The shoulder barbell press

Many people train the shoulders by doing front and lateral (side) raises. These are performed standing up and raising dumbbells with a nearly straight arm from the front or side of the body. They are isolation exercises unsuitable for beginners. They hardly build any muscle or strength as the deltoids do not have a lot of power in this position. Lifting heavy in this exercise may also expose the person to injury. Shoulders injuries are among the most painful and debilitating.

Imagine slicing a turkey for Christmas. You need some flesh in order to carve anything off the bone. It’s the same with isolation exercises like the dumbbell raise. You need muscle in the first place if you wish to shape it.

Enter the shoulder barbell press

The shoulder barbell press is a recommended exercise for beginners and beyond. It is a compound exercise in that it also recruits the triceps and the trapezius muscles.

To execute the military press, you need a bench to sit on with a back rest, a barbell with weights and a stand on which to rest the bar. Many gyms unfortunately lack these stands. You can make up for them by working within a power rack or using the stands for the bench press.


Sit comfortably on the bench with your back flat against the back rest and push out your chest at the same time pulling back your shoulders. Grasp the bar and place it above your front deltoids. Your grip is wider than the shoulders such that your arms are bent at 90 degrees. This is the starting position. Breathe in, tilt your face up and push the weight up; at the top, do not lock your elbows, instead, smoothly reverse direction or just hold the bar with your arms slightly bent. On the way down, breathe in. You have just completed one rep.

Grip it right

The grip is an important aspect of the exercise. Get it right and the shoulders get a thorough workout. Get it wrong and the triceps do more of the work. Here is a good guide to get your grip right for pressing exercises targeting the chest and shoulders and using a bar. The grip should be such that the arms form a 90 degrees angle at the elbows when the upper arms are parallel to the floor.  Try first with an empty bar to find out where you should place your hands. Eventually, you will remember the exact place. If your grip is too narrow and your elbows end up pointing out, your triceps are being recruited too much. If your grip is too wide, your triceps are being even less recruited but your shoulders cannot exert maximum force.

Next time we will look at how to vary this exercise.

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