Fix Your Shoulder Press

The Shoulder Press is a great compound exercise most people should be including in their routine.  It targets the front deltoid, triceps, side deltoid, upper traps, and the clavicular head of the pectoralis major (commonly referred to as “the upper pecs”).  On the surface, it seems like a rather simple movement: press the bar directly overhead, right? Surprisingly, this exercise is commonly performed either incorrectly or inefficiently by even the most experienced gym-goers.  In this blog, we will take a look at some common mistakes when performing the overhead press. 

1) Poor Posture.

Typically, when we think of poor posture, conditions like rounded shoulders and front-tilted pelvic come to mind. This can very well happen with a standing or seated shoulder press, but sometimes it’s quite the opposite.  It can be very easy to arch your back into hyperextension instead of pinning the shoulders into proper position.  Not only does this cause unnecessary stress on the lower back but also puts the abdominals in a weaker position to press the weight. 

To correct this, actively tilt your pelvis pack and brace your core while performing the exercise. Then, pack your shoulders up, back, and down for a more natural “chest-up” starting position.

2) Incorrect Arm Positioning (Dumbbells)

It’s too common to see the Dumbbell version of this exercise performed incorrectly at your local gym. Many believe that to properly activate the side deltoids, you must press with your arms all the way out to your sides with elbows flared and bent at a 90-degree angle, supposedly limiting the contribution from the front deltoid. However, this position limits range of motion, places unneeded stress on the elbow, and can potentially lead to poor upper body posture at heavier weights.

To correct this, place your arms at a 45-degree angle as opposed to all the way out to your sides. This will help you maintain proper upper body mechanics throughout the lift and help utilize more upper pectoral fibers during the exercise. 

3) Pressing the Bar Forward or Back (Barbell)

Pressing with a Barbell can allow for heavier weight and therefore create more gains in strength. However, it’s easy to perform this exercise incorrectly and with high risk of injury.  Overhead pressing in this position too far forward will cause sheer force stress on the front shoulder. Pressing too far behind can also compromise the shoulder joint, but more dangerously with the potential for dislocation or tendon rupture especially at heavy loads. 

To correct this, be sure to press the bar directly overhead so that it travels in a straight path. You can tilt your head up so that the bar can pass your nose on the way up.