Stop Doing the Barbell Overhead Press. Do These Exercises to Build Your Shoulders Instead.

Stop Doing the Barbell Overhead Press. Do These Exercises to Build Your Shoulders Instead.

When it comes to packing size to your shoulders, there are a multitude of exercises to help accomplish your goal. So why are you still relying on the old-school, overrated barbell overhead press?

Sure, the barbell overhead press allows you to work with heavy loads for your shoulder training, which is great especially if you're an Olympic lifter, CrossFitter, or strongman athlete who is tasked with overhead barbell movements in your sport. But if competition isn't your goal, the movement is likely not worth the risk of injury to your shoulder joints or the extra time and effort needed to establish perfect pressing technique, according to trainers Mathew Forzaglia, NFPT-CPT, founder of Forzag Fitness and Men's Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S.

“If I'm trying to overhead press, I just want the simplest overhead press where I can go heavy if I'm trying to really build my shoulders,” Samuel says. “Yes, you can get heavy with the barbell—but by the time we've done [learning] all that gymnastics to do that, I could have done a ton of other exercises they can get me there faster.”

The Overhead Barbell Press Puts Your Shoulder in a Restricted Position

Before placing undue stress on your shoulder joints, let’s emphasize this point again: because the barbell press puts us in a restricted position throughout the entire movement (given your hands' fixed position gripping the bar), it forces the lifter’s shoulders to internally rotate, which limits safe range of motion under load and puts you at risk of injury.

There are techniques used to create some external rotation—one of them being “breaking the bar”—but for the amount of work needed to master the move, it’s easier and equally effective to find an alternative, especially if you don’t have the healthiest shoulders to start.

Keeping the Bar at the Right Angle Is Tough

A perfect overhead press requires 180 degrees of full shoulder flexion—which a good number of us do not possess—and to be able to do that with your torso nice and tight instead leaning back. Without that core stability, you wind up in an unnatural pressing position, placing a whole lot of unnecessary stress on your rotator cuffs.

The Overhead Barbell Press Can Put Your Back in a Bad Spot, Too

An inability to achieve full shoulder flexion oftentimes leads to overarching your back and giving your mid-back more work that it can handle—a recipe for injury. Also, putting yourself in this unsafe position also takes away most of the intended benefits of overhead pressing—strengthening your shoulder, not overworking your back.

This move may be the most customizable shoulder press variation, according to Samuel, because you can shift your torso closer or farther away from the load in order to make it more or less challenging. The angling of the landmine also makes it an effective option for those of us who can’t press directly overhead—you can still load your anterior deltoids and still bang out plenty of reps.

When Samuel says high incline, he means mean as close to 90 degrees as possible. Even though this is a higher angle than normal to use on an incline press, we’re still getting that nice customizable press in which we’re out in front of our torso. From here, the high incline press allows us to stack our joints and focus on driving the weight straight up against gravity, providing constant resistance.

The technique used with kettlebell presses forces you into external rotation, says Forzaglia—putting most of us in a better overall pressing position. And once good form is established, the kettlebell will allow you to move some heavy weight with the overhead press—just with much less risk for injury.

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