How to: Shoulder to Overhead – Tips, Variations, and Benefits

Table of Contents

Introduction

When your coach calls out the shoulder-to-overhead day, most people get a rough idea of what that means. But honestly, do you fully know what this movement pattern involves?

Can you name the exercises? Sure, common sense tells you that you will have to move some weight from about shoulder level to a full overhead position.

But could you explain all the overhead press variations?

If you are into CrossFit, then you must have heard about the shoulder-to-overhead movement. It is one of the key exercises that help to build your upper body strength and muscle mass.

Shoulder to overhead is a compound exercise that targets the shoulder muscles, along with other muscles in your upper and even your lower body.

Today, we will explore everything you need to know about the shoulder-to-overhead set of exercises. We will discuss the different types of shoulder-to-overhead exercises, the muscles involved, the proper form, and the benefits of doing the exercise.

We will also look at some frequently asked questions and provide tips and variations to help you make the most out of the shoulder-to-overhead exercise.

Barbell
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What does Shoulder to Overhead mean in CrossFit?

“Shoulder to overhead” in CrossFit describes exercises that include lifting a weight from your shoulders to overhead with your arms extended. The exercise is typically performed with a barbell, but you can also use dumbbells or kettlebells.

The goal is to lift the weight in the most efficient way from your shoulders into the overhead position with your arms extended in a full lockout position.

coach teaching shoulder to overhead

Movement Types to Perform Shoulder to Overheads

Strict Press - Basics

The strict overhead press is an effective overhead press variation for assessing and enhancing one’s vertical pushing strength in the upper body.

By relying solely on the upper body without any assistance from the legs or hips, this exercise effectively targets and strengthens the shoulders, back, and chest muscles.

Furthermore, the strict overhead press also presents a challenge to the core muscles, as maintaining a tightly braced posture is crucial during the movement.

This variation is the hardest one when it comes to raw power requirements.

Strict Press - How To

  • To properly set up for the exercise, position your feet at a hip-width stance and place your hands on the barbell just outside your shoulders. Bring the barbell to the front rack position, with your elbows positioned just slightly in front of the bar.
  • Ensure that you have a full grip on the bar at about shoulder width before proceeding.
  • If you want to perform the strict overhead press with dumbbells or kettlebells then make sure to keep your elbows close to your body. Don´t “wing” your elbows out like chicken wings!
  • When executing the movement, brace your core muscles and press the weight overhead, keeping it centered over the middle of your feet. Maintain a still posture throughout your torso and legs, while keeping your heels planted firmly on the ground.
  • To complete the repetition, extend your arms fully until they are locked out overhead.
  • To achieve a successful repetition, ensure that the weight starts in the front rack position with your elbows just slightly in front of the weight.
  • Additionally, maintain a static posture throughout your torso and legs, and ensure that your arms are fully extended overhead with the weight positioned over the middle of your feet.

Push Press - Basics

The push press is another possibility to bring your barbell overhead but this time with a little help from your legs.

In fact, this “little help” is enough to increase your overall performance in the barbell overhead press by about 30%.

This variation requires you to perform a dipping motion before you start to drive the weight up.

This dip should neither be too little nor too deep – about a third of the length of your thighs is just right.

Push Press - How To

  • To prepare for the exercise, start by placing your feet at a hip-width stance and positioning your hands on the barbell just outside your shoulders.
  • Lift the barbell to the front rack position, making sure your elbows are slightly in front of the bar, and grip the bar fully at about shoulder width.
  • When performing the exercise, brace your core muscles and initiate the movement by bending your knees to begin the dip.
  • During this dip, ensure that your torso moves straight down and also keep your torso in an upright position at all times. Do not lean back or forward.
  • Then, explosively extend your knees and hips to initiate the press, while keeping your heels down until your hips and legs have fully extended.
  • Timing is very important here as you have to find the right moment to commence the press. The right moment will be just as your knees and hips have reached their maximum extension.
  • The barbell should move in one vertical line over your feet.
  • To complete the repetition, extend your hips, knees, and arms fully until they are locked out overhead.
  • To achieve a successful repetition, ensure that the bar starts in the front rack position with your elbows slightly in front of the bar.
  • Additionally, ensure that your hips, knees, and arms are fully extended overhead with the barbell centered over the middle of your feet.
  • Finally, make sure that your knees do not re-bend after completing the press.

Push Jerk - Basics

The push-jerk movement involves a powerful explosive movement that utilizes the legs, hips, and upper body to drive the barbell overhead.

It requires excellent timing, coordination, and stability to perform correctly.

The push jerk requires a high level of coordination and stability, as the athlete must time the explosive movement of the lower body with the overhead press.

This exercise can help improve these skills, leading to better overall performance in other athletic activities.

The Push Jerk is an excellent exercise to improve timing, coordination, and explosiveness.

Push Jerk - How To

  • Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart and place your hands on the barbell just outside your shoulders.
  • Next, bring the barbell to the front rack position with your elbows positioned slightly in front of the bar.
  • Get a full grip at about shoulder width on the bar and brace your core.
  • Begin the movement by bending your knees and dipping your torso straight down (to about a quarter squat position). Quickly extend your knees and hips, and then press the bar upward while moving yourself underneath it.
  • Catch the bar in a partial squat.
  • Maintain your heels on the ground until your hips and legs are fully extended. The barbell should be positioned over your center of gravity.
  • Complete the push-jerk by standing up and reaching full hip, knee, and arm extension.

Important Note to Avoiding Injury!

During the execution of any barbell overhead press exercises, keep your chin out of the way of our barbell by moving your head back before the bar moves up.

Move your head back and push the barbell up in one vertical line!

Do not move your barbell “around” your head!

Exercise Variations

Standing Overhead Press - Barbell

The standing overhead press is a strength training exercise that primarily targets the muscles of the shoulders, triceps, and upper back.

It is performed by standing with your feet hip-width apart and placing your hands on a barbell at shoulder level, with your palms facing forward and your elbows slightly in front of the bar.

From this starting position, you lift the barbell straight up over your head, extending your arms fully and keeping your core braced throughout the movement.

During the lift, you should avoid using any momentum from your legs or hips and instead rely solely on the strength of your upper body.

Once you have reached the top of the movement, pause briefly and then lower the barbell back down to shoulder level, maintaining control throughout the descent.

standing overhead press barbell

Seated Overhead Press - Barbell

The seated overhead press is a variation of the standing overhead press where the exercise is performed while seated.

The movement pattern and muscle groups targeted are similar to the standing overhead press, with the primary focus being on the shoulders and upper back.

One of the main differences between the seated and standing overhead press is the stability of the seated position.

While seated, the lower body is fixed and cannot contribute to the lift, making it a more isolated upper-body exercise.

This can be helpful for those who have lower body limitations or for those who want to target the upper body more specifically.

Additionally, the seated position can provide better back support and help prevent injury, as the lifter can rest their back against a low object like a plyo box while lifting.

The seated overhead press may also be a more suitable variation for individuals with limited mobility or balance issues.

seated overhead press barbell

Standing Dumbbell Overhead Press

The dumbbell overhead press is similar to the barbell overhead press in terms of the movement pattern and muscle groups targeted, but there are some key differences to note.

Firstly, the dumbbell overhead press requires greater stabilization of the shoulders and upper back, as each arm is working independently.

This can lead to improved shoulder stability and can help to address any strength imbalances between the left and right sides of the body.

Additionally, the use of dumbbells allows for a greater range of motion and can be more comfortable for some individuals, as the hands can be positioned in a more natural and comfortable grip.

Compared to the barbell overhead press, the dumbbell overhead press may not allow for as much weight to be lifted, as the load is split between two separate weights rather than being centered on a single bar.

Alternatively, you could do this exercise also with kettlebells and you could do single arm presses as well. 

standing overhead press dumbbells

Seated Dumbbell Overhead Press

The dumbbell overhead press can also be performed in a seated position, similar to the seated barbell press, which may be more suitable for individuals with lower body limitations or balance issues.

Also, the seated dumbbell overhead press is a scaling version of the handstand push-up.

Alternatively, you could do this exercise also with kettlebells and you could do single arm presses as well. 

seated dumbbell overhead press

Military Press

No difference to the shoulder press people! It is just another name for the same exercise to bring the bar overhead.

Military press, Arnold press, shoulder press – you will find a lot of different names for the same kind of overhead presses and we picked the military press as one representative of these name variations. So don´t get confused…

What Muscles Does Shoulder to Overhead Work?

The shoulder-to-overhead exercise works primarily the shoulder muscles, including the deltoids, trapezius, and rotator cuff muscles.

All shoulder press-type exercises also work your triceps and upper back muscles.

Additionally, the exercise also works other muscles in your upper and lower body, including your legs, hips, and core muscles.

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Overhead Press Tips

  1. Keep your forearms vertically below the weight
  2. Don’t Bend Your Wrists
  3. Get your head out of the way when pushing the weight up
  4. Arms lock out in the top position
  5. Tighten your glutes and your core
strong woman doing a split jerk

FAQ

Should I do Shoulder to Overhead Press?

Yes, shoulder to overhead press is a great exercise for building upper body strength and targeting the shoulders, upper chest, and triceps. It’s also a compound exercise that engages multiple muscle groups, making it a great addition to any workout routine.

female athlete doing seated dumbbell shoulder presses

Is Overhead Press Worth It?

Yes, the overhead press is definitely worth it. It’s a great exercise for building upper body strength and targeting the shoulders, upper chest, and triceps. It also engages multiple muscle groups, making it a great compound exercise.

The use of free weights like dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell also requires your body to work a lot of muscles to stabilize the weight.

female athlete doing one arm dumbbell overhead press

Is Overhead Press better than Bench Press?

Overhead press and bench press are both great exercises for building upper body strength, but they target different muscle groups.

OHP targets the shoulders, upper chest, and triceps, while bench press targets the chest, triceps, and shoulders.

Therefore, it’s important to include both exercises in your workout routine to ensure that you’re targeting all the muscles in your upper body.

How Much Weight Should I Press?

Classifications

classifications for shoulder to overhead

Average Overhead Press Strength in lbs

strength table shoulder to overhead

Is it impressive to overhead press your bodyweight?

Yes, it’s definitely impressive to overhead press your bodyweight. It requires a lot of upper body strength and is a great accomplishment for anyone who can achieve it.

barbell with weights overhead press

Why do Powerlifters not Overhead Press?

Basically, the overhead press used to be a common exercise until bodybuilders invented the modern bench press which caused issues in competitions as athletes were leaning too far back in their overhead press technique.

As a result, the overhead press was removed from competitive weightlifting and powerlifting.

While it can be beneficial for weaker lifters, it becomes too taxing for intermediate and advanced lifters, negatively impacting their bench press performance.

It’s better to focus on more dedicated tricep, pec, and upper back work, and refining techniques to increase pressing strength. The overhead press isn’t a bad exercise per se, but it’s just not the appropriate one for most powerlifters looking to improve their bench press.

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