Seated / overhead barbell press is a basic (multi-joint) exercise intended to build the muscles of the shoulder girdle. The main load in this exercise puts to the front and medial deltoids. In addition, the triceps and, to a small extent, the upper pectoral muscles are involved in the work. Since the seated / overhead barbell press is a basic exercise, it should be performed at the very beginning of the shoulder workout.
Varieties and technique of barbell shoulder press
The seated barbell press can be performed by lowering the barbell in front of you (on top of the pectorals) or lowering the barbell behind your head. The counterparts of the seated barbell press are the overhead barbell press (or military) and the seated dumbbell press. Let’s take a closer look at each of the types and analyze the technique.
Seated shoulder press
The exercise is performed on a bench with an angle of 90 degrees. Starting position: sit on a bench, place your feet on the floor, then take off the bar from the rack and lower it to the top of the pectoral muscles. Keep your back in the starting position and throughout the exercise, keep it straight, slightly bent at the lower back. Leave your shoulder blades on a bench throughout the exercise in order to save coordination. The grip should be slightly more than average, that is, slightly more than shoulder width.
From the starting position, you begin to smoothly press the barbell until your arms are straightened. Hands at the top point of the amplitude should be left slightly bent at the elbows in order to relieve the load from the elbow joints. Then lower the bar to its original position. When performing the exercise, the elbows should move parallel to the body. With this technique, the front deltoids and lateral deltoids receive the maximum load. Moreover, the front deltoids receive a little more load, by about 10%.
If you want to increase the load on the front deltoids even more, then the elbows should be put forward. So that they move in front of the body. It is hardly worth doing this due to the fact that the front deltoids already work in almost all exercises for the development of the pectoral muscles, for example, such as bench press or dumbbell bench press with various angles. Therefore, I advise you to perform the exercise in the classic version.
Behind the neck shoulder press
The technique is absolutely identical to the one when you lower the barbell in front of you to your chest. Otherwise, there are slight differences. Firstly, behind the neck barbell press loads the medial deltoids more than the front one. Many bodybuilders use this type of shoulder press specifically to pump the medial deltoids, and then finish with more isolated exercises such as dumbbell lateral raise. Secondly, this type of shoulder press is more traumatic than the classic one when you lower the barbell forward. This is due to the fact that the shoulder joints are in an unnatural position. Because of this, they experience unwanted stress, which can lead to their injury. Nevertheless, this is an excellent exercise for working out the lateral deltoids, so I advise you to perform it with light weights to prevent any kind of injures. It is better to do more reps in a light set than hanging a lot of weight on the barbell. And if you experience pain in the shoulder joints, immediately stop the exercise.
Overhead press (military)
In this exercise, again, the technique is absolutely identical to the seated barbell press, lowering the bar in front of you. And the working muscles and the distribution of the load are all the same. The difference is that you are not sitting while doing the exercise, but standing. Based on this, firstly, the load to the lumbar region increases, which can lead to injury.
And secondly, often when performing the exercise, athletes cheat through jerking and pushing the barbell up with the help of back and legs.
The overhead barbell press can be performed behind the neck, and all aspects discussed above will also apply here.
Smith machine shoulder press
Seated barbell presses and behind the neck shoulder press can be performed in the Smith machine. And this option has its pros and cons. The benefit is that in the Smith machine, you can more isolated focus on working out the deltoids and not watch the position of the barbell (swinging it to the sides). And the drawback is that when performing the exercise in the Smith machine, less stabilizer muscles will work.
Tips on performing barbell shoulder press
1) Warm up well and warm up your muscles before doing the exercise. Since shoulder presses are most often the first exercise when training deltoids.
2) Perform the exercise smoothly, without jerking, saving the correct technique. Do not swing the body or pull the body or pelvis forward.
3) Do not hold your breath while doing the exercise. Lower the bar as you inhale, and press as you exhale.
4) When performing overhead press at the lowest point of the amplitude, do not hit the barbell on the chest, slightly touch the top of the chest with a barbell – then push smoothly.
5) When performing behind the neck press, lower the barbell to about the area of the ears, slightly touching the top of the neck. If you lower it below, then an even greater unwanted load on the shoulder joints will be put, which will definitely lead to their injury.
6) Use different variations of the exercise, alternating them in your training program. This will help to work out the deltoids better and shock them every time, creating positive preconditions for their growth.