Shoulder press

The shoulder press exercise is one of the nine basic exercises of the CrossFit from which other movements such as the push press or the push press are learned. jerk..

In this guide we will explain in detail the benefits of this exercise with good technique, progressions and how to avoid the most common mistakes.

What is a shoulder press?

The shoulder press is a standing movement that consists of bringing the Olympic barbell from the shoulders to overhead using only shoulder strength. This CrossFit exercise adopted from weightlifting is also known as the military press or shoulder press or overhead press.

Overhead press variations

Following the same route, this exercise can be performed with different materials: 

  • Barbell: the most common in CrossFit classes and competitions.
  • dumbbells: dumbbell shoulder press
  • kettlebells: kettlebell shoulder press
  • medicine ball: medicine-ball shoulder press
  • disc: plate shoulder press

In the strength or technical part it is also common to see other versions of presses such as:

  • from a bench: bench shoulder press
  • press behind the back of the neck: with the bar placed behind the head.

What muscles are worked in a shoulder press

It is quite obvious that the shoulders are worked, along with deltoids, trapezius and triceps.

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A good activation of the core, abdomen and serratus will also be decisive.

The strict shoulder press helps to gain shoulder strength and develop power.

In addition to being a solid base for the following exercises with more weight: push press and push jerk, or hand stand push ups.

shoulder press tips

Strict military press technique

To raise the bar above the head is key:

  • correct activation of the core to keep the spine neutral, 
  • good flexibility to ensure the straight trajectory of the bar 
  • the bar stable above the head and shoulders engaged.

Starting position: front rack

In this phase we are going to take the bar out of the rack to rest it on our shoulders.

We get under the bar resting on the rack placing our hands (prone position) slightly wider than our shoulders. Once we hold the bar, we step back. Feet remain firmly on the floor at shoulder width.

The bar is never held by hand, it is supported by the shoulders. Bringing the elbows forward helps to be more comfortable holding the bar in the front rack position.


Lift the bar looking for maximum verticality pushing only with the shoulders.

To prevent the bar from moving forward or backward, it is the head that moves out of the way. 


Finish with a full extension of the elbows and the head slightly forward.

what is shoulder press


To return to the starting position, lower the bar with control and cushion your shoulders by bending your knees. 

If the weight is too high, you may drop it to the ground. It is not recommended that bars loaded with less than 10kg (link article bars) per side be dropped from that height. 

Common errors

The most frequent faults in shoulder press movements are:

Hyperextension of the spine

In this movement it is common to stick the chest out and overextend the spine. There are two main causes: lack of flexibility or too high weight.

To avoid this, you must work on this deficiency and activate the abdominal area.

hyperextension shoulder press

Bring the bar forward

It can be hard to understand how to move your head out of the way to clear the way to the bar.

Especially in beginners with low weight you can see that they shift the bar in the frontal plane.

Recording from the side can help to better understand the trajectory the bar should take.

With higher weights these inclinations are very inefficient and may result in failure to complete the repetition.

Press accessories

There are two CrossFit accessories used in this movement.


As we gain weight it is common to notice discomfort in the wrists. You can learn more about how to use them correctly in this article:

Lumbar belt

In lifts close to our maximum weight it can be a way to help us with core activation. Again, we have dedicated an article to know exactly when to use it correctly and avoid possible negative effects.

How to improve the shoulder press?

Good flexibility

In this section of the website we propose different exercises to help you improve mobility wherever you need it.

Remember that as in everything, the important thing is consistency to get good benefits. If by yourself you are not able to perform mobility exercises, it will be interesting to do one of the two most famous mobility programs for CrossFit.

Strength work

Strict presses are pure and simple strength work. To improve the kg you can lift, you must establish a coherent plan with progressive loads.

Differences between shoulder press and shoulder to overhead

This can be a confusing play on words, but we'll clarify the differences:

  • shoulder press: (shoulder press) is the movement we've been talking about all article, a strict push up using only shoulder strength.
  • shoulder to ovehead: (from shoulder to above the head) we can see written on a WOD S2O or STO. In these cases, the way in which the weight lifting should be done is not specified, it is only required that the movement starts at the shoulder and ends above the head. Therefore, you can use different techniques: shoulder press, push press, push press, push jerk, split jerk.
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