The one-armed shoulder press has been my favorite upper body exercise for quite some time. It’s a fantastic compound exercise that targets all of the muscles I most want to build on my upper torso; mainly shoulders and back.
It also works these muscles safely for long term strength gain while simultaneously engaging my core in order to balance the weight as it is moved over head.
In more detail here are the four reasons you should be doing shoulder presses also if you’re not already.
1) Builds a Strong, Powerful Upper Body
The shoulder press is a great compound exercise which engages just about all of my favorite upper body muscles simultaneously. These are, in approximate order of most strongly worked to least, shoulders, triceps, and upper back.
As stated above, the shoulder press is a compound exercise which means it’s forcing major muscle groups in your body to work together as a cohesive unit to exert a powerful and efficient force.
This is by far the most effective and healthy way to work out which I get into in much more detail here. However, for the purposes of this article I want to stress that working the upper body muscles in this manner is training your body to apply powerful force using a fundamental and useful human movement.
By working these muscle groups together you’ll be steadily building a bullet proof and healthy upper body with the kind of powerful shoulders that give all guys the much sought after V-shape that we all look for when wearing a suit.
2) Engages Your Core
When you’re doing standing shoulder presses, as I would recommend, your entire body is engaged in the act of lifting the weight over head. Even though your shoulders are doing the majority of the work you still are giving your core a decent workout which is a nice side effect.
Moving a heavy weight up and over your head requires good balance on your part and the muscles most involved in creating that balance are the abdominals and lower back.
To do a shoulder press properly you should be contracting your core muscles and keeping them tight as you hoist the weight up.
I find this to be almost similar to a standing plank as your abdominals keep your body from swaying under the force that is bearing down on it.
This is especially true when you are doing one-handed presses as the dumbbell’s weight is all on one side of your body, forcing your abs and obliques to keep your body straight and not allowing you to sway to either side as you press the weight.
If you want to work your core even harder I would recommend using a kettlebell as the weight begins chambered in front of your body then moves out to the side as you pivot your arm and finally ending up behind you when your arm is fully extended.
This forces your abdominals and lower back to adapt to a pivoting weight; keep them more engaged.
3) Builds Strength Safely and Naturally
Even though the bench press has been the go to upper body exercise for several decades now there was a time before the invasion of the nautilus machines when the shoulder press was the main benchmark used to measure upper body strength.
If you went back in time to the period before the 60’s and 70’s you would no longer hear the most commonly asked question, “How much do you bench?”
Instead you would hear, “How much do you press?”
When bodybuilding became popular it put a stronger emphasis on the large chest muscles that are still popular today as opposed to the broad backs and powerful shoulders created by the shoulder press.
Now don’t get me wrong. The bench press is a great exercise. It’s just that it’s also a much more technical exercise than most people realize.
The bench press will indeed give you more results in a shorter period of time than the shoulder press but it is also much more dangerous in the long term.
You see our bodies can’t move naturally when we’re lying down on a bench and pushing upward. In order to properly push forward your shoulder blades must be allowed to move freely.
Try leaning forward and pushing off of a wall. Pay careful attention to what is going on in your upper back. Go ahead and try, I’ll wait…
Ok, so it’s a little hard to notice but the serratus anterior muscle in your mid and upper back has to have a free range of motion in order to exert forward motion as in the bench press.
The problem with the bench press is that the act of pinning your body between the weight and the bench pinches your shoulder blades together and inhibits the movement of the serratus anterior.
This in turn puts more pressure on the rotator cuffs in your shoulders and can lead to more wear and tear inside of the joint. Eventually this can lead to injury.
The shoulder press, on the other hand, lets your body go through the pressing motion in a completely natural and uninhibited manner.
Even though your gains will be slower with the shoulder press your overall health and longevity will be better.
4) There is a Visceral and Basic Pleasure in Being Able to Take Something Extremely Heavy and Lift it Up and Over Your Head
The last reason for why the shoulder press is such a great exercise is simply because lifting a heavy object up and over your head is just more satisfying than lying down and pushing forward.
Pressing an object above your head just feels more primal and powerful. It’s also a more functional movement than the bench press which you will use more frequently in your day to day life.
Essentially, doing standing shoulder presses regularly is guaranteed to give you powerful shoulders and a broad chiseled back as well as improve your balance and core strength.
And it does all of this while letting your body move in a natural and healthy way that will ensure you are strong and fit your entire active life.