Barbell Shoulder Press

The Barbell Shoulder Press (seated or standing) is one the best exercises you can do for building wider-looking, more powerful shoulders.

The problem is, many people do it wrong...or not as correctly as they could be.

Now, I'm quite sure you've seen this one done before and you've probably done it many times yourself. What you may not realize is that there's a lot more to it than just a simple "up and down" pressing movement.

Elbow, head and bar position play a big role in maximizing the tension on the deltoids...if you do it wrong, you're missing out on substantial results in strength, mass and definition.



I'm doing these in the rack in a standing position, but these instructions apply whether it's freestanding or seated.

Grip the barbell just inside your normal bench press grip. Now, instead of flaring the elbows wide to the sides at the bottom, bring the elbows forward. This is not only easier on the shoulder structure, it also sets the stage for the action of the shoulders as you press up.

Barbell Shoulder Press - elbows flared in front at bottom

Begin the press. As you press up and the bar is about to clear your face, push your elbows backwards.

Barbell Shoulder Press - bar clearing face

Once the bar clears your head, push your shoulders back, move your head forward and lockout the bar directly over the top of your head.

Barbell Shoulder Press - move head forward

If you were to lower the bar directly down from there, it would land directly on top of your head:

Barbell Shoulder Press - Bar on top of Head

The actual path of the bar is straight up and down...and on a direct side view, the bar path should be vertical. It's the elbows and the head that change position...the elbows start in then flare out as you come to the top and the head moves forward once the bar is past.

These two form tips will maximize the contraction of the deltoids (especially the rear delts) during the barbell shoulder press movement.

Without these form tweaks, you're going to be primarily pressing with the front delts and the triceps, which is often a reason why people give up on this exercise. Once you get that elbow movement and head movement down, you'll immediately feel the difference in the exercise.

Here's a closer-in view of of the techniques in action.

Barbell Shoulder Press - elbows flared in front at bottomBarbell Shoulder Press - bar clearing faceBarbell Shoulder Press - move head forward

The good news is that if you've never been taught these tips before and your shoulder strength or development is not what you want, you've got a whole new world opened up before you.


Using this form while barbell shoulder pressing can have a big impact on the deltoid muscle stimulation, leading to wider-looking, more powerful shoulders and stronger, safer pressing.

Learn optimal form for Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press here.



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