight line. Do not press it out in front of your body. Not only does this lead to injury, but it also makes the lift more challenging.


Before doing a barbell shoulder press, take the time to perform some warm-up exercises. This will help prepare your body for the workout by enhancing the blood flow to every muscle and loosening your bones and joints. Perform some simple shoulder stretches and other lightweight exercises to practice engaging your core muscles.

If you have a neck, back or shoulder injury or have had recent surgery, check with your physical therapist before doing this exercise. If you experience any discomfort or dizziness while lifting the barbell, stop immediately. Do not force your body, rather take it slow and be consistent.

If you are a beginner, aim to perform an overhead press for at least 10 reps. Start slow and gradually increase the reps as you gain strength and endurance.

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Edited by Nicolaas Ackermann