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How Do I Do a Barbell Shoulder Press?

Dan Cavallari
By Dan Cavallari
Updated May 17, 2024
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A barbell shoulder press should be performed in a rack system to ensure safety should you lose control of the barbell at any point during the exercise. The rack itself should be set to just below the pectoral muscles so you will be able to grasp the barbell and lift it easily, and re-rack it easily once the exercise is finished. The barbell shoulder press is done from the sitting position, so you will need to position a weight bench within the rack to do the exercise correctly and effectively. The amount of weight you lift depends on your current fitness level.

Attach the weights to the barbell while it is racked before doing a barbell shoulder press. If this is your first time doing this exercise, start with less weight than you would otherwise lift so you can get used to the new motion. Once the weight is attached to the barbell, sit on the weight bench with the barbell in front of you at chest height. Adjust the rack height if necessary to ensure proper starting position for the barbell shoulder press. Once in position, you will need to grasp the barbell with the palms facing outward and positioned a little wider than shoulder width. Do not grip the barbell too widely or your range of motion will be too limited.

Lift the barbell straight upward while keeping the back as straight as possible. When you are at the highest point of the barbell shoulder press, be sure to avoid locking your elbows to prevent injury. Hold the position momentarily, then return the barbell to chest height. Several repetitions should be done in a set, then a rest period will be necessary before starting another set.

Once you are comfortable with the barbell shoulder press motion, you can add more weight to the bar or you can do more repetitions to begin building muscle in the shoulders. Getting the motion right is important first, however, to avoid injuring the shoulder muscles or losing control of the weights. It may be a good idea to work with a spotter the first few times you do the exercise, even if you are using a weight rack. A professional trainer can also help analyze your lifting motion to ensure you are doing it correctly.

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