best vertical pushing pressing exercises for shoulders
Strength Training

8 Best Vertical Pushing Pressing Exercises For Shoulders

If you want to develop massive shoulders, you have got to press overhead. That vertical pressing movement directly stresses the front and side delts, as well as the triceps. In the process, it will develop shoulder strength and pushing power.

In this article, I’ll lay out the 7 best vertical pressing moves you can add to your workout routine to build boulder shoulders.

1. Overhead Shoulder Press

Why it’s a great exercise

The overhead press with a barbell is the standard shoulder pressing movement. It will allow you to lift the heaviest amount of weight overhead. And the more weight you can lift with proper form, the more muscle you’ll be able to build. 

Equipment used

Barbell

Step-by-step how-to

1. Load a barbell on a power rack at shoulder height.

2. Step up to the bar and grab it with a slightly wider than shoulder-width overhand grip. Your feet should be hip-width apart. Unrack the bar and rest it on your shoulders. Take a step back.

3. Press the bar directly overhead, stopping just short of lockout.

4. Lower the bar back to your clavicles and repeat.

Tips

Do not allow your back to sway back; keep your entire core tight. 

2. Press Behind Neck

Why it’s a great exercise

The press behind the neck has you pressing behind your head. This slight change of pressing and lowering direction will switch the emphasis from the front to the side deltoid head. 

Equipment used

Barbell

Step-by-step how-to

1. Load a barbell on a power rack with the bar set at your shoulder level and your feet shoulder-width apart. 

2. Grab the bar with a shoulder-width, overhand grip.

3. Unrack the bar and lift it over your head to rest across your neck and shoulders.

4. Press the bar directly up to just short of lockout.

5. Lower and repeat.

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Tips

Make sure to push the bar directly up rather than back or forward; keep the upper body upright. Maintain a tight core. 

3. Landmine Press

Why it’s a great exercise

The landmine press is a shoulder press variation that sees your pressing the bar in an arc above and away from your body. This moves the rotator cuff through a more biomechanically sound range of motion than when you push directly up with most other versions of the vertical press. 

Equipment used

Barbell

Step-by-step how-to

1. Load a landmine bar and stand in front of it. Grab the end of the bar with both hands in a cupped grip and bring it up to your chest level.

2. Keeping your elbows in, press up and in an arc to just short of lockout. 

3. Lower under control and repeat.  Do 3 sets of 8-15 repetitions. 

Tips

Do not bend your knees or use your lower body to provide momentum. Keep your entire core tight. You can also do a single-arm landmine press.

4. Arnold Press

Why it’s a great exercise

The Arnold Press was invented by Arnold Schwarzenegger. It has you rotating from palms facing into palms facing out position as you perform the exercise. This brings both the anterior and the medial deltoids into the exercise. Because this shoulder press variation is done with dumbbells, it also recruits the shoulder stabilizers and rotator cuff muscles. 

Equipment used

Barbell

Step-by-step how-to

1. Sit on a flat bench with a pair of dumbbells held in your hands with arms bent at chest level with your palms facing toward you.

2. Press your arms directly up, rotating your wrists so that, in the top position, your palms are facing away from you.

3. As you lower the weights, reverse the action so that your palms are facing toward you again in the bottom position.

Tips

Do not lockout in the top position. You should rotate your arms in a corkscrew motion on each rep. This adds rotational power to the movement. 

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5. Dumbbell OHP

Why it’s a great exercise

The dumbbell overhead press allows you to work each side of the shoulders unilaterally. This has been shown to generate greater strength and muscle growth potential. You are also slightly stronger when you work a muscle unilaterally. Using dumbbells rather than a barbell will also recruit the stabilizer muscles around the rotator cuff to balance and control the weights.

Equipment used

Dumbbells

Step-by-step how-to

1. Stand with a pair of dumbbells held at shoulder level with palms facing forward and elbows at a 90-degree angle to your upper arms.

2. Press directly up and slightly in to bring the weights together in the top position.

3. Reverse under control to the starting position. 

Tips

Focus on proper form rather than lifting a heavy weight; avoid upper body arching momentum. Maintain a tight core. 

6. Inverted Z Press

Why it’s a great exercise

The inverted Z press has you seated on the floor with a kettlebell in your hand. The seated position makes the exercise much stricter as you are unable to use your lower body to ‘cheat’ the weight up. The unique weighting of the kettlebell on this shoulder press variation will also bring your shoulder stabilizer muscles into play.

Equipment used

Barbell

Step-by-step how-to

1. Sit on the floor with your legs out straight and a kettlebell held in your right hand at shoulder level. The kettlebell will be upside down.

2. Press the kettlebell up to just short of lockout.

3. Lower to the start position under control and repeat.

4. Do 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions. 

Tips

You may want to brace your non-exercising arm against an upright for support.

7. Cable Machine Press

Why it’s a great exercise

The cable press allows you to adjust the angle of resistance of the pressing movement to more closely align with the muscle fiber direction. You are also more easily able to add or subtract weight with this exercise, making it the best option for drop sets.

Equipment used

Barbell

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Step-by-step how-to

1. Set the pulleys on a cable machine to their lowest setting and grab the handles with an overhand grip. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart.

2. From a starting position with your arms held at shoulder level press the cables up and toward each other until they touch.

3. Lower under control and repeat.

Tips

Do not use your lower body to provide momentum; keep it strict!

8. Smith Machine Press

Why it’s a great exercise

The Smith Machine Press has you pressing overhead in accordance with a set track This can be beneficial for people who are new to overhead pressing and have balance issues as it will prevent the backward tilt that often occurs with beginners.

Equipment used

Barbell

Step-by-step how-to

  1. Set the bar on a Smith machine to shoulder level and stand in front of the bar, grabbing it with a shoulder-width, overhand grip.
  2. Press the bar directly overhead, stopping just short of lockout.
  3. Lower the bar under control to the starting position.

Tips

Do not use a staggered stance; both feet should be even. Be sure to move through a full range of motion. Keep your entire core tight. 

Final Thoughts

The eight vertical push exercises that I have just laid out for you provide you with plenty of options when putting together your workout routine. Choose one of them as the foundation for shoulder workout day and then add specific exercises to target your medial and rear delts, such as side lateral raises and rear delt flyes.

That will provide you with a complete shoulder workout routine to build massive, striated shoulder muscles. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Should you lockout on an overhead press exercise?

There is no need to lock out at the very top of the pressing movement. Stopping slightly short of a lockout will keep the tension on your deltoids when you are pressing. I recommend trying both ways – locking out and not locking out – to see which works best for you in terms of shoulder strength and size. 

Steve Theunissen

Steve Theunissen is a former gym owner and personal trainer based in Tauranga, New Zealand. He is the author of six hardcopy books and more than a hundred ebooks on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness, and fat loss.

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