Essential Exercises for Health: Press

Pressing the barbell overhead is the most useful upper-body exercise. It is especially useful as a sports conditioning exercise, primarily because is it not just an upper body exercise. Like most sports, the press transmits upper-body force along a kinetic chain that starts at the ground. In a press, the kinetic chain – the components of the musculoskeletal system involved in the production and transmission of force between the base of support and the load being moved – starts at the ground and ends at the bar in the hands. The press produces strength in the trunk muscles – the abs, obliques, costals, and back – as well as in the shoulders and arms. It trains the whole body to balance while standing and pressing with a heavy weight in the hands and overhead. It uses more muscles and central nervous system activity than any other upper-body exercise. The press is very useful for injury prevention of the shoulder joint, in that involves the rotator cuff muscles as stabilizers in the movement and are therefore strengthened in this capacity.

How to Perform

  • Take a grip on the bar (typically just outside your shoulders) that places your forearms in a vertical position. The bar will be resting on the heel of your palm.

  • Take the bar out of the rack, your elbows should now move to a position just in front of the bar when viewed from the side.

  • The bar should be resting on the meat of your deltoids with the middle point of the bar touching the base of your neck. 

  • When you’re ready to press, take a big breath, hold it, and drive the bar up over your head. Make sure you have the bar directly above the back of your neck when you finish the press. This is a point that should have the bar, the glenohumeral joint, and the mid-foot in a straight vertical line.

  • Once the bar is over the head correctly, lock your elbows and shrug up your shoulders to support the bar.

  • To return the bar into the starting position, unlock your elbows as the bar travels downward. As the bar approaches the forehead move your head backward to prevent the bar from hitting your head. There will be slight lateral movement of the bar from the locked out position overhead to the starting position resting on the deltoids.

  • When the bar is back into the starting position, take a big breath, hold it, and repeat the movement until the desired number of reps is achieved. 



Times performed per week: 1
Sets: 1-3
Reps: 10-20
Weight: Bodyweight / Light

Some Experience

Times performed per week: 1-2
Sets: 3-4
Reps: 8-15
Weight: Light / Moderate



Times performed per week: 1-3
Sets: 4-7
Reps: 5-12
Weight: Moderate / Heavy



Things to Know

  • Look straight ahead when performing the press.

  • The press can also be used with dumbbells, weight plates, kettle bells, and resistance bands.

  • Workouts exceeding 10-20 sets of the press can be used for experienced lifters depending on goal.

  • Workouts with repetitions decreasing to 1-5 reps can be used based on goal.