‘More shoulder presses….really?!’

Yes, really. Here’s why….

Whilst the shoulders are the prime movers (agonist) in initiating the pressing motion, it is a lot more accurate to come to understand that it is the movement pattern we are training and not just the specific muscle group. Any overhead or vertical pressing motion is a fundamental daily action that you perform on numerous occasions whether you are aware of it or not:

Get something off a high shelf today?
Put a hood up?
Move the shower head?
Wave at someone?
Hold your child up?

You get the idea. As much as the word is overused and thrown about casually in training these days, overhead pressing is very much a functional movement. Generally, as we progress through life we pick up poor postural habits and inhibited movement patterns. These are the result of hunching over a desk/phone/computer, sitting too long, driving too much, performing in a sport that emphasises one plane of motion over the others and so on. These inhibited patterns create shoulder/scapular stiffness, anterior core weakness and thoracic spine immobility all of which limit your ability to perform this most fundamental of movements.

This limited movement ability shows itself. You may have noticed when pressing overhead in a class, especially from a kneeling position a combination of one or more of the altered movement patterns occurring. If you haven’t noticed, really use the mirrors to see what your limbs are doing and if any of the following happens:

– Dumbbells travel out in front of you at an angle rather than directly overhead?
Your chest (pecs) and lats (large muscle under the arms/across the back) are tight.

– Inability to press the dumbbells in a smooth arc so the ends connect directly above your scalp?
Inhibited/tight triceps and weakened rotator cuff muscles.

– One dumbbell will move correctly while the other wobbles, shakes and doesn’t cooperate?
Lack of neural drive to the shaky arm. Nerve signals predominately sent to the strong side increasing its strength and movement efficiency at the expense of the other arm.

– Excessive low back arch?
Weak anterior (front) core, tight and short hip flexors.

It is much easier to practice and perform this movement pattern now than to try and retrain it at a later date when it breaks down even more. As with learning anything later in life, learning to move correctly again gets harder as you get older. The blueprint for the movement gets lost by the brain which is why, when you begin to overhead press regularly, it can feel a little awkward.

Research has shown that the movement features of overhead pressing (primarily greater scapular upward and inward rotation) make it a useful exercise in re-educating the vertical movement pattern. We overhead press regularly to keep the pattern fresh in your brain, to increase your strength and improve your mobility, something you may not notice until you start to lose it.



Cook, Gray (2012-02-13). Movement (Kindle Location 2861). On Target Publications. Kindle Edition.

Kinematic characteristics of the scapula and clavicle during military press exercise and shoulder flexion.
Ichihashi N1, Ibuki S2, Otsuka N3, Takashima S3, Matsumura A4.