If you want to get big shoulders you have likely used shoulder presses as a staple exercise in your workout. That said, there are many different press variations and choosing the right one can not only help you to build bigger shoulders but keep them safe and healthy at the same time. In this video, I’m breaking down three shoulder press variations to help you decide which is best.
We start with one variation that doesn’t even make the cut; the behind the neck barbell press. This exercise is not advisable because of the awkward position it places your shoulder joint. The scapular plane demands that you have your arm angled slightly forward (about 45 degrees from the frontal plane). When you do the behind the neck press you are well out of this plane and causing a great strain on your shoulder capsule in the long run.
That said, we do have other variations that are better and that is what we are putting head to head here. The first of these is the seated dumbbell press. Some might think that there is an advantage to not performing this standing since you can keep the legs out of it. Not only is this not the case but as you will see, the legs actually become an advantage in the standing version of the exercise.
The bigger issue is that when you start to fatigue you lean back and wind up recruiting the muscles of the upper chest to help you lift the weights. While this wouldn’t normally be a bad thing, it also comes with the side effect of pressing your head into the back of the bench as a counterforce (which can easily lead to a neck strain) and also pins the shoulder blades against the bench which interferes with the normal scapulohumeral rhythm.
Any time you disrupt the movement contribution of the shoulder blades to the overhead press you are placing your shoulders in a position to be injured. For this reason we have to scrap this one from consideration as the best option in this iron face off of shoulder presses.
We can do either of the standing press variations. The problem with the barbell press however is that the barbell allows you to hide left to right imbalances and weaknesses while at the same time limiting the variety of the movement that can be achieved with a dumbbell. Also, forgetting to narrow up your grip on the overhead barbell press is going to gradually make your elbows drift back out of the scapular plane into the more unhealthy plane of the behind the neck press.
Given the dumbbells variability and the drop set capability of the push press option as well as the alternating dumbbell version when fatigue sets in, I would give the crown to the standing dumbbell press. This is the exercise I would do for shoulder presses if I could only do one. That said, a well designed program would incorporate many different variations of a shoulder press and program them at the right time for the right purpose.
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