If you have spent any amount of time in a gym you’ve likely seen someone performing a dumbbell shoulder press. The dumbbell variation of the overhead press is very popular, and is a great addition to most training programs. The advantage of performing the dumbbell version is the unilateral nature of using two independent loads (the dumbbells), instead of one (a barbell or machine). Using the dumbbells ensures each side of the body is receiving equal loads, and recruits additional stabilising muscles during the lift.
As with all overhead pressing exercises, the dumbbell shoulder press stimulates the front (anterior) and side (lateral) heads of the deltoid muscle, as well as the triceps (extending the arm) and the trapezius (upward rotation of the scapula).
The exercise can be performed seated or standing. The seated version has the benefit of eliminating lower body movement during the lift, as well as being easier for those which train with a partner whom spots them during the lift. The standing version requires greater core and hip stabilisation.
The military press is the name given to the standing shoulder press, which can be performed with a barbell or with a pair of dumbbells. The military press is the bread and butter of a sound shoulder session because it is highly effective at targeting the front (anterior) and side (lateral) deltoid heads of the shoulder.
As just mentioned, the military press will highly stimulate the front and side of the shoulders, yet it does also recruit the triceps (located to the rear of the upper arm) which enables your arms to extend, as well the trapezius muscle which aids with upward rotation of the scapular during the press. Thus, the overhead press is ideal for targeting the so-called push muscles of the upper body.
Although the military press is performed standing, it traditionally does not involve any lower body movement. Instead, the legs, hips and core are used merely to stabilise the torso. An alternative to the military press is the push press, which is performed in a similar way but incorporates the legs, hips and core as the athlete performs a partial squat at the bottom of the exercise and then forcefully pushes the weight upwards. This is highly effective at increasing overall body strength, co-coordination and force production.
The lever shoulder press (or machine shoulder press) is an option for those who train at a commercial gym which has a shoulder press machine available. Some argue that machine variations of exercises should be avoided in favour of their free weight alternatives (such as dumbbell and barbell overhead pressing), yet the truth is that there are advantages and disadvantages to both options, so it really depends on the individual athlete.
For most athletes we would recommend the use of free weights instead of machines, namely due to the greater amount of stabilisation required and also executing the exercise through a non-fixed, natural range of motion. However, machines do offer the benefit of being a safer alternative for those whom are cautious about pressing weights above their head. People new to a gym may find it useful to use the lever/machine shoulder press upon embarking on a training program, with the goal being to move onto free weight alternatives once a moderate level of strength has been obtained.
For bodybuilders, the machine press is also a great option for drop sets due to the ease of quickly changing the load, as well as being a safe option to go to, and beyond, muscle failure.
As with all overhead pressing exercises, the front (anterior) and side (lateral) deltoid heads are targeted with this exercise. The triceps are also recruited due to the extension of the arm during the press, and the trapezius muscle located in the upper back also plays a role as it aids upward rotation of the scapula.
Machines will differ, and therefore any instructions given on the machine should be followed
As the name indicates, the seated barbell shoulder press is an overhead press performed whilst seated. While the seated variation targets the same muscles as the military (standing) shoulder press, some athletes prefer the seated version due to the inability to use the legs and hips during the execution. With the athlete seated, it also becomes easier for a training partner to spot the athlete during the lift.
The seated barbell shoulder press is ideal for targeting the front (anterior) and side (lateral) heads of the deltoid, or in other words, the front and side regions of the shoulder. The triceps are also recruited as the arms extend during the press, as well as the trapezius muscle which is responsible for upward rotation of the scapula.
Athletes who notice an imbalance with regards to strength levels on each side of the body may wish to try the seated press using dumbbells instead of a barbell. Using dumbbells will ensure each side receives an equal load, eliminating the stronger side overpowering the weaker side. Dumbbells would be used until the strength balance is restored.