6 Best Vertical Pushing/Pressing Exercises for Shoulders

Arms 7 min Read

Written by

Keith Hansen

Vertical pressing is the technical term for pushing weight overhead.

You probably think of this as shoulder day, and rightly so. Vertical pressing is necessary for building boulder shoulders, and we all want those.

Here are the six best vertical pushing exercises for your shoulders.

Why You Have to Do Them

Vertical pushing develops the anterior deltoid, medial deltoid, triceps, and rotator cuff muscles.

Overhead stability is an excellent indicator of overall shoulder health. The ability to press a weight vertically overhead is a sign of a well-functioning rotator cuff because many of these exercises put the shoulder through a near-complete range of motion.

If vertical pressing causes pain, or you cannot press it vertically over the shoulder joint, you have some issues to address.

1. Overhead Press

The overhead press is sometimes called a military press or shortened to OHP.

Whatever you call it, know it is the heaviest exercise for vertical pressing.

The overhead press is a core vertical pressing movement that belongs in every lifter’s repertoire.

This movement will boost your bench press, develop your triceps, and build strong shoulders by allowing for heavy weights to be lifted.

Big weights mean big growth.

2. Behind-the-Neck Press

The behind-the-neck press is exactly what it sounds like—an overhead press behind your head.

Grab the bar with a wider than usual grip and duck under the bar like a squat.

Pick the bar up and step back into a hip-width stance.

Press the bar overhead to lockout, then back down to the base of your skull.

You will have to go lighter with these than with the OHP, but these will work the medial deltoid more. Extra work for the side delt is good because this is the largest & most prominent “shoulder” muscle.

Behind-the-neck presses will have your delts screaming for mercy. Don’t listen to them.

3. Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

The seated dumbbell shoulder press is very similar to the OHP. However, this exercise will challenge the shoulders’ stabilizers and lead to more activation of the deltoids.

This exercise is easier for most people because you do not have to worry about hitting yourself in the face with a barbell.

Bringing the dumbbells together at the top will work the anterior (front) deltoid more but isn’t necessary.

Pay special attention to how you should get into position to save your shoulders from unnecessary wear and tear.

4. Arnold Press

The Arnold Press, named after Arnold Schwarzenegger, is excellent for working the delts.

This exercise is similar to the dumbbell press, but the starting position and motion are different.

Begin with the dumbbells in the position you would end a chinup—palms facing your chest and hands shoulder height.

As you press, rotate the dumbbells out so they finish in the same position as a standard dumbbell press–palms forward. It is a corkscrew motion.

As you lower the weights, reverse the corkscrew motion, so you end in the start position–palms facing your chest.

It is crucial to turn the dumbbells out as you press and to reverse this on the way down. A common mistake is to turn the dumbbells out before pressing, which does not give you the same delt growth.

5. Landmine Press

Landmine presses are great because they create an arc away from you, allowing the shoulder blade to move correctly and add more stress to the anterior deltoid while keeping the shoulders pain-free.

To do these correctly, you need to hinge at the hips, so your torso is perpendicular to the path of the landmine press.

Remember to use good pressing mechanics and maintain external rotation of the shoulder at the bottom.

6. Bottoms Up Z Press

This exercise is massive for shoulder stability.

A well-executed bottoms-up Z Press will challenge the rotator cuff while also working the deltoid muscles.

The seated position also makes it challenging to arch the low back. Overarching the low back is a typical compensation when pressing overhead. You now have to press through a true full range of motion with the Z Press.

Grab a light kettlebell. Start with 5lbs.

Sit on the ground with your legs together and in front of you like you are about to do a sit and reach.

Sit tall with good posture, then bring the kettlebell to the starting position. This starting position is an inverted kettlebell and gripped neutral.

The kettlebell is bottoms-up when held in this upside-down position.

Press the kettlebell overhead until your arm is fully extended, then return to the starting position.

Looking for more side delt work?

Vertical pressing exercises are great for building strength in the shoulders and triceps. However, if you’re looking to really make your middle delts pop, you will need some targeted exercises.

Check out the article below for six awesome exercises.

6 Best Exercises To Grow the Medial/Middle/Lateral/Side Delt

Develop The Rest of Your Body

Vertical pressing exercises are great, but they aren’t a complete workout.

You need to add more upper body pushing and pulling and don’t forget about your legs.

Not sure what to do?

We’ve got you covered with our free training programs.

Beginner Program

Intermediate Program

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Keith Hansen

Keith was an All-State wrestler in high school and in 2007 hung up his singlet to attend Florida State University to pursue a B.S. in business management. He wasn't sure what industry he wanted to be involved in at the time, but soon realized after graduating in 2011 that fitness was the ever-constant activity in his life. Keith began studying to become a personal trainer and in 2013 earned the National Strength and Conditioning Association's Personal Trainer certification. After a short stint as a big box gym trainer he realized he wanted to bring something different to Tallahassee. Keith competes in Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, and Crossfit.