How to do: Overhead press

Sculpt stronger shoulders with an overhead press

Posted by for Strength

Welcome to our weekly Move of the Week series. Every Monday, we’ll be sharing with you one of our favourite exercises – how to do them, what muscles they work and why they should be a regular part of your workout regime. This week: overhead press.

You might think that having well-developed arms is the foundation to building a stronger upper body but the shoulders and upper back play a huge role in how strong we feel and look. The overhead press is the perfect move for building deltoid muscle around the shoulder caps, and working the traps in the upper back that can be otherwise hard to reach. Remember, it’s virtually impossible to build “bulk” in these areas as a woman – think more J.Lo than AJ when it comes to toning upper body muscles.

So, what exactly is an overhead press and what muscles does it work?

An overhead press is simple. It involves standing and pressing a pair of dumbbells directly over your head. It’s great for the following reasons:

  • Upper body workout: Targets the pecs, traps, delts, arms and requires a little core activation.
  • Adaptable: Start light and progress the weight as you see fit. You may find that you’re able to lift a little more than you anticipate if you bend the knees slightly on the push-up.
  • Simple: There’s nothing complicated about this move but its power is in your posture. It’s all too easy to overextend the shoulders so that you lift behind your head instead of directly above it, and if the core isn’t engaged, your back might start to take the flack.

Overhead presses are great for building serious upper body strength while having access to a little more power from the quads and glutes.

Which muscles are worked?

This move primarily targets the upper body, including:

  • Pectoralis major and minor
  • Triceps (arms)
  • Trapezius (upper back)
  • Deltoids (shoulders)

How to do to an overhead press

Posture is key. Stand up tall, keep the core engaged and be careful not to overextend the shoulders. If you have a mirror, this is a good one to practice looking at yourself to make sure that you’ve got a straight line running from hand to foot at the top of the move.

  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart.
  2. Grab your weights and start by holding them at collarbone height.
  3. With a slight bend in the knees, extend the arms up above your head, rotating your wrists so that the weight ends face each other.
  4. Slowly bring the weights back down to an inch above the shoulders and extend again.

The slower you bring the weights down, the harder the move becomes. Try lowering for the count of three and coming back up explosively. 

Keen to improve your form? Check out our How To library to see exactly how the experts do over 100 of the most common strength training exercises.

Image: Stylist

Share this article

Miranda Larbi

Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.

Recommended by Miranda Larbi