How To | Shoulder Press Exercise | Barbell & Dumbbell Technique

Deltoids are one of the most frequently used muscle groups when it comes to training for both strength and hypertrophy; having strong deltoids helps when performing pressing movements such as the bench press, military press and of course the shoulder

This article will explain the differences between the dumbbell and barbell variations of the shoulder press and tell you why you should consider incorporating them into your shoulder routine.

Deltoid Anatomy

Your deltoids are formed of 3 heads:deltoid anatomy

1) The lateral (medial)

2) Anterior (front)

3) Posterior (behind).

Using the shoulder press will target all 3 heads, however the anterior and lateral heads will be used most.

On the upward pressing movement the anterior head will take most of the weight when the load is focused in front of your centre of gravity.

The lateral head is used to help lift your arms out and back in while performing the movement but is also largely involved in the strength and balance of pressing above the head.

Shoulder Dumbbell Press Technique

When using dumbbells for the shoulder press you’re able to go through a slightly longer range of motion because the dumbbells are able to come down in line with your head on each side.

However, the weight you’re able to handle will be slightly less compared to using a barbell due to a necessity of good balance throughout the movement in order to guide the dumbbells through a correct range of motion.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press


1) Position yourself on a vertical bench with a pair of dumbbells by your feet.
2) Use a partner to help place the dumbbells in position above your head, or pick the dumbbells up off the floor by deadlifting them onto your knees and then bring them up to your start-pressing position by flicking them up off your knees one at a time.
3) Start from the top of the movement with your arms straight but without your elbows locked out.
4) Control the weight down for the eccentric portion of the movement until your arm breaks parallel with the ground (the dumbbells should be in line with your head on either side).
5) Pause for a second at the bottom of the movement and press upwards to perform the concentric contraction (the dumbbells should become closer as you continue to press above your head).
6) Once you reach the top of the movement continue to perform the rest of the reps within the set.

Note: Do not allow the dumbbells to touch at the top of the movement and do not lock out your elbows
Tip: Try creating a slight arch in your lower back and bringing your chest up and out to aid your range of motion

Shoulder Barbell Press Technique

barbell shoulderpressShoulder pressing with a barbell will allow you to use more weight and requires slightly less emphasis on balance and a lesser range of motion. With being able to handle more weight than the dumbbell variant, the barbell shoulder press is one of the main compound movements used by professional bodybuilders.

When performing this variation of the shoulder press you’ll still be able to bring the barbell in front of your head, however your technique needs to be perfect to reduce your risk of injury and performing the exercise incorrectly, which will require good upper body mobility.


1) Start by sitting on bench with back support and a rack for the barbell.
2) Hold the bar with a 90°angle at your elbow.
3) Either using a training partner or if on your own, lift the bar above your head; this will be your starting position.
4) Take a deep breathe.
5) Control the barbell down on the eccentric portion of the movement in front of you until it reaches just above your collar bone.
6) Exhale and press upwards from this position until the barbell ends up back at the starting point.
7) Do not lock out the elbows; continue the exercise for your desired amount of repetitions.

Tip: Try creating a slight arch in your lower back and bringing your chest up and out to aid your range of motion

Take home message

Try incorporating these exercises into your routine if you’re looking to increase the size and strength of your shoulders!

For hypertrophy stick to rep ranges between 6 and 15.

For strength stick to rep ranges below 5!



Writer and expert