I’m sure you’ve heard how great the standing overhead press is. It’s a compound movement that allows you to stack on weight to overload the shoulders.
Maybe you’ve also tried the press while being seated on a bench and noticed a difference. Most people will be able to press quite a bit more weight when performing the seated variation.
Why Is Standing Military Press Harder Than Seated?
In the seated version, your shoulders are doing majority of the work. Whereas when standing your stabilizing muscles must also play a role in keeping your body balanced. You’re also exerting a lot more energy by using those stabilizer muscles.
Your Stabilizer Muscles Are Put To The Test
Your entire body is working hard to stop your from falling over as your press heavy weights above your head.
Since there is no bench to hold your body upright, your stabilizer muscles must support you.
Your core and leg muscles play a big role in stabilizing the body. If you flex your core and legs, you will find yourself able to keep your body more sturdy and press more weight.
Your lower back also plays a role in helping stabilize the body while weight is held overhead. If you have lower back pain or issues, a belt may be a good idea.
Increase the strength of your stabilizer muscles to assist in the standing military press. Increase your core strength by doing hanging leg raises, plank variations, and v-sits.
Strengthen your legs by doing squats, deadlifts, and leg press.
Also take into consideration that in the seated variation, pushing your lats into the bench gives you a base to push off. When standing, this is obviously not the case. This makes the movement quite a bit more difficult.
Before getting too deep into the post, I think it’s important to go over form and safety tips. You are pressing heavy amounts of weight above your head, which can be very dangerous if done incorrectly.
Many people stack on weight and throw the bar above their head without much consideration for form or safety. This can leave you injured and out of the gym, instead of building big, beefy shoulders.
Start by placing the safeties at about shoulder height, so you can easily unrack the bar without having to get on your tippy toes. Place hands about shoulder width apart. The wider your grip, the less you will be able to lift.
Your elbows should be directly under your wrists. Wrist mobility is key for this movement as they are what’s pushing the weight up and back.
Consider stretching out your hands and wrists before doing the overhead press.
Squeeze your core and glutes before pressing the weight up. Make sure you are contracting your shoulder blades as you press the bar up.
The bar’s starting position should be at your upper chest and should end above your head and slightly back. By pressing back you will engage your entire shoulder, rather than just the front delts.
Make sure to keep your chest up to help maintain a sturdy back.
You’re Exerting More Energy
During the standing overhead press, your core and legs are using a lot of your energy to stabilize your body. This results in you getting tired and out of breath a lot sooner than the seated version.
This energy exerted could mean losing out on a few reps. So if you goal is max reps and muscle breakdown, the seated version is probably the best.
This would mean that the standing version is better for fat burning as it’s much like doing cardio. You are exerting a lot of energy by using your entire body to lift the weight up.
If your goals are more along the lines of fat loss or strengthening multiple muscles, then the standing version would be your best bet.
Increase Your Standing Barbell Press
Now you know why it’s a difficult movement. How do you go about increasing it?
Starting the movement with a slight lean back will allow you to use more explosive power to push the bar up. The bottom part of the movement is that hardest, so this will ensure you can get the bar up.
This will also allow more chest activation, further increasing your strength in the press.
Make sure to not lean back too far as this can cause lower back injury.
As soon as the barbell reaches above your head, push your head slightly forward which will allow you more explosive power.
Nail your breathing. Hold your breath and squeeze your core throughout the entire movement. When the barbell reaches back down to your chest, let your breath out and take another deep breath before pushing the bar up.
This ensures that your core does not lose tightness while the bar is overhead, causing you to lose strength.
Squeeze your glutes and legs before you press the bar up. This ensure stability throughout the entire body, allowing you to press with more force.
Training your shoulders more will increase your overhead pressing strength as they are the main muscles used in the lift. Make sure to hit your side and rear delts too, not just the front ones. The entire shoulder is worked in the overhead press.
Your chest, abs, and legs must also be strong to stabilize your body throughout the movement.
Make sure you are keeping your shoulders healthy. This means using proper form for your shoulder exercises and warming them up properly before a heavy training session.
If you have any shoulder pain or injury, it will be very difficult to build up your overhead press.
Dumbbells Vs Barbell
Now hopefully you have an idea if you should be standing or seated for your press. But what about the weights? Barbell or dumbbells?
Studies have shown that the standing, one-arm dumbbell press is the best for shoulder activation. This is because isolating one shoulder at a time allows for a better contraction and squeeze.
You can also complete a full range of motion with a dumbbell, whereas the barbell can only travel so far being attached to your hands.
One arm at a time is also great for working on muscle imbalances. It forces each shoulder to do the work, even if one is stronger. In the barbell variation, the stronger shoulder can take over the movement.
Your stabilizer muscles are taken into account similar to the standing barbell press. However, your body also has to balance as you’re lifting each arm separately.
The barbell press is better for overloading as more weight can be stacked on. It also works other muscle groups, being a compound exercise.
It also will benefit for other compound movements such as the bench press. Strong anterior delts help in the bench press, and the overhead pressing movement is very similar to the bench press.
The dumbbell version is the safer alternative as less weight is used. Standing and pushing a heavy weight overhead can be dangerous to the lower back if not done properly.
My suggestion is to incorporate both, so that you can reap the benefits of each.