4 Exercises Better Than the Overhead Press

4 Exercises Better Than the Overhead Press

Think traditional seated overhead barbell presses are your golden ticket to shoulder mass? Here are 4 variations that’ll do a better job of adding mass to your delts.

By Jimmy Peña MS, CSCS

We know what you’re thinking: What move could possibly be better than the overhead press for shoulder size? And while we understand your skepticism, we also know that there are variations of the great one that can make your gains in delt width and overall mass so much better. All you have to do is give them a try in order to expose the muscle fibers of your shoulders to different stresses and stimuli from one week to the next. In other words, if your shoulder routine is always one big dose of old-fashioned barbell presses, this article is about to shake up and overhaul the way you train delts.

As a way of quick review, the shoulder is composed of three heads: the front, middle and rear delts. When you perform an overhead press to the front of your head, you’re using mainly the middle and front delts, as well as the trapezius muscle that runs from your neck down the center of your back. But the emphasis each muscle gets can be altered dramatically depending on the version of the overhead press or techniques employed.

We’ve assembled four overhead press variations that all have the essential elements of the standard overhead press but with striking differences in form, which will stress and target your musculature in dramatically different ways. With all that your shoulders are capable of and with the various tools at your disposal, it’s fair to say that after you try the moves, your delts will grow like never before.

1. Standing Overhead Barbell Press


Would the real overhead press please stand up? That’s our first request as we dive into these variations of a classic. We want you to do this move from a standing position — not seated. At first, you may be forced to use a lighter weight than you’d use for seated overhead presses, but once your lower back strengthens through adaptation, you’ll be able to lift as much — and likely much more — weight standing as you do when you’re seated. While this may not seem plausible, just ask a dozen Olympic lifters if they’re stronger from a standing or seated position and you’ll get the same answer from each one. The fact is, with the standing version your entire body is involved in moving a ton of weight overhead.

First of all, the most powerful portion of your body — your legs — are nonexistent during the seated version, despite the fact that many seated overhead press stations have foot plates/bars to press against. Because you’re seated, your lower back and legs are, for lack of a better term, at rest. But when you stand up, you immediately engage your entire body. From a standing position, your legs and knees absorb the downward shock of the movement, and you can use your legs to help propel the bar back overhead on each rep. Again, once your lower back (not to mention your abs and transverse abdominis (think core) strengthen and combine with the contribution of the legs, you’re immediately able to press more weight overhead. As you increase that weight, your shoulders and arms become bigger and stronger as they adapt to the increased overload and stress. In fact, dare we say that after you’ve adapted to the standing version, you may never want to perform the seated version again. Gasp, the thought!

Power Pointer: With standing moves, a slight thrust can help you push heavier weights than when done seated.

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