How to Do the Standing Overhead Press With a Barbell

The overhead press is a standard weight lifting exercise with many variations in both the seated and standing positions, using dumbbells or a barbell. The standing barbell press described here is also known as the military press and is a staple in weight training routines. It is also one that is surprisingly challenging—this isn't one you'll be adding a lot of weight for as you progress—but it is good for building shoulder and arm muscles


Positioning the Body for the Standing Overhead Press

Barbell overhead press
Barbell overhead press. CulturaMax / Getty

As for all exercises, don’t lift too heavy, to begin with, and stop if the pain is felt. Remember to breathe; exhale on effort.

Muscles Worked

Primarily the shoulder muscles and the deltoids are worked in this exercise, but other muscles such as the trapezius at the back of the neck and back, the triceps at the back of the upper arm, and the upper chest are also recruited.

Body Positioning

  • Grip the barbell overhand with hand positions wider than shoulder width. The hands should be pronated (palms facing outward).
  • The weight should be less than what you might normally deadlift. Don't be too aggressive with adding weight in this exercise until you're ready. Maintaining proper form is essential for results and safety.
  • Hold the barbell at the upper chest for the starting position.
  • Hold heavier weights with the "clean" grip with wrists cocked back to provide support, and keep hands in positions slightly wider than shoulder width.
  • Feet should be about shoulder-width.

Body Movement & Check Points


  1. Brace the abdominal muscles (you can work your abs as you lift and lower to give them a supplementary workout).
  2. Lift the bar overhead with full arm extension. Make sure not to explode into locked out elbows as this can cause injury.
  3. Return the bar to the chest and repeat the exercise.

Remember to breathe out on exertion and not to hold the breath. Inhale as you lower the bar and prepare for the next lift repetition.

Check Points

  • Keep the head still and try not to tighten the neck muscles unduly as you lift.
  • You can lock your elbows at the top of the lift, but take extra care not to lock them suddenly, potentially causing them injury.
  • Lift cautiously if you have suffered an elbow or shoulder injury recently or in the past. Concentrate on good form, stop if you feel pain, and choose a lightweight to begin with.

Overhead Press Variations

As mentioned above, there are also seated variations of the overhead press using dumbbells or a barbell. If you suffer from lower back pain or issues, the seated variation may be a better choice for you. 

Doing a behind-the-neck variation of this exercise is not recommended. It puts stress on the rotator cuff when the bar is behind the neck.

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