Is Overhead Press Necessary? (Breaking Your Strength Plateau)

Fact Checked

Thinking about trying the overhead press? Let’s check out its benefits and see if it fits your workout routine well.

So, is overhead press necessary?

Yes, the overhead press is essential for upper body strength, shoulder development, and carryover into other pressing movements. It targets shoulders and triceps while enhancing mobility. Whether breaking a plateau or diversifying your routine, overhead pressing is a game-changer.

What Muscles Does Overhead Press Target?

The overhead press, whether seated or standing, targets several muscle groups in the upper body. However, there are some differences in muscle activation between the two variations.

In a seated overhead press, the primary muscles targeted include:

  • Shoulders: The anterior (front) deltoids, lateral (side) deltoids, and posterior (rear) deltoids are all actively engaged during the movement. These muscles play a significant role in shoulder strength and size.
  • Triceps: The triceps brachii muscles, located at the back of the upper arm, are also involved in the seated overhead press. They assist in extending the arm during the pressing motion.
  • Upper Chest: The upper portion of the pectoralis major, the chest muscle, is activated to a lesser extent during the seated overhead press.
  • Upper Back: The upper back muscles, including the trapezius and rhomboids, are recruited to stabilize the shoulder girdle during the exercise.

On the other hand, a standing overhead press engages the same primary muscle groups as the seated variation. However, due to the increased demand for stability and core engagement in the standing position, additional muscles come into play:

  • Core Muscles: The core muscles, including the rectus abdominis, obliques, and erector spinae, are activated to a greater extent during the standing overhead press. They contribute to stabilizing the torso and maintaining proper posture throughout the movement.
  • Lower Body Muscles: Standing overhead pressing also involves the lower body to provide a stable support base. Muscles such as the quadriceps, glutes, and calves are engaged to help maintain balance and generate power.

Both seated and standing overhead presses primarily target the shoulders and triceps. However, the standing variation involves additional core and lower body muscle activation for stability and balance.

The choice between seated and standing overhead press can depend on individual goals, preferences, and considerations such as injury or limitations.

Who Needs Overhead Pressing?

Overhead pressing is beneficial for most fitness enthusiasts, especially those looking to maximize their shoulder development.

Suppose you’ve reached a plateau with lateral raises or want to overcome a strength training plateau (on the bench press, for example). In that case, the overhead press can provide a different stimulus for progressive overload.

If you already perform a significant amount of horizontal pressing exercises like the bench press, you may need less overhead pressing, however, both movements benefit each other, so it may be a good idea to do both.

If you want to see the benefit of both movements, you can easily do so on a training split such as the Push Pull Legs split or Upper Lower split where you would alternate between the overhead press and bench press at the start of your Push day or Upper day.

Which Exercise is Better, Bench Press or Overhead Press?

While both the bench press and overhead press have important benefits and target largely the same muscles, they do so with different emphases.

The bench press primarily works the chest muscles, triceps, and anterior deltoids, whereas the overhead press focuses more on the shoulders and triceps, with a minor focus on the upper chest.

If you’re aiming for a big chest, the bench press is going to be your friend, whether barbell or dumbbell bench.

However, incorporating the overhead press into your routine will provide additional shoulder and tricep development, enhancing your overall upper-body strength.

Can I Build a Big Chest Just by Doing Overhead Press?

No, building a big chest solely through the overhead press is unlikely.

The overhead press primarily targets the upper chest, making it only a viable alternative to the incline bench press.

To develop a well-rounded chest like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, it’s important to include exercises like bench presses, dips, cable flyes, and other chest machines that target all parts of the chest muscle.

However, the overhead press is still valuable as a compound and functional exercise.

What is the Best Technique for an Overhead Shoulder Press?

To perform the overhead shoulder press with proper form, follow these steps:

Starting position:

  1. Keep your back straight.
  2. Flex your glutes and core to maintain stability.
  3. Grip the bar just outside of your shoulders, squeezing it tightly.
  4. Keep your elbows slightly in front of the bar.
  5. Place your feet about hip-width apart.

On the way up:

  1. Take a breath in and hold it.
  2. Press the bar straight up, ensuring it moves in a straight line over your center of gravity.
  3. Move your head back slightly to avoid hitting yourself.
  4. Maintain tightness throughout your body, especially in the back and core.
  5. Look straight ahead, avoiding arching your back.

On the way down:

  1. Stay tight and maintain control of the bar.
  2. Lower the bar in a straight line, cocking your head back slightly.
  3. Reset to the starting position.

General tip: Avoid increasing the weight too quickly and focus on solidifying your form before progressing to heavier weights.

Do Overhead Presses Help to Build Broad Shoulders?

Yes, overhead presses can help build broad shoulders, although the extent of broadness is relative to your shoulder girdle and clavicle. The overhead press targets all heads of the deltoids to some extent.

To further enhance shoulder development, incorporate shaping exercises like lateral raises, plate raises, and rear delt work into your routine.

This way, you can ensure each part of your shoulder is targeted to its full extent and get you on your way toward bigger shoulders.

5 Key Benefits of the Overhead Press:

1. Enhanced Stability and Core Power

The overhead press is vital for upper body strength. It targets shoulders, upper arms, and triceps, aiding muscle development.

Incorporating overhead pressing into weight training enhances stability, reduces shoulder injury risks, and refines technique.

It engages bench press muscles but with a different movement pattern, promoting overall upper-body growth.

2. Amplified Shoulder Size

The overhead press is one of the most effective exercises for developing shoulder muscles.

It primarily targets the deltoids, which are responsible for shoulder strength and size.

By performing overhead presses, you can specifically target the anterior (front), medial (side), and posterior (rear) deltoids, leading to amplified shoulder size and a well-rounded upper body appearance.

You can incorporate other exercises such as dumbbell shoulder presses, lateral raises, and Arnold presses for even greater variation and muscle engagement.

3. Refined Technique for Bench Press

The overhead press can have a positive impact on your bench press performance. Both exercises involve pushing movements and engage similar muscle groups, including the chest, triceps, and shoulders.

By incorporating overhead pressing into your weight training routine, you can refine your technique for the bench press.

The increased upper body strength and stability developed through overhead presses translate to improved performance and form in the bench press, allowing you to lift heavier weights and maximize your upper body strength gains.

4. Boosted Lockout Strength and Energy

The lockout phase of a lift refers to fully extending or pushing the weight away from your body.

The overhead press emphasizes the lockout phase, requiring significant strength and energy to press the weight directly overhead and maintain control.

Regularly performing overhead presses can boost your lockout strength and energy, which carries over to other exercises such as military presses, push presses, and jerk movements.

This increased strength in the overhead position enhances your ability to lift heavy weights and achieve optimal performance.

5. Practical Application in Everyday Life

In addition to its benefits in the gym, the overhead press has practical applications in everyday life.

The movement pattern and muscle activation involved in the exercise mimic activities that require lifting objects overhead, reaching high shelves, or performing tasks above shoulder height.

Regularly including overhead presses in your weight training routine can improve your upper body strength, stability, and mobility, making daily activities easier and reducing the risk of shoulder injuries.

Whether you’re using dumbbells, a barbell or performing variations like the standing press or Arnold press, the overhead press is a great way to challenge yourself and achieve a well-rounded upper body combined with other exercises.

Potential Risks and How to Avoid Them:

While the overhead press is a beneficial exercise for developing upper body strength, it is essential to understand the potential risks involved and take steps to avoid them.

Let’s explore some common risks associated with the overhead press and how to mitigate them.

Shoulder Injury

One of the primary concerns with overhead pressing is the risk of a shoulder injury. This exercise places a significant load on the shoulder joint and muscles, making it important to maintain proper form and technique.

Avoid excessive weight or overloading, as it can strain the shoulder muscles and increase the risk of injury. It’s crucial to start with lighter weights and gradually progress to heavier loads as your strength and form improve.

Rotator Cuff Strain

The rotator cuff muscles play a vital role in stabilizing the shoulder joint during overhead movements.

Improper form, excessive weight, or inadequate warm-up can strain these muscles and lead to rotator cuff injuries. To mitigate this risk, focus on strengthening the rotator cuff through specific exercises and stretches.

Additionally, always ensure proper warm-up and gradually increase the intensity of your overhead presses.

Improper Form

Performing overhead press with incorrect form can increase the risk of injury.

Maintain a stable and balanced position throughout the movement, avoiding excessive arching or leaning backward. Keep your head aligned with your spine and avoid jutting it forward.

Maintain a slight bend in your elbows to prevent unnecessary strain on the joint. Engage your core muscles for stability and control throughout the exercise.


Overhead pressing, especially with heavy weights, can stress the muscles and joints significantly.

Allowing sufficient recovery time between workout sessions is important to avoid overtraining and potential injuries.

Incorporate rest days into your training program and consider alternating overhead presses with other exercises that target similar muscle groups.

Gradual Progression

To minimize the risk of injury, it is crucial to progress gradually when increasing the weight or intensity of your overhead presses.

Rushing into heavy weights without proper strength and form can lead to serious injuries. Focus on building a solid foundation with lighter weights, perfecting your form, and gradually increasing the load over time.

Seeking Professional Guidance

If you are new to the overhead press or have any pre-existing shoulder issues, it is advisable to seek guidance from your local fitness professional or a qualified trainer. They can assess your technique, provide personalized recommendations, and help you develop a safe and effective training plan.

By practicing caution and implementing the necessary precautions, you can safely incorporate the overhead press into your fitness routine.

Exploring Alternatives to Overhead Press

While the overhead press is a popular exercise for targeting the shoulders and developing upper body strength, it is not the only option available.

If you are looking for alternatives to the overhead press, here are some exercises that can provide similar benefits:

  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press: This exercise involves pressing dumbbells overhead, one in each hand, while maintaining proper form and control. It engages the shoulder muscles and helps improve upper body strength.
  • Push-ups: Push-up is a versatile exercise that can be done anywhere without equipment. They target the chest, shoulders, and triceps while also engaging the core muscles.
  • Dips: Dips primarily target the triceps but also engage the shoulders and chest muscles. They can be performed using parallel bars or even using the edge of a sturdy chair or bench.
  • Arnold Press: The Arnold press is a variation of the dumbbell shoulder press that incorporates a rotation of the hands as you press the weights overhead. This exercise targets the shoulders from different angles, providing a unique challenge.
  • Lateral Raises: Lateral raises specifically target the lateral deltoids, the muscles on the sides of the shoulders. Holding dumbbells or using resistance bands, you raise your arms laterally to shoulder height, keeping a slight bend in the elbows.
  • Bent-Over Rows: Bent-over rows primarily target the upper back muscles, including the rhomboids and trapezius, while also engaging the biceps and rear deltoids. This exercise helps improve posture and overall upper body strength.
  • Push Press: The push press is a dynamic exercise that combines a slight leg drive with an overhead press. It allows you to use heavier weights and involves the entire body, including the lower body and core, to generate power.

The effectiveness of any exercise depends on proper form, range of motion, and gradually increasing the weight or resistance as you progress.

Consulting with a personal trainer or a gym veteran can help you tailor a workout routine that aligns with your needs.

Final Thoughts

The overhead press is an essential exercise for upper body strength, shoulder development, and mobility. It primarily targets the shoulders, triceps, and upper chest.

Incorporating overhead presses into your routine can enhance stability, refine bench press technique, and have practical applications in daily life.

Seeking proper form, gradual progression, and consulting a trainer can help minimize risks and maximize benefits.

Additionally, alternative exercises like dumbbell shoulder presses, push-ups, and lateral raises can provide similar benefits.

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Chief Editor
Tonya McIntosh

Hello there! My name is Tonya McIntosh, and I’m the Founder and Chief Editor of TGFFitness. I’m also a NASM-certified Nutrition Coach and Personal Trainer. With eight years of experience under my belt, I’ve found that one of the most common issues my clients struggle with is remaining consistent.

Finding your main motivator to keep going is easier said than done for Keep Reading.

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