Seated Barbell Shoulder Press

For many lifters, including powerlifters and bodybuilders, having built and shapely deltoids is a must. That’s where the seated barbell shoulder press comes in!

Targeting various upper body muscles, the seated barbell shoulder press is an impactful compound exercise with many benefits. From increasing muscle size to improving functional fitness, this exercise is one of the top shoulder workouts for men. Find out more about this exercise in the guide below and add it to your barbell shoulder workout!

How To Do

  1. Set up a squat rack by placing an adjustable bench adjusted to an upright position inside.  
  2. Adjust the barbell to just below shoulder height when standing at the rack. 
  3. Load up the bar to an appropriate weight. 
  4. Sit on the bench in an upright position. Both shoulder blades should be against the back of the bench. 
  5. Grip the barbell in a pronated (overhand) grip. 
  6. Lift the barbell off the rack, holding it at shoulder level against the chest. 
  7. Take a breath, engaging the abdominal muscles.
  8. Exhale and drive the bar up until both arms are extended above you. 
  9. Slowly return to the starting position. 

Tips From Expert

  • Avoid leaning back excessively. Engage your abdominal muscles to maintain a more straightened position to prevent excess strain on the back. 
  • Position your hands on the barbell just outside your shoulders. If this position is uncomfortable for your shoulders, widen your grip to accommodate. 
  • At the top of the press movement, the biceps should be in line with your ears. This visual ensures that you are pressing above you rather than in front or behind. 
  • Focus on your hand grip position to avoid overextension of the wrists. Roll the knuckles upward toward the ceiling as you press.

Optimal Sets and Reps

Based on your personal health and fitness goals, the ideal sets and reps to be performed will change. For example, when training for power, the reps will be lower to accommodate for intensity and heavier weight. This encourages necessary stress on the muscles to promote increases in power and strength.

Training Type Sets Reps
Strength Training 3–5 3–5
Hypertrophy 3–4 8–12
Endurance Training 2–3 8–15
Power Training 3–5 2–6

How to Put in Your Workout Split

The seated barbell shoulder press is an upper-body exercise that primarily targets the shoulder muscles. It is a variation of the overhead press, another upper-body exercise. The exercise incorporates the use of a bench to promote isolation and better engagement of the upper body muscles. 

Adding this exercise to your split is no hard feat, as seen in this five-day workout split. For upper- and lower-body splits, the seated barbell shoulder press would be best suited to upper-body days. For muscle-group-focused splits, this exercise should be incorporated into shoulder days. 

Endurance training is often underrated for its impact on health and performance. For example, upper-body endurance training was linked to oxygen uptake and performance improvements. For endurance-focused training, it’s recommended that the program be performed for more than five weeks. 

When programming, aim to hit the larger muscles first and then the smaller muscles. Let’s use an upper and lower body split program as an example. For upper body days, it’s best to hit the back or chest, then the shoulders, and finally, the triceps and biceps.

Primary Muscle Groups

Anterior Deltoid

Muscles located at the front of your shoulder region

Lateral Deltoid

Muscles located at the side of your shoulder which gives your shoulders a rounded appearance.

Anterior Deltoid

The anterior deltoid is a muscle located at the front part of the shoulder. It is one of three parts that make up the deltoid muscle. The function of this muscle is necessary for rotating and moving the arm forward. When you reach for a door or pick up a cup, you are using the anterior deltoid muscle to lift your arm. 

During the shoulder press, the anterior deltoids are highly activated compared to other exercises like the lateral raise and bench press. In the seated barbell shoulder press, this muscle drives the bar upwards. Strengthening this muscle makes lifting objects, like groceries, easier. 

Lateral Deltoid

Located on the side of the shoulders, the lateral deltoid is the largest of the three deltoid heads. Also known as the side delt, this muscle moves the arm up, down, and out to the side. When you perform jumping jacks, scratch an itch, or brush your hair, you are using your lateral deltoids to lift your arm. 

In the seated barbell shoulder press, the lateral deltoid is the primary muscle used to lift and drive the barbell upward.

Secondary Muscle Groups

Clavicular Head of Pectoralis Major

Muscles located at the top of your chest, running from your armpit to collar bone. Smaller portion of your chest muscle.

Serratus Anterior

Small, fan shaped muscle that lies deep under your chest and scapula.

Upper Trapezius

Triangular shaped muscles located between your neck and shoulder blades.

Triceps Lateral Heads

Muscles located on the back of your arm between your shoulder and elbow.

Triceps Medial Heads

Small muscles located at the back of your arms. Deep to the triceps long heads between the shoulder and elbow.

Triceps Long Heads

Large muscles located at the back of your arms between your shoulder and elbow. Most outside portion of the tricep.

Triceps Lateral Heads

The triceps lateral heads are one of three heads that make up the triceps muscle, which is found at the back of the arm. It functions to straighten and extend the arm. Some common and popular exercises targeting the triceps muscles include kickbacks and dips. 

This muscle is crucial for everyday actions like opening and closing doors. Strengthening the triceps lateral heads can improve athletic performance for explosive movements and protect the elbow joint. In the seated barbell shoulder press, the triceps lateral heads are secondary muscles compared to primary movers like the anterior deltoid. 

Triceps Medial Heads

The triceps medial heads are part of the three heads making up the triceps muscle. This muscle promotes movement in the arm, including forearm extension at the elbow joint. It is also crucial for stabilizing the elbow joint. 

When you reach your arm forward to push open a door, you are using your triceps medial heads. Maintaining a healthy and strong triceps medial head is vital for supporting arm movement and stabilization of the elbow. In the seated barbell press, this muscle stabilizes the elbow joint and promotes arm movement to press the barbell upward. 

Triceps Long Heads

The triceps long head is the largest of the three heads of the tricep muscle. Located at the back of the arm, this muscle runs from the shoulder blade and joint to the elbow. It promotes arm extension and adduction at the shoulder joint and forearm extension at the elbow joint. 

Compared to the other heads, the triceps long heads contribute more during elbow extension at shoulder elevation. In the seated barbell shoulder press, the triceps long heads move the arm at the shoulder and elbow joints. The muscle is engaged to press the barbell up and extend the arms. 

Upper Trapezius

The upper trapezius is the smallest part of the trapezius muscle. It covers the top area of the shoulders and the base of the neck. 

This muscle supports movement in the shoulders, arms, and neck. You use the upper trapezius muscle when you lift your arms, shrug your shoulders, and tilt the neck back. Keeping the upper trapezius functional is crucial for supporting posture and preventing neck, shoulder, and back injury. 

The upper trapezius is engaged when the barbell is lifted off the rack and pressed upward. It is necessary to support proper form and posture during the exercise. The muscle also promotes movement in the neck, back, and shoulders while lifting the bar up and down. 

Serratus Anterior 

The serratus anterior is a secondary muscle used in the seated barbell press. It is necessary to stabilize the shoulder blades. The expansive fan-shaped muscle is located between the scapula and the chest wall. It supports movement in the arm and is used for lifting above 90 degrees, like when changing clothes or washing one’s hair. 

The seated barbell shoulder press uses the serratus anterior to raise the barbell above the head. It helps control the lowering portion of the movement and holding the bar at the starting position. 

Clavicular Head

The clavicular head, located at the collarbone, is part of the pectoralis major muscle. This muscle assists arm flexion, shoulder movement, and movement in the collarbone. 

When the arm is lifted above the head, the clavicular head raises the arm. The same goes for the seated barbell shoulder press when the bar is pressed above the head.

Equipment

Barbell

Flat Bech With Rack

Barbell

You can use this for a range of arm exercises. Ensure the seat is at the right height. A good alternative would be the incline bench.

Flat Bech With Rack

This machine is a great way to perform barbell bench presses using the rack for the barbell. Ensure you have a spotter for heavier weights.

 

Who Should Do?

Athletes

Athletes should prioritize incorporating upper body exercises like the seated barbell shoulder press to support athletic performance. Strong and healthy shoulders are crucial for numerous athletic movements, like throwing a ball, promoting explosive movement, and more. 

Reducing the risk of shoulder injury is crucial for athletes. Supporting shoulder health by promoting mobility and strength with exercises like the seated barbell shoulder press is a productive maneuver. 

Casual Gym-Goers

As humans age, they become more susceptible to concerns like sarcopenia. This condition is the gradual loss of muscle mass and strength, making the body more vulnerable to injury. Consistent exercise and a balanced diet are some of the best methods for reducing the chances of developing sarcopenia. 

Casual gym-goers, old and young alike, can benefit from incorporating exercises like the seated barbell shoulder press into their gym routine. Doing so can promote healthy and functional shoulders, reducing the risk of injury and other related conditions. 

Who Should Not Do?

Anyone With Shoulder Injuries

Individuals with old or current shoulder injuries should not do the seated barbell shoulder press. Doing so can cause pain by aggravating the wound, raising the risk of inflammation, pain, and further injury. 

Recommended alternatives for individuals with shoulder issues include resistance band exercises and incline push-ups. Anyone with an active shoulder injury should not perform any exercises that can cause further injury. Consult a medical professional before proceeding with shoulder-centric exercises. 

Benefits Of The Seated Barbell Shoulder Press

Increases Muscle Mass

This exersices promotes the engagement of numerous muscle groups in the upper body, including the shoulders and upper traps. This makes it a compound exercise, which can be just as effective as single-jointed exercises in increasing muscle size

Increasing muscle mass is essential for powerlifters and bodybuilders to enhance exercise performance and physique goals. In general, increasing muscle mass can support bone and joint health, prevent injuries, and promote functionality in everyday activities. 

Improves Functional Fitness

As a compound exercise, It is crucial for building functional strength for everyday movements. From lifting groceries to picking up your kids, this exercise can strengthen the upper body to support these movements. 

Enhances Stability

The seated barbell shoulder press uses the upright bench to reduce the need for other body parts to stabilize the position. For example, in the standing overhead press, the lower body is used to maintain balance. Because of this seated position, the upper body and core muscles are isolated to promote better upper-body muscle engagement. 

This can be a great tool for promoting upper body strength and improving stability. By actively engaging the upper body muscles in an isolated exercise, the muscles can be strengthened to encourage better strength improvements.

Frequently Asked Questions

How effective is a seated barbell shoulder press?

It is an effective upper-body exercise that should not be overlooked. It is productive in actively engaging various upper body muscles like the deltoids and triceps as a compound exercise.

Is it better to do the barbell shoulder press standing or sitting?

Both are great exercises. The difference is that the sitting barbell shoulder press reduces lower body engagement to stabilize balance. It better isolates the upper body muscles to promote engagement of these muscles during the exercise.

What are the benefits of seated barbell shoulder press?

It is an incredibly beneficial exercise. Integrating this exercise into your routine can improve upper body strength, increase stability, and enhance functional fitness.

How low should you go on a seated barbell shoulder press?

When performing this exercise, your upper chest is the lowest the bar should go. If you go any lower, you risk dropping the barbell, and the possibility of injury is great.

Resources

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