10 Overhead Press Variations You Have To Try Today!

Overhead pressing will help you get huge shoulders, but the exercise can be challenging.

By introducing overhead press variations into your workout, you can help your body adjust to the movement and improve your functional strength along the way.

You may have seen some variations (like the neck press) before, but in this guide, we'll introduce the 10 best overhead press exercises to incorporate into your routine.

1. Strict Overhead Press (Military Press)

The strict overhead press is considered the best overhead press variation to develop your shoulders.

It has a simple but controlled movement upwards, and it's often an exercise that bodybuilders will perform with very heavy weights.

The basic but effective nature of the strict military press makes it perfect for beginners looking to master the overhead pressing angles and build muscle mass.

Just make sure you add more weight as you develop so you're continually pushing your body.

If you can't do the strict version due to an injury, try another exercise on this list or check out our guide to the best overhead press alternative exercises.

Muscles Worked

  • Anterior Deltoid
  • Lateral Deltoid
  • Medial Deltoid
  • Pecs
  • Triceps

How To

  1. 1
    Start by standing tall with feet shoulder-width apart. One foot should be a step further in front to stabilize your body.
  2. 2
    Hold a barbell at shoulder height with an underhand grip.
  3. 3
    In one press movement, lift the barbell up and extend upwards until your arms are locked out. Make sure your palms are facing forward.
  4. 4
    Pause for a second, and then bring the bar back down to shoulder height.
  5. 5
    Repeat the movement for 10-14 reps.

Training Tips

  • Keep your glutes tight and contract your core to support the movement.
  • Don't bend your wrists, or you could risk injury. If the bar is too heavy, then lower the weight.
  • This can be a difficult exercise at first so alternate it with other lifts to let your body recover.
  • When you've mastered it, you can try the single arm strict press, which is much more challenging because you only use one hand to perform the lift.
woman in green sports bra doing a strict barbell overhead press

2. Dumbbell Shoulder Press

This is one of the best overhead dumbbell press variations for those who find the standard barbell press too challenging.

It gives you a greater range of motion to help engage your deltoids fully and also gives you the flexibility to modify your grip.

This gives you greater control over the dumbbell press movement and is helpful for those carrying an injury. 

The addition of the dumbbell also increases the use of shoulder stabilizers, activating smaller muscle groups for even greater gains.

See Related - Dumbbell Vs Barbell Shoulder Press

Muscles Worked

  • Pecs
  • Deltoid Muscles
  • Triceps
  • Traps

How To

  1. 1
    Stand with feet about shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. 2
    Raise the dumbbells up to shoulder height.
  3. 3
    Engage your core and press both dumbbells upwards until your arm is fully extended.
  4. 4
    Pause at the top, and slowly lower to starting position.
  5. 5
    Repeat for 8-12 reps.

Training Tips

  • If the movement is uncomfortable, try to explore different grips (prone or neutral grip is usually best) with the dumbbell until you find a better position.
  • If you're carrying an injury or strain on one side, you can also perform a single arm dumbbell overhead press.
Man Doing Dumbbell Shoulder Press

3. Seated Barbell Overhead Press

This seated version of a strict press is great for those who want to develop their functional strength.

The movement isolates the deltoids more to improve muscle hypertrophy, giving you visibly a stronger and thicker upper body.

It's a good variation for those who haven't built up as much core stability.

This is one of the best overhead press variations for beginners and is great for home gyms because you don’t need much equipment.

Muscles Worked

  • Pecs
  • Deltoid Muscles
  • Triceps
  • Traps

How To

  1. 1
    Adjust the barbell on the rack, so it's just above shoulder height while seated.
  2. 2
    Place your bench next to the bar, and sit facing the bar.
  3. 3
    Unrack the bar and hold it with a pronated grip around your upper chest height.
  4. 4
    Press the bar upwards until your arms are fully extended.
  5. 5
    Pause, squeeze your shoulder blades, and then return back down until the bar is at chest height.
  6. 6
    Repeat for 8-12 reps.

Training Tips

  • You can perform a seated dumbbell shoulder press or double kettlebell overhead press if you don't have a barbell.
  • Control your wrists, and don't let them roll towards the ceiling. This will help to improve your overall shoulder pressing health and maximize the benefits.
  • If you feel any shoulder pain, you can try different grips with this exercise variation to improve muscle gain and protect your shoulder health.
Man Doing Seated Barbell Overhead Press

4. Z Press

The Z press is performed in the seated position and requires you to stay in control of your torso, so the lift comes completely from your shoulders and upper back.

It's a great way to finesse your overhead lockouts and will improve your core strength and stability.

The Z press can help you build muscle mass but does require some more developed lifting skills.

This is only one to attempt once you've mastered the standard barbell overhead press, and it is better for advanced lifters.

Muscles Worked

  • Deltoids
  • Core
  • Traps

How To

  1. 1
    Start with your barbell in a low position on a rack and sit behind it.
  2. 2
    Keep your torso vertical and your legs straight, and grip the bar.
  3. 3
    Unrack the barbell and perform a seated overhead press to push it straight upwards.
  4. 4
    Lock your arms at full extension, and then return to the start position.
  5. 5
    Repeat for 8-12 reps.

Training Tips

  • Move your head slightly forward as the barbell passes over your head, so it ends up directly above you when you finish the lift. This better engages your deltoids.
  • This is a challenging lift, so you’ll probably need to use a lighter weight for this seated shoulder press variation.
Man Doing Barbell Z Press

5. Pin Press

A pin press, sometimes called a dead stop shoulder press, is like the beginner's version of a strict press (or a standing version of a z press).

It uses the pins on your power rack to support the weight of the barbell so you can focus all your energy on the shoulder press repetition movement.

It doesn’t have the same range of motion as a barbell military press, but the pin press is great for beginners training in the gym and can help to reinforce proper overhead mechanics.

Muscles Worked

  • Deltoids
  • Pecs
  • Triceps

How To

  1. 1
    Set the pins on your squat rack, so they're in line with your upper chest.
  2. 2
    Set the barbell onto the pins, and load the weight.
  3. 3
    Stand facing the bar and grip it with a neutral grip, palms facing upwards.
  4. 4
    Slightly bend your knees, and press the bar directly upwards.
  5. 5
    Pause at the top, and lower the bar back until it’s just above the pins.
  6. 6
    Repeat for 10-14 reps and then lay to rest on the pins.

Training Tips

  • Unlike a barbell military press, you don’t have to worry about the bar falling on you, so try to lift heavy to improve your shoulder strength.
Man Doing Overhead Pin Press

6. Single-Arm Landmine Press

This unilateral overhead pressing variation is one of the best overhead press variations to help you train one side of your body at a time (this is called a unilateral movement).

It can help correct any muscular imbalances in your back and shoulder muscles and improve your overall balance and core strength.

If you struggle with the overhead press form, then the landmine press is an excellent alternative because it shifts the weight slightly in front of you.

This makes it easier for anyone with mobility issues. You can also head over to our guide on landmine press alternatives.

Muscles Worked

  • Deltoids
  • Pecs
  • Triceps
  • Core
  • Obliques
  • Glutes

How To

  1. 1
    Set up your landmine attachment on your barbell.
  2. 2
    Kneel in front of the barbell and adopt a split stance for stability.
  3. 3
    Grip the end of the barbell with one arm and lift to shoulder height.
  4. 4
    Keep your core tight, and press the barbell in front of you until the bar is level with your head.
  5. 5
    Pause at the top, and return the barbell to shoulder height.
  6. 6
    Repeat for 10-15 reps.

Training Tips

  • Kneeling helps to isolate the exercise to your shoulders, but it can be difficult to get used to the positioning. Your hand should be level with your head at the highest point, so move backwards if it’s going too high during the lift.
Man Doing Single-Arm Landmine Press

7. Trap Bar Press

A trap bar is designed to help you lift weight safely.

The additional handles on the bar frame are perfect for a shoulder press movement and help ensure that you lift the weight directly upwards, rather than in front of or behind the neck.

By using it for an overhead press, you can build stronger shoulders while limiting the risk of a shoulder injury, making it a great option for beginners.

Also Check Out - How Much Does a Trap Bar Weigh?

Muscles Worked

  • Traps
  • Deltoids
  • Triceps
  • Core

How To

  1. 1
    Set your trap bar on the floor with the weight loaded.
  2. 2
    Step into the middle of the bar and grip the handles on either side of you.
  3. 3
    Squat upwards and hold the bar around shoulder height.
  4. 4
    Press upwards and lift the bar directly above your head.
  5. 5
    Pause at full extension, and return to starting position.

Training Tips

  • This is the best variation for building stronger shoulders and is a helpful exercise to help you master the form. However, you should still use a light weight when you start out to make sure you can lift upwards comfortably.
Man Doing Trap Bar Overhead Press

8. Arnold Press

The Arnold press was made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger and became one of the most popular overhead press variations for fitness enthusiasts.

This partial shoulder press exercise particularly targets your medial deltoids and is useful for building your upper body.

This can help you develop a triangle physique that all bodybuilders want.

The Arnold press is an advanced push press variety and isn’t as suitable for beginners.

Related Article - Arnold Press Vs Shoulder Press

Muscles Worked

  • Deltoids (particularly the medial deltoids)
  • Triceps
  • Traps

How To

  1. 1
    Start by sitting on a bench with your feet flat on the floor (you want to completely disengage your lower body).
  2. 2
    Hold a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip, and press your arms against your chest, palms facing inwards.
  3. 3
    Swing your arms out to the side, turning your palms away from you.
  4. 4
    When the dumbbells reach your shoulders, press them up overhead until your arms are fully extended.
  5. 5
    Pause, and then slowly rotate and lower your arms back to the start position.
  6. 6
    Repeat for 10-14 reps.

Training Tips

  • The movement pattern is quite unique, so start by practicing it without dumbbells until it feels natural. Then you can introduce the weight.
  • This can be performed as a unilateral overhead pressing variation to train one arm at a time.
Man Doing Seated Arnold Press

9. Thrusters

Thrusters are a well-known exercise that's often incorporated into CrossFit workouts.

While it does engage your shoulders like a strict press, it also involves a compound lower body movement to work your legs and improve core stability.

This makes it one of the best overhead press variations for training your entire body.

Thrusters are usually performed with slightly lower weight, but the coordination involved can still make them challenging for beginners.

Make sure you've mastered the proper overhead mechanics before you attempt this exercise.

See Related - Best Compound Exercises For Shoulders

Muscles Worked

  • Deltoids
  • Traps
  • Triceps
  • Core muscles
  • Hamstrings
  • Quads
  • Glutes

How To

  1. 1
    Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hold a barbell in both hands.
  2. 2
    Draw your shoulder blade muscles down and back and resist lumbar extension by keeping your spine in alignment.
  3. 3
    Bring the barbell up to just above your collarbone (close to where the bar would be if you used a power rack.
  4. 4
    Bring your elbows underneath and engage your core to lower into a squat position. Make sure you focus on your hip movement to get into the correct position.
  5. 5
    Turn your knees out slightly, and drive upwards to complete a squat movement.
  6. 6
    When you have your hips fully extended, press the bar upwards above your head to engage your deltoids.
  7. 7
    Pause in the overhead position, then slowly lower the barbell back to shoulder height.
  8. 8
    Repeat for 6-10 reps.

Training Tips

  • It's important that you maintain a solid shoulder-width grip on the bar so you can comfortably lift the weight overhead without risking dropping it.
  • Aim for a full range of motion, but if you're struggling, you can start with a quarter squat until you can complete the full exercise.
Barbell Thrusters

10. Shoulder Press with Chains/Bands

Using resistance bands is an easy and affordable way to perform different shoulder presses at home.

By using chains or bands, you'll get all the benefits of a shoulder military press without any bulky equipment.

You'll also get greater activation of your core and smaller muscles than you would with a dumbbell shoulder press because your body is having to control an unstable load.

Resistance bands are pretty simple to use, but chains can be a bit more challenging, so they may not be suitable for beginners.

Muscles Worked

  • Anterior Deltoid
  • Lateral Deltoid
  • Medial Deltoid
  • Pecs
  • Triceps

How To

  1. 1
    To perform a resistance band shoulder press, start by securing the band under your feet.
  2. 2
    Stand tall and grip the handles at shoulder height.
  3. 3
    Press upwards, stretching the band up above your body.
  4. 4
    Pause at the peak, and lower back down to starting position to finish.
  5. 5
    Repeat for 15-20 reps.
  6. 6
    To perform a chain shoulder press, you'll need to loop chains onto either end of a barbell and then perform a standard barbell press.

Training Tips

  • Keep your movement controlled and slow throughout the lift to maximize muscle gains across your upper body.
Shoulder Press With Chains

The Importance Of The Overhead Press Movement

There are a lot of effective overhead press variations, but they generally aren't included in workouts as much as they should be.

Here are some great reasons to start working them into your routine:

They Help You Build A Powerful Upper Body

The number one benefit of performing these movements regularly is the gains. Overhead presses engage your upper body and, in particular, your back and shoulder muscles.

This can seriously improve your strength and make you feel more powerful.

On top of the strength gains, you'll also have the physique benefits.

An overhead press can massively improve your muscle hypertrophy across your traps, triceps, lats, and shoulders to make you look physically bigger.

So if your goal is to build a thick body, then you really need to be making good use of the overhead press.

They Improve Your Stabilization

The compound movement of the press doesn't just increase the size and strength of your muscles. It increases the functionality, stability, and balance of your whole body.

The press movement targets your core and stabilizes muscle groups, which help to give you a strong foundation for other exercises.

You can then use this extra flexibility to build on the movement and eventually introduce the snatch, power clean, or clean and jerk movements which bodybuilders love.

They Support Performance

Performing a variety of overhead presses isn't just good for your body in the short term; it can aid your performance in the long term.

For serious lifters, it provides them with a solid foundation for heavy compound lifts (like bench press), and that's why some kind of press is included in every weightlifting competition.

The overhead press is also a key part of the routine of athletes in a range of fields.

The exercise helps to improve their coordination and supports explosive movement while also decreasing the risk of injury.

If you are an athlete (or aspiring athlete), then you should be working the overhead press into your routine.[1]

Woman Doing Barbell Overhead Press

Overhead Press Vs Shoulder Press: Are They The Same?

The overhead press, shoulder press, and military press are all variations of the same exercise.

They are all compound movements that use a vertical barbell push press to target upper body muscles, and they can all help you build a strong body.

A military press is slightly different, but an overhead press and shoulder press are exactly the same exercise, and they both target the same muscle groups.

The term shoulder press is only really used if you're using a machine instead of free weights because the gym equipment is called a 'shoulder press machine.'


Common Overhead Press FAQs

How do you best program shoulder press variations?

The key is to alternate between different overhead press variations regularly and supplement it with other upper body strength exercises. By building your triceps, back muscles, and chest, as well as working your shoulders, you'll be able to do more challenging shoulder press variations and build more muscle.

How many days a week should you overhead press?

Performing a mix of overhead press variations 2-3 times a week will increase your shoulder strength without overloading your body.

How can you warm up your shoulders before doing these movements?

It's imperative that you warm up your shoulders properly before doing push press exercises so you don't injure yourself.[2] A quick and easy way to warm up your shoulders is to perform arm circles. By swinging your arms in small circles for 10-15 seconds, you'll increase blood flow and prepare your body for a workout.

How can I build my shoulders without an overhead press variation?

There are several overhead press alternatives that target the same muscle groups. These include the incline barbell press, kettlebell swings, and shoulder push-ups. 

Do overhead presses work all 3 heads?

An overhead press will work your anterior, medial, and posterior deltoids to train all 3 heads of your shoulder to improve your overall shoulder stability and strength.


Conclusion

Strong shoulders and upper back muscles don’t just make you look better, they make you physically stronger and support a lot of functional activity, so overhead press variations should be a key part of everyone’s training.

Push press exercises are all pretty similar, but by mixing up your routine, you can really challenge your body and make serious muscle gains across your upper body.

Hopefully, this guide has introduced some good options to help take your shoulder workouts to the next level.

References:

1. https://athleticperformanceacademy.co.uk/athlete-shoulders-healthy
2. https://theprehabguys.com/shoulder-warm-up-before-lifting/ 

Paul J

Last Updated on December 18, 2022