Is Shoulder Press a Compound Exercise?

Is Shoulder Press a Compound Exercise?

The shoulder press is a fundamental vertical pushing exercise used to build your anterior and lateral deltoid. It is an excellent upper-body exercise that will induce hypertrophy and strengthen your shoulders. However, is shoulder press a compound exercise?

The shoulder press is a compound exercise. It follows the upper body vertical pushing movement pattern and will target your anterior and lateral deltoids. In addition, it creates movement in your shoulder and elbow joints and activates large muscle groups, which makes it a compound exercise.

There are many shoulder press variations and ways to implement them into your daily workout. Furthermore, it is crucial to perform shoulder presses safely and without the risk of potential injury. Read the rest of the article to learn more about shoulder press variations, their benefits, proper technique, and more.

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Quick Summary

  • Barbell overhead press is the traditional compound vertical pushing exercise used for increasing shoulder hypertrophy and building strength.
  • Shoulder press will develop your pectoral major, triceps, and anterior and lateral deltoid muscles.
  • The most significant benefit of shoulder pressing is increased vertical pushing strength, improved posture, and more developed stabilizer muscles.

What Is a Barbell Overhead Press?

Barbell overhead press is the most common shoulder press variation. It is a fundamental upper-body pushing exercise performed with the loaded barbell with the aim of increasing strength and hypertrophy.

In addition, an overhead barbell press is a compound exercise that activates multiple muscle groups and requires multiple joints to work synergistically.

Benefits of Doing Barbell Overhead Presses

Here are some benefits of doing barbell overhead presses:

  • Increases hypertrophy – doing multiple sets of barbell overhead presses with more than six repetitions will effectively increase hypertrophy or muscle-building effects of your shoulder muscles.
  • Builds strength – overhead barbell press is an excellent compound exercise that will increase your upper-body pushing strength.
  • Increases core strength – You will need to stabilize your trunk while performing barbell overhead presses. This is where core muscles like rectus abdominis, obliquus internus, obliquus externus, and transversus abdominis help stabilize your back and increase strength.
  • Builds power – you can build power with barbell overhead presses. However, you will need to perform explosive movements with lighter loads. To develop power, increase the speed of the bar moving towards the ceiling (vertical pushing motion)
  • Improves your posture – Overhead press is excellent for improving your posture since it will develop muscles that support your spine and upper back.
  • Develops shoulder stabilizers – Barbell overhead press will build your shoulder stabilizers because it is a functional compound exercise. Functional exercises are performed with free weights like a barbell to increase the activity of stabilizer muscles.

To achieve these benefits, you should incorporate overhead press into your workout regime at least once a week.

Shoulder Press Muscles Worked

The muscles that work during a shoulder press exercise are your anterior deltoids, lateral deltoids, triceps, trapezius, and upper fibers of the pectoral major. In addition, your core muscles, such as rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis, obliquus internus, and obliquus externus, will work as stabilizers of the trunk, enabling you to perform the move safely. 

How to Do a Barbell Overhead Press With Perfect Form

Here is how to do an overhead barbell press with a perfect form:

  1. Place the barbell on the rack and load it with the appropriate amount of weight.
  2. Take a pronated grip with your hands shoulder-width apart and put your collarbone on the barbell.
  3. Take the barbell off the rack and step back to have enough space to move the barbell freely.
  4. Push the barbell vertically to the ceiling by extending your elbows and abducting your shoulders.
  5. The top position is when your elbows are fully locked, and your shoulder is slightly elevated.
  6. Hold the top position for a second and reverse the motion by flexing your elbows and adducting your shoulders to come to the starting position.
A man demonstrates proper barbell overhead press technique and how to hold the barbell in the top position while remaining stable and without excessive tilt in the hips.
Try to elevate your shoulders when your elbows are fully extended in the top position.

The whole time you should breathe and keep your core musculature active to support your spine, which can get injured if not stabilized while performing the pressing motion.

Barbell Overhead Press Variations

Some of the most common barbell overhead press variations include:

  • Seated overhead press – it helps you focus on your shoulders by taking the pressure off your core. It is advisable to perform this variation in conjunction with a regular barbell overhead press since you want to exercise your core stabilizer muscles.
  • Barbell push press – this exercise uses the momentum from bending your knees to push the barbell vertically with ease. It is more of a power exercise since it creates a more significant momentum and increases the speed of the barbell.
  • Dumbbell overhead press – dumbbells require more stabilization from your shoulder muscles, making the exercise harder. It is by far the most functional overhead press variation.
  • Thrusters – a great combination of the lower body and upper body exercises that will challenge the strength and endurance of your whole body. However, there are better options for building maximal strength since squats require a significant amount of energy.

All barbell overhead press variations have their advantages and downsides. However, all should be implemented holistically in your workout programs.

How to Work Out Safely and Avoid Injury

The first rule is always to consult your physician if you have a previous or pre-existing health condition. However, the best way to avoid getting injured is to perform overhead press with the proper technique. 

Also, selecting an appropriate weight that is proportional to your current strength is crucial. Besides that, deciding the appropriate amount of repetitions, sets, and rest intervals will also significantly reduce the chance of injury. 

Another good way to avoid injuries is to perform a proper dynamic warm-up before the shoulder session. Warm-ups are great for raising your core temperature, which will make your muscles more elastic and the fascia ready for the workout. 

Exercising without proper nutrition, diet, and rest should be avoided at all costs.

“During an overhead press, the scapula should have an upward rotation and slight posterior tilt to create space. This may look like a slight retraction, but too much retraction will actually prevent proper rotation.” – Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, author of the Functional Fitness and Beyond


Is Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press a Compound Exercise?

Yes, the seated dumbbell shoulder press is a compound exercise. The seated dumbbell shoulder press is a compound exercise because it requires movement from multiple joints and activates large muscle groups.

Is It Necessary to Do Shoulder Press?

Yes, it is necessary to do a shoulder press. The shoulder press is the best compound exercise for building strong, muscular, and well-developed shoulder muscles.

Is Shoulder Press Enough for Shoulders?

No, a shoulder press isn’t enough for shoulders. You must implement horizontal pulling or horizontal extension exercises to develop your rear deltoids.

What’s Better Arnold Press or Shoulder Press?

The shoulder press is better than the Arnold press. The shoulder press is a more functional exercise that won’t require any unnecessary rotation in your shoulder joint and will develop both your anterior and lateral deltoids.

Is a Dumbbell Shoulder Press a Compound Exercise?

Yes, the dumbbell shoulder press is a compound exercise. The dumbbell shoulder press is a compound exercise because it activates large muscle groups and requires multiple joints to facilitate movement.

What Is the Best Shoulder Press Exercise?

The best shoulder press exercise is the dumbbell shoulder press. It is by far the most functional exercise that will holistically develop your primer movers and stabilizer shoulder muscles. 

However, your workout program should also include different shoulder press variations to achieve maximal benefits.

Let me know in the comments below why you like shoulder press over any other exercise and which variation is your favorite.

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Vanja Vukas

Student at the Faculty of Sport and Physical Education and a hardcore functional training enthusiast. Heavily inspired by Michael Boyle, a strength & conditioning specialist, and by Adam Sinicki, the founder of Bioneer. Vanja believes that transitioning to a movement-based exercise program can drastically improve your fitness, balance out your muscles, and support your current lifestyle.

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