Shoulder Press Exercise for Big, Sexy Shoulder Muscles

"Shoulder Press is the Granddaddy of all shoulder Exercises."
-Arnold Schwarzenneger

Guess what is the first sign of a bodybuilder? No its not chest, abs or even arms.

Its round, muscular, boulder shoulder muscles which bulge out and get noticed without having to get naked!

And they are build by Overhead presses exercise which are the best overall shoulder muscle builders.

Although you may be doing shoulder exercises regularly, in this article you will find how to do the shoulder or military press exercise with perfect form and technique for best deltoid muscle gains.

I will also reveal my secret strategies to make them double effective and safer too for sound shoulder health.

Inside This article:

The Importance of Overhead Press for the Bodybuilders

Press is an old exercise. Here is old timer Eugene Sandow performing Bent Press

The Keys to Shoulder Girth for Bodybuilders

Although no bodybuilder miss shoulder training, you can easily overtrain them or not train them optimally. Why optimally?

1. They are the first sign that you workoutCall them boulder shoulders or wide deltoids, shoulder muscles hold a special place for every muscle builder. 

2. They Are functional: Press, push and bend are the commonest moves both in life and bodybuilding, but nothing beats wide shoulders as a manly sign which women find instantly attractive. Broad muscular shoulders are a sign of masculinity and power as well.

3. They give you a balanced physique and not make your chest look like breasts! Shoulders add the sleek, broad look to compliment your bench press results.

The Superman like sexy physique looks terrific and you can take it to another level as well.

3 Keys to Shoulder Girth for Bodybuilders

There are three keys to bigger shoulders:

  1. The muscle mass you posses
  2. Your bi-acromial width or length of your shoulder bones and
  3. Balance between deltoid & rotator cuff muscle strength

Although bone length is almost impossible after you turn 21 years, there is no limit to build bigger shoulders with the right training and nutrition.

The three-headed deltoid muscle needs 3 different exercises for complete development but shoulder press stands out as being the best shoulder muscle builder.

It targets your medial and anterior deltoids and in combination with bent-over raises or face pulls builds those round, broad shoulder you crave.

But there is a caveat. Improper technique and using more weights than your limit can lead to shoulder injuries and overtraining, so learn the best technique. Also train the rotator cuff muscles to balance your shoulder girdle development and all round muscle growth.

Lets roll in...

How to Perform Shoulder Press with Perfect Form


I cover the military shoulder press exercise done with a barbell as it allows maximum loading. Standing are better than seated, so do them standing instead.

Position: Although I have shown seated version in the animation, standing is better than seated shoulder press because it recruits more muscle fibers. Also research has shown that repeated seated presses fatigues your lower back muscles. So standing presses are the way to go.

Grip: An overhand grip shoulder-width apart is optimal.

Stance: Slightly less than shoulder width stance but not too narrow.

Rack: A weight rack is ideal or you need to clean the barbell off the floor. Use your pick up and technique you learnt in deadlifts if you need to get the bar off the floor.

My 2 Step Shoulder Press:

Grab the barbell with a shoulder width overhand grip and clean them to your shoulder level.

Grab the bar tightly, keep your abs and butt tight and take a deep breathe in.

Shoulder Press Start Position

Step One: The Vertical Push

With the right grip, stance and posture, press the barbell upwards in a straight line. Visualise pushing the bar towards the roof away from your body. Your feet should be in contact with the floor and thrusting into the floor.

For more deltoid contraction, push as if you are trying to crush the bar and bringing your arms closer to the centre. 

Although the barbell doesn’t allow you to do that, the very effort recruits more muscle fibers. Exhale at the top position and inhale on the way down.

Step Two: Lower the bar by actively pulling it towards you

You know that eccentrics or lowering weights build more muscle. Now lets take the eccentrics to a whole new level. How?

Lower the bar by actively pulling it using your upper back muscles. Don't just lower it passively but actively pull it towards you. This increases your deltoid muscle contraction in subsequent reps. Try it. You will have instant strength.

Where to and Where not to Lower the Bar

Lowering the bar to the front of the neck below the ear level is optimal.

But where you lower also depends on your shoulder flexibility.

  1. Lowering to the back of the neck: It requires excellent shoulder flexibility. It stresses your cervical muscles, shoulder capsule and may cause disc herniation. I suggest you avoid it.

  2. Lowering the bar to the front of the neck: This is the classic military press and requires less shoulder flexibility. It does put less stress on your deltoid muscles compared to behind the neck presses, but its safer. 

Dumbbell presses are an excellent alternative to barbell press as dumbbells allow longer range of motion and you can lower them to a level where elbows can come in line with your shoulders. 

I suggest a good mix of barbell, dumbbell and the very best Arnold Press for best gains and less injury risk.

Where not to lower the bar

Shoulder presses have got some bad rep by bodybuilders who abuse it with improper form or use excessive weights than shoulders can handle. It doesn’t have to be so.

To ensure safe and effective vertical pressing don’t lower the bar:

  • to the top of your head: Avoid doing partial shoulder press exercises where you lower the bar only till the top of the head OR

  • behind the neck: unless you have very flexible shoulders

3 Common Shoulder Training Mistakes

There are 3 mistakes most muscle builders make with shoulder training. They are:

  1. Imbalance between delts and external rotators
  2. Weak upper back muscles
  3. Overtraining the anterior delts

By working on rotator cuff and upper back muscles and doing full range exercises, you can dramatically improve on your shoulder training. I cover rotator cuff exercises elsewhere.

Since bench press and incline bench press stresses the anterior delts, you need to ensure you are not training shoulder presses too much while neglecting the medial and posterior deltoid heads.

No magic here. Just proper technique, balanced training and addressing your weak points will ensure best gains.

Shoulder Press Variations

Shoulder Press Variations

Shoulder Machine Presses: Although they allow strict form, they underuse the shoulder stabilisers and can create muscle imbalances. If you are a beginner and feel machines offer safety, then I suggest you start with low weights on barbells.

Machines are the wusses way out and I don’t want you, my dear muscle builder to fall for them.

Dumbbell Presses: They are excellent for full range of motion and allow full shoulder mobility, hence excellent variation for barbells. But many gyms do not have very heavy dumbbells and if you train consistently you might outgrow your dumbbells.

Arnold Press: The big guy Arnold sure knew about shoulder training. His improvised shoulder press called Arnold press

  • allows greater deltoid stretching
  • allows lowering elbows to their lowest position and
  • is very healthy on your shoulder joint

So I give Arnold Press a thumbs up!

NNMB Muscle Building Program: Why just build your shoulders when you can build bigger chest, shoulders, legs and arms at the same time. Watch the video below for complete bodybuilding transformation. 

› Shoulder Press

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