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What is a Shoulder Press?

By Karen E. Spaeder
Updated May 17, 2024
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The shoulder press is an exercise that targets all shoulder muscles through a series of overhead presses with weights. Secondary muscles trained include the triceps and rhomboids, and even the core abdominal muscles come into play. Many women particularly like the shoulder press because it allows them to develop their shoulder muscles, therefore creating the illusion of a smaller waist.

Performing the shoulder press requires a set of dumbbells. Novices should start with no more than two to five pounds, while seasoned athletes can lift eight pounds or more. To ensure proper form, it can be helpful to stand in front of a mirror.

To start, a person needs to ensure that his or her hips are squared forward, back is straight, feet are flat on the floor, and abdominal muscles are pulled in. Grasping a dumbbell in each hand and keeping the palms facing forward, the person then raises the dumbbells to ear level – this is the starting position. Forearms should be perpendicular to the floor and upper arms parallel to it – as though a person is creating a rectangular shape with the arms, only without the top. From this starting position, the person raises the dumbbells up and over the head, exhaling as he or she does so. As the weights come up, they are brought together so they barely touch in the middle, held for a beat, and then returned to the starting position.

It can be important for a person to remember to keep the weights at ear level when he or she returns to starting position – the arms should not be allowed to sag down or the back to arch. If a person feels like he or she is slipping out of proper form, a lighter weight can be used until one feels able to perform the shoulder press correctly for two sets of 12 to 16 repetitions each. The muscles should feel fatigued and the last repetition should feel like a person can barely do one more.

For an added challenge, the lower body can be engaged to perform the shoulder press. With this additional work, a person will burn extra calories and maximize his or her workout time. To do this, a person squats down with his or her arms in the starting position – as though he or she is going to sit on an imaginary chair. Keeping the knees aligned with the ankles and behind the toes, a person should then take care to press his or her heels into the floor. The body and arms should be raised simultaneously, the weights pressed overhead, and then the person should squat back down to starting position.

When incorporated into a regular workout routine, the shoulder press offers an efficient way for both men and women to tone and strengthen a variety of upper-body muscles. A person should contact his or her doctor before initiating any exercise routine, and workouts should be stopped if dizziness, light-headedness, or nauseous occurs at any time. Plenty of water should be consumed before, during, and after the workout, and a light meal should be eaten, such as a banana or an energy bar, within 30 minutes of workout completion.

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