The overhead press is an exercise that really delivers. Though primarily a shoulder exercise, it requires output from your whole body to execute. In this article, I’m going to be sharing with you some shoulder press alternatives that generate the same or similar results to the much-loved overhead press.
But first, let’s pick apart the shoulder press to better understand which exercises make good alternatives!
Functions of the Overhead Press
This commonly performed standing “push” exercise works all three of your shoulder heads as your shoulders play the role of prime mover to press the bar overhead. But your shoulders don’t work alone.
Your shoulders, rotator cuffs, traps and triceps create a combined upper body effort that is required for the press. As this exercise is performed in a standing position, your abs and lower body are required to work too, to provide a stable base for your lift.
The main benefits that the overhead press provides are increased shoulder, core and spinal stability, lean mass gains, muscular symmetry… and consequently, enhanced performance across a range of other exercises.
Read on to find out which exercises are geared around the same idea and can be done as well as, or in place of the overhead shoulder press.
7 Shoulder Press Alternatives
Below you will find a list of the 7 best alternative exercises to the shoulder press, as well as instructions on how to do them and the suggested amount of repetitions for each.
1. Push Press
The push press is an explosive movement which, consequently, allows you to lift 10-20% more than in your standard overhead press. This exercise will hit your shoulders and triceps hard, whilst also working your chest, abs, lower back and legs.
- Begin standing with your feet hip width apart with the barbell racked in a front rack position.
- Your grip on the bar should be just over shoulder width apart and your elbows should be in front of the bar, i.e. lifted up/forward.
- Dip your torso by bending your knees slightly, then explosively push back up, extending at the knees and hips whilst you push the barbell overhead.
- You should finish with your arms fully extended, head slightly in front of the barbell, and full tension throughout your body.
- Bring the bar back into a front rack position before commencing your next repetition.
Suggested repetitions: 8 to 10
2. Half-Kneeling Landmine Press
I love unilateral exercises for developing balanced strength and mass through both sides of your body. The half kneeling landmine press is a prime example of one.
This compound exercise makes a great alternative to the shoulder press, albeit a single sided one. It recruits the same muscles and follows a similar, slow and controlled movement pattern.
- Have an appropriately loaded barbell set up in a landmine attachment or in a corner.
- Go into half-kneeling position in front of the barbell.
- If starting with your left arm, you should have your right leg forward and left knee on the ground.
- Start with the barbell resting in your palm with your elbow bent by your side, and tension on your shoulder.
- Stabilizing through your core to keep your torso still and free of rotation, push the barbell away from you until your arm is fully extended.
- Slowly lower back down to starting position ensuring you don’t come down too far, which will result in your shoulder going into internal rotation.
- At no point in the exercise should there be no tension on your working shoulder.
- Complete all repetitions on one side, then change arms and legs to do the other side.
Suggested repetitions: 10 to 12 each side
3. Single Arm Bottoms Up KB Press
If you’re looking to develop your shoulder stability, look no further. This single arm bottoms up press creates strength whilst developing your shoulder joint stability. Mastering this exercise will have you seeing improvements across a range of other exercises, for example, your shoulder press and bench press.
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart with a kettlebell in one hand.
- Swing the kettlebell up into a bottoms-up position with the handle pushing downwards into your palm.
- Your elbow should be bent and by your side in a position where there is still tension on the shoulder.
- Avoid squeezing the kettlebell too much, and rather balance it by stabilizing through your shoulder joint.
- From here, push the kettlebell upwards overhead until your arm is fully extended, but with the load still on your shoulder rather than your traps.
- Lower back down slowly to starting position.
- Keep your core engaged throughout this movement to avoid leaning back and shifting the load onto your upper chest too much for the press.
- Complete all the bottoms-up presses on one side before switching sides.
Suggested repetitions: 8 to 10 each side
4. Seated Arnold Press
I love this exercise for its ability to target all three of the main shoulder muscles. As it’s a seated exercise, you can focus the load onto your upper body as there is minimal output required from your core and legs.
- Sit on a bench set at just over 90-degrees.
- Have a dumbbell in each hand with your elbows bent by your sides and your palms facing towards you.
- From here, push the dumbbells up overhead whilst simultaneously twisting them 180-degrees to finish in and overhead press position (with your palms facing away from you).
- You should finish with your arms at 90% extension, feeling the load on your shoulders primarily.
- Return to starting position by lowering the dumbbells whilst twisting them, to reach starting position with a supinated grip again.
Suggested repetitions: 12 to 15
5. Half-Kneeling Single Arm Arnold Press
Like the above-mentioned exercise, this single arm version does require stabilizing from your core as you perform it in a half-kneeling position. You’ll notice that, like in the shoulder press, effort is required to keep your spine in a neutral position as you push the weight overhead.
- This exercise follows the same upper body movement as the seated Arnold press. However, instead of performing a double-sided press, you are doing one arm only and in a half kneeling position rather than seated.
- If you’re starting with your left arm, you should be kneeling on your left knee with your right foot flat on the floor.
- Have one dumbbell in the hand of the arm you’re starting with. Your elbow should be bent by your side and your palm facing towards you.
- From here, keep your core engaged and hips tucked under, then push the dumbbell overhead whilst simultaneously twisting it 180-degrees.
- You should finish with your arm at 90% extension overhead and the load on your shoulder. Your palm should be facing away from you at this stage.
- Return to starting position by lowering the dumbbell back down whilst twisting it to finish with your palm facing towards you.
- Perform all repetitions on the one side before commencing the other side.
Suggested repetitions: 12 to 15 each side
The Z-press is one of those exercises that looks so easy to perform. Don’t be fooled, though – it’s not. The load on your core and upper body whilst in this seated position, without the use of your legs for stability, is crazy! It will test your strength, as well as your mobility.
- Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. You should have no bend in your knees.
- Sit upright, which will create tension in your core and potential stretch through your hamstrings.
- Have a dumbbell in each hand on bent elbows by your sides. The dumbbells should be just above your shoulders with your palms facing inwards.
- Maintaining this position of your hands and the dumbbells, push them upwards overhead in one powerful movement.
- Lower back down over a few seconds to starting position.
- Be sure to not let your elbows come all the way down to the point that your shoulders begin to rotate inwards.
Suggested repetitions: 10 to 12
7. Pike Push Up
This bodyweight exercise makes a great alternative to the shoulder press, though so different in many ways. You’re partially upside down for starters! However, it is a compound push exercise that blasts your shoulders and upper body whilst utilizing your core and legs for stability.
- Place your hands on the floor over shoulder width apart.
- Create a ‘V’ shape with your body by lowering your head in between your extended arms, flattening your back and sending your hips upwards.
- From here perform an inverted press by pushing your body weight away from the floor in a semi-vertical movement. Think head first push ups!
- Press until your arms are fully extended, then lower yourself back down to starting position by bending your elbows until your head gently touches the floor.
- Spend minimal time at the bottom before pushing back up into your next repetition.
Suggested repetitions: 10 to 12
The standard overhead press has some closely related variations which I didn’t discuss, like the seated version and the dumbbell version. But as you can see, there are plenty of other exercises which are different enough to be considered an alternative exercise, yet similar enough to provide the same benefits, if performed correctly!
This list is, in my opinion, the best of the best alternatives to the overhead press that exist. If you’ve hit a bit of a wall with your overhead press, give it a rest, test out some of these and come back to it! Alternatively, dotting a few of these exercises throughout your week, around your shoulder press will provide good results too!
Either way, I hope you learned something new and can put some of these to test soon!