Variations to the shoulder barbell press


There are quite a few variations to this basic exercise.  AKA military press or the overhead shoulder press, it can be done standing up. This is much more difficult and you won’t be able to lift as heavy. Core muscles such as the abs and lower back are recruited in order to keep the body balanced despite having a loaded barbell high up overhead. It is also easier to cheat while performing it standing up. You may feel the urge to bend the legs a little to get that weight up just a little bit more. I also feel that the emphasis is less on the deltoids in the standing position. For this reason, I mostly perform the shoulder barbell press seated in order to maximise the work done by the deltoids.

Behind-the-neck press

Another variant is the behind-the-neck press, which as its name suggests, is performed by lowering the bar behind the neck. Many people disapprove of this, saying that this exercise is responsible for a lot of shoulder injuries. They claim that the bar behind the neck places the shoulder in an unnatural position due to an excessive rotation of the shoulder joint and the weight creates a lot of stress. Furthermore the head is in the way of the bar and the lifter has to bend the neck forward excessively. I have to agree with all this, having performed the shoulder press with the bar both behind and in front of the neck. The behind-the-neck version does not feel natural at all to me and I feel the triceps take up a lot of the weight. In comparison, with the bar at the front, I can feel the emphasis much more on the front delts. However, the face is still in the way and the lifter will have to raise his chin in order to clear the bar. On the other hand, many people swear by the behind-the-neck press and use it as a staple of their shoulder workout and have never suffered an injury.

It is unfortunate that in many places there are no stands at the right level to aid in the shoulder barbell press. Using the Smith machine solves this problem but the exercise is no longer free weight. However, you can go very heavy in this case. Otherwise you will have to get someone to help you or if the bar is not too heavy, you can lift it yourself into position.

Shoulder dumbell press

I have to admit that the barbell shoulder press has never been kind to me. I have made very little progress with this exercise and much prefer the dumbbell press for the shoulders where I have been able to push much more than at the barbell. In addition, the movement feels much more natural as the dumbbells are in line with your shoulders and arms – you don’t need to stick your head forward or tilt it up to clear the bar. Dumbbells are truly free weight. But I cannot recommend you the dumbbell press immediately. For the beginner, balancing them at first will be very difficult. Stick to the barbell initially to strengthen your muscles and prepare then for harder work that lies ahead.

It is perhaps a rite of passage that all beginners must complete all the basic compound exercises before moving on to the next level of exercises so that they may decide which best suits them. In fact, you should also do the behind-the-neck press despite its negative press. Start with a low weight and find out for yourself if it works.

Other shoulder exercises include the upright row which is a fantastic exercise if you want something other than pressing exercises, arm raises as mentioned at the beginning and some machine exercise which take away the problem of sticking your neck in or out. Traps workouts revolve around the shrug, really a shrug-like movement but as all deltoids exercises also work the traps, shrugs are not needed for beginners. I rarely do that exercise.

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