If you want to build strength, explosive power, and muscle mass, the overhead press is an excellent exercise to perform. 

However, it's a demanding lift and not everybody can comfortably perform this movement. Whether you feel shoulder pain during this movement, or you simply want to freshen up your workout. 

I've got you covered. 

In this comprehensive guide you'll discover 11 of the best overhead press alternatives around and how to do them.

If you have trouble performing the overhead press, you're not alone. The shoulders are incredibly prone to injury with many rotating parts, and joint pain is common.

Here are some great alternatives to the overhead press we suggest you implement into your routine.

1. Incline Barbell Bench Press (Barbell Overhead Press Alternative)

Man Doing Incline Barbell Bench Press

The incline barbell bench press is an exercise that many will do during their chest day routine.

This is another compound lift and trains many of the same muscles as the overhead press, including the triceps, pec major, and deltoids.

As it's performed at an incline angle, you'll activate more of your delts and triceps compared to a regular bench press, making it a perfect alternative to the overhead press. 

The incline bench can be trained at high weight and high volume, making it perfect for hypertrophy and building mass and strength. 

Training incline bench is the perfect way to improve pressing strength and overhead strength, and by changing the angle of your lift, you can really target specific muscles for progressive overload.

I've used this overhead press substitute with several clients who suffer with shoulder pain. While you still have to be mindful during the movement, it seems to remove a lot of the stress on the shoulder joints. 

If you don't have the equipment or space for incline bench press, there are incline bench press alternatives you can do to target your upper chest effectively. 


  • Less shoulder strain. 
  • Develops your chest, triceps, and deltoids.
  • Great for mass building.

How to do it:

  1. Position yourself on a bench with an angle set between 30 and 45 degrees.
  2. Next, you should lie back on the bench, grounding your feet into the floor as if you were trying to scoot your body up the bench. 
  3. Grab the bar with a grip around shoulder-width overhand grip.
  4. Lift the bar from the rack and extend your arms until they are locked.
  5. Lower the bar to your chest; always aim for your nipples. 
  6. Pause for a second at the bottom of the lift before lifting back to the starting position, keeping your body braced and feet secure. 

tips from a trainer!

  • Don't let the dumbbells touch at the top of the movement. I've found that too many clients "bump" the dumbbells together and use the force produced to cheat on the way down (letting gravity do the work).

2. Dumbbell Shoulder Press 

Man Doing Dumbbell Shoulder Press Exercise

For many people who have a problem doing the traditional barbell overhead press, the problem isn’t always pain or injury.

Some people have less range of motion in their shoulders or wrists (like me), making it difficult to perform the exercise with a barbell, which is where dumbbells come in.

Sound familiar? Then a great alternative is the dumbbell shoulder press. 

The dumbbell shoulder press is a similar movement to the barbell overhead press, but instead you use dumbbells (did you guess from the name?).

By using dumbbells you can tweak the movement to suite your body. You aren't stuck in a fixed movement pattern like you would be with the barbell.

Over the last year I've become a HUGE fan of using dumbbells for all my pressing workouts, mainly because of this exact reason. 

Using dumbbells is also the perfect way to solve muscular imbalances. Naturally, we have an affinity for a particular hand and side. When they're not corrected, this can lead to one side being stronger than your other.

Training with individual dumbbells corrects this as both sides have to work equally hard, and one side cannot compensate for the other.

It's one of the best overhead press alternatives around in my opinion.


  • Greater range of motion than barbell.
  • Allows you to move your arms freely.
  • Suitable for all abilities.

how to do it:

  1. Start either standing or on an upright bench holding a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing forwards. Keep your elbows to the side and bent, creating a 90-degree angle.
  2. Brace your core, inhale and lift the weights in a slow controlled manner until your arms are fully extended above.
  3. Hold for a second before returning to the starting position, breathing out on the way down.

Tips from a trainer!

  • To remove even more stress from your shoulders, place the bench on a slight angle (one notch below 90-degrees). Doing so will place you in a more comfortable position while still activating your delts.

3. Landmine Press (Overhead Press Alternative For Shoulder Pain)

Man Doing Landmine Press

Another common alternative to the overhead press is the landmine press. This is performed by lifting a barbell at one end with weight on the top. 

The other end is connected to a piece of equipment specifically designed for the landmine press and keeps it fixed to the floor.

The standard landmine press requires you to lift the barbell from your chest over your head and uses many of the same muscles as the overhead press.

However, with the grip being much more centralized and using a neutral grip, it requires less mobility in the shoulder and will allow you to focus on lifting heavier.

This is a great one for those who struggle with the wider grip necessary for the overhead barbell press.

I've found placing your shoulder in a wide grip position opens it up to strains and injuries are more likely to occur. However, the landmine press solves this issue.


  • Less shoulder strain.
  • Develops your front delts. 
  • Works each arm separately.

how to do it:

  1. Start in front of the landmine press barbell, holding the end with the plates on it in one hand just in front of your chest. 
  2. Place your feet shoulder width; press them into the floor to brace.
  3. Once braced, inhale as you push upwards until your arm is extended over your head. 
  4. Hold this position for a second before bringing the bar back down in a controlled manner, exhaling until you are in your starting position.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Don't go too heavy at the start, focus on getting your form right and using a controlled motion throughout the movement.

4. Single arm Resistance band press (Overhead Press Alternative With No Weights)

Man Doing Overhead Single Arm Resistance Band Press Workout

If you're looking to work your deltoids and don't want to deal with shoulder pain, what you need to use is resistance bands. 

Resistance bands are used in most rehabilitation programs as they provide you with variable resistance and are highly versatile. Don't let these oversized elastic bands fool you, they can give you a brilliant workout. 

What I enjoy about the single arm resistance band press is that it trains each arm individually while forcing your stabilizing muscles to switch on. And, there is the constant tension which is applied to your muscles during the press. 

As with the dumbbell variations of the overhead press, this movement allows your shoulder to move how it wants to, removing some of the strain. 

Whether you're a beginner or advanced gym goer, give this overhead press substitute a try, you won't regret it.


  • Engages your entire shoulder for stability. 
  • Fixes muscular imbalances.
  • Suitable for all ability levels.

how to do it:

  1. Choose a suitable strength resistance band.
  2. Put your foot through one side of it and stand on the band. 
  3. Grab the opposite side of the band with one hand. 
  4. Hold the band at shoulder height and press it upward above your head. 
  5. Slowly lower to the starting point and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Don't have a resistance band? Try using a cable machine instead. It provides the same constant tension on the shoulder muscles, and allows your body to move how it wants to. 

5. Z-Press 

Man Doing Z Press Exercise In The Gym

The Z press, or the Zydrunas press, is an overhead press replacement that involves zero leg drive and isolates the shoulders and core. It is performed while seated, removing the legs from the equation.  

To do the Z press, you will require a good level of hip mobility and core strength, so this may be one for the more advanced lifters.

During the Z press, you will need a lot more engagement of your stabilization muscles like your scapulae, obliques, and erector because the control of the movement requires a strict form.

As you press overhead, your scapula rotates upwards and swings down during the descent. 

While you traditionally use a barbell for this overhead press replacement, I recommend using dumbbells as they allow your shoulder joint to move more freely and places less stress on your joints.


  • Engages your core muscles.
  • Isolates your shoulders.
  • Great for advanced lifters.

How to do it:

  1. Set up a squat rack so that when you place the bar on the lower rack arms, the bar sits just above your shoulder height when you are sitting down.
  2. Once the bar is in position, sit under it.
  3. Extend your body, so you are sat up as much as possible without overarching your back.
  4. Place your hands just wider than shoulder-width on the bar using an overhand grip.
  5. Brace your core and inhale, pressing the bar above your head until your arms are extended, hold for a second, then lower in a controlled way to the starting position. 

tips from a trainer!

  • If you're struggling to balance, place your legs on a slight angle so they're wider. This will give you greater stability. 

6. Arnold Dumbbell Press 

Woman Doing Arnold Dumbbell Press In The Gym

Developed by the legendary Mr. Olympia himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Arnold dumbbell press or Arnold press is an excellent variation of the traditional press. 

The reason why it is so effective is the engagement of all three deltoids that are required to perform the movement. 

You will need your anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoids firing on all cylinders to perfect the movement.

This is what makes it more technical and difficult compared to the standard overhead press, which activates the anterior and lateral to a higher degree compared to the posterior delts. 

A bonus to this is the engagement of the forearms and triceps. If you are looking at building those show-stopping arms as well as huge hulking shoulders, this is one of the best exercises on the planet.  

Plus, by using dumbbells your movement pattern is more natural, placing less strain on your shoulder joints.

Try this barbell overhead press alternative in your next shoulder workout.


  • Works all three deltoid heads.
  • Ideal for all ability levels.

How to do it:

  1. Start seated on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Place your hands shoulder height with your palms facing you. Now, you open your arms so that your palms are now facing away from your body, leading with your elbows.
  3. Press the dumbbells upwards like you would in a traditional dumbbell press. 
  4. Reverse the steps, lowering the weights down before bringing your elbows and arms back in with the dumbbell returning to the starting position with your palms facing you.  

tips from a trainer!

  • Grab two sets of dumbbells, one heavy and one lighter. Perform as many reps as you can with the heavy set, then take a 10 second break. Pick up the second (lighter) set of dumbbells and do the same.

7. Bradford Press 

Arnold Schwarzenegger Doing Bradford Press

An oldie but a goldie, the Bradford Press is an old-school shoulder exercise that has seen criticism over the years due to the difficulty of getting it right.  

This overhead press alternative with longer barbell builds an insane amount of mass through the tension and torsion applied to the shoulders when done correctly.

Related Article: What Length Barbell Do I Need? (Ultimate Sizing Guide)

It is similar to an overhead press but with one variation. You bring the bar down behind your head instead of in front. 

This is another advanced lift, and we don't recommend it to beginners but if you are plateauing in shoulder growth, consider adding this variation to your routine.

Make sure you find someone to show you how to do it properly as it has a higher chance of injury than the traditional press. It is a great finisher exercise for maximum glycogen depletion and burn. 

Now I know what you're thinking... "the Bradford press will cause shoulder pain, won't it?" - It depends on your shoulder injury.

The weird thing I've found about this movement is that some people love it and have no issues with this movement, while others don't have the shoulder mobility for it. 

I guess it all comes down to the type of shoulder pain you have as everybody is different. 


  • Ideal for advanced lifters.
  • Places a lot of tension on the delts.

how to do it:

  1. Begin in the same position you would for an overhead press, with the barbell in front of you on your chest, hands slightly wider than your shoulders on the bar. 
  2. Drive the bar up the same way you do with an overhead press.
  3. When you lower it, bring it behind your head until your elbows reach 90 degrees.
  4. Lift the bar back up and this time, bring it back down to your chest for a single rep.  

Tips from a trainer!

  • Use light weight and high reps at the end of your workout to pump your shoulders to the MAX. Trust me, you won't even be able to lift your water bottle.

8. Machine Shoulder Press 

Man Doing Machine Shoulder Press

For a more beginner-friendly introduction to the world of shoulder day workouts, the machine shoulder press is similar to the traditional overhead press, but you perform it on a machine specifically designed for the exercise. 

This machine runs on tracks which adds safety and stability to your lift. 

While machines like this are great for those with injuries and beginners, you should progress to free weights when possible to avoid becoming too reliant on machines as they do not give you the same level of activation or mind to muscle connection. 


  • Great for beginners to learn the movement.
  • Doesn't require shoulder stabilization.

how to do it:

  1. Sit down and adjust the shoulder machine so the bars are around shoulder height.
  2. Push your back against the pad and make sure your feet are flat on the floor.  
  3. Grab the handles with an overhand grip and push the weight upwards.
  4. Slowly lower the weight with lots of control and keep the tension between lifts. 

tips from a trainer!

  • If you can't achieve the shoulder position to reach the handles, try training one arm at a time. Training each side separately on this overhead press replacement allows you to slightly adjust your body to compensate for the lack of shoulder mobility.

9. Single Arm Dumbbell Press 

Man Doing Single Arm Dumbbell Press

Another great alternative to the overhead press is the single-arm dumbbell press. Many lifters won't work on their imbalances if they only work with barbells. 

By working on the left and right sides individually, you can correct any imbalances and work on improving both sides independently.

Sometimes these little imbalances can be the cause of shoulder pain.

Naturally, it is very difficult not to compensate with one side or the other, and this means that while both sides may be growing, one will probably overtake the other, and this can become a problem later on down the line. 

This single arm exercise is a great overhead press substitute for eliminating this issue. And you can even use a hammer grip position to remove even more stress from the shoulders. 

What more could you want?


  • Helps to solve muscle imbalances.
  • Develops your front delts.

How to perform it:

  1. Sit on an upright bench with your back pressed into the bench.
  2. Grab a dumbbell in one hand and bring it up, so your arm is at 90 degrees.
  3. Brace your core and press the dumbbell up above you.
  4. Hold for a second before lowering the dumbbell to the starting position with as much control as possible.  

tips from a trainer!

  • Place the seat position on a slight angle to eliminate shoulder discomfort. It places your body in a far better position in my opinion.

10. Lateral Raise 

Man Doing Lateral Raise In The Gym

Lateral raises are a perfect exercise to implement to supplement your heavier compound lifts. They strengthen the shoulders and upper back and are a bit easier on the body.

If you want to develop broader shoulders, this beginner-friendly move is perfect. 

They are easy to do, too; simply raise a lightish dumbbell in a T shape from your body while keeping your elbows locked. This activates all 3 deltoids and your traps as well.

Perform these at the end of your routine for the maximum benefit and watch your compound lifts thrive. 

However, if you don't have access to a cable-driven weight machine, there are lateral raise alternatives available that are suitable for home or garage gym workouts.

You can achieve effective shoulder workouts using dumbbells, resistance bands, or bodyweight exercises.


  • Ideal for all abilities.
  • Gives your shoulders a wider appearance.

how to do it:

  1. Grab a dumbbell in each hand and, keeping your back straight and your core braced.
  2. Lift the dumbbells on either side of you until your arms are roughly parallel to the ground. Keep your elbows slightly bent throughout. 
  3. Lower them slowly to the starting position and repeat.

Tips from a trainer!

  • Avoid shrugging or speeding up, as this will make it easier and reduce the effectiveness of your reps and will place more emphasis on your traps. 

11. Front Plate Raise 

Woman Doing Front Plate Raise Exercise

The front plate raise is a brilliant overhead press substitute and a great supporting exercise for compound shoulder lifts.

The front plate raise requires you to hold a weight plate in both hands and raise them forward, keeping your elbows locked. This increases your grip strength, forearm strength, and target your front deltoids to a high degree. 

Doing these at the end of your set will massively increase your potential in front press style movements. 

I think it's one of the best overhead press alternatives as it still works your front delts without placing your shoulders in a position that'll cause aggravation. 


  • Develops your front delts. 
  • Suitable for beginners.

how to do it:

  1. While standing in an upright straight position, grab a barbell plate in both hands.
  2. Hold the plate at a 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock position. 
  3. Keep your palms facing each other and extend and lock your arms with a slight bend in the elbow joint. 
  4. Brace your core and raise the plate slowly, exhaling on the way up until you have reached a position level to your shoulders.
  5. Hold at this point for a second before lowering the plate, inhaling on the way down. 

Tips from a trainer!

  • Don't swing or allow your elbows to move during this overhead press replacement as this will reduce the tension on your muscles.

Benefits Of Overhead Press Exercises

A compound lift, at its essence, is a lift that uses multiple muscle groups. Famous ones are the squat, deadlift, and bench press, as well as the overhead press.  

The overhead press, being a compound lift, has many benefits. Firstly, you are going to massively increase the strength and size of the shoulder muscles, the triceps, and the traps as primary muscle groups.

Compound lifts require a lot of stabilizer muscles to activate, too, so you will get added strength in the core, like your abs, obliques, and lower back. 

Finally, most compound lifts support each other. Doing an overhead press will result in a stronger bench press and vice versa and give you the confidence to lift heavier around the gym. 

Reasons To Modify Barbell Shoulder Presses

The barbell shoulder press is one of those movements that require you to be in peak condition and optimum form. If you suffer from the following, you should alter your lifts to ensure you remain healthy and prevent further complications. Don't overdo it.

Lack Of Mobility

For some people, shoulder mobility will prevent them from being able to complete overhead presses with safe form or at all and this is why stretching is important

If this is you, we recommend working on some stretching and conditioning exercises to loosen the muscles responsible for the tightness. 

Pre-Existing Shoulder Pain 

If you have a shoulder injury or pain in the shoulders, you need to be really careful with the overhead press. As the press is a multi-joint movement, it has a high chance of injury, especially if the pain makes you unstable during the lift. If it hurts, don't do it.

Unnatural Movement 

For some people, the overhead press just feels like an unnatural movement, and that's okay. It isn't the only exercise that will help you build massive shoulders.

If you feel uncomfortable, we recommend either seeking help from an experienced lifter or avoiding the movement. You don't want to drop a bar on your head, trust us.

To Target Specific Muscles 

You also might want to switch up your overhead press to get a better, stronger activation of different specific muscles. Shocking your body when you plateau is a great way to get things rolling again.

How To Change Technique For Barbell Shoulder Press

Here are some of the best ways to modify the barbell shoulder press into something more suitable for your specific needs. 

Change The Angle 

Changing the angle of your lifts and the bar path slightly is a great way to activate different parts of your muscles. Try this out slowly, don't change the angle too much on your first attempt at a variation, and increase it gradually for the safest results. 

Use Dumbbells 

Using dumbbells in your overhead press can serve two purposes. The first is to work on imbalances in your body. If you find one side of your body is stronger than the other, this is a great way to work on evening this out and preventing one side from falling further and further behind.

The second reason to use dumbbells is if the grip and stance necessary for barbell overhead press is uncomfortably for you or difficult to perform with your injuries or mobility. As you can change the grip and angle of each side without it being locked in, it can be much more comfortable. 

Use Fat Grips 

Fat grips are grips that go on your barbells that make it much thicker to grip. This mainly serves one purpose, to massively increase grip and forearm strength. We recommend waiting until you are pretty comfortable with your overhead press before utilizing them, however. 

Use Pull-Downs 

Adding lat pull-downs can turn a normal overhead press into a superset where you hit your lats on the way back down. This is pretty advanced, and we recommend seeking the help of an experienced lifter to show you the correct form, as doing this incorrectly could be very, very dangerous. 

What Muscles Do Overhead Press Exercises Work?

So we know that the overhead press is a compound lift that utilizes a range of different muscle groups, but which muscles does it actually work? 

Anterior/Lateral/Posterior Deltoid 

The first group we are going to look at is the deltoids.[1] These are made up of your front delts, the anterior deltoids, which help move your arm forward or reach to grab something, and your lateral delts that help you move your arms sideways and up and down. Your posterior delts help with extension as well as your external rotation of the shoulder. 


Your trapezius helps you with both posture and movement, as well as allowing you to tilt your head up and down, left and right. For your shoulders, it gives you the ability to shrug and twist your torso. Your trapezius muscles are essential to maintaining a good posture.[2]

Pectoralis Major 

Your pectoralis major, commonly referred to as the pecs, are the muscles on the front of your chest. It gives you the ability to pull your arm across your body and helps your rotator cuff in the shoulder create rotation. 


Your core muscles are essentially used for stabilization. You have your abdominal muscles in your stomach and your obliques. A strong core supports your other muscles during lifts and helps keep your posture strong and your spine supported. 


Your triceps are the biggest muscles in your arms and allow you to push things. Often gym users think obtaining large biceps will give them big arms, but with the triceps being so large, they are the easiest way to fill your shirt sleeves. 

Common Overhead Press Question

Is the overhead press the same as regular shoulder press? 

Yes, the overhead press and the shoulder press are both the same movement but with different names. 

Can you build big shoulders without an overhead press? 

Yes, you can build huge shoulders without an overhead press by using different exercises. So don't get hung up if the overhead press simply isn't for you.  

Is standing overhead press better? 

No, the standing overhead press isn't better. It's neither better nor worse. Standing and military overhead press require more total body engagement, which might be better for your goals. Still, the seated press allows for better isolation of the shoulders by removing leg drive.

Why is the overhead press considered bad by some people? 

The overhead press is considered bad as it's one of those exercises that's poorly done by many people, and when it's done badly, it has a high chance of causing injuries. If done correctly, it is a great exercise. 


There we have it. You now have some awesome overhead press alternatives to implement into your workout routine without aggravating your shoulders. 

Whether you are a beginner or a pro, using a range of different movements will stop you from getting bored and will keep your body on its toes, allowing for more shock and growth of the muscle fibers. 

Choose several of these overhead press variations for your shoulder workout.

Now go smash it! 




Lee Kirwin

Lee Kirwin

Lee has worked in the fitness industry for over 15 years. He's trained hundreds of clients and knows his way around the gym, including what you need for your garage gym. When he's not testing products, he loves weightlifting, Ju Jitsu, writing, and gaming.