Overhead Press: Muscles Worked, Benefits, & How to Perform

If you're someone who is strength training, the overhead press could be one of the most fundamental and practical shoulder exercises to include in your repertoire. It features a compound movement that will provide you with the ability to build upper body strength while engaging multiple muscle groups at the same time. Seasoned lifters or beginners know that the muscles worked by the overhead press will help them optimize their training and reach the fitness goals they set more effectively.

This guide will discuss each of the overhead press's worked muscles - especially the upper chest and shoulder muscles. After you're done reading it, you might start using it more. Let's cut to the chase and get started with everything you need to know about the overhead press and its muscles.

A man wearing a black and gray t-shirt in the gym


The Primary Movers

As you perform the overhead press, the primary muscles responsible for driving the movement are featured in your shoulders and triceps. These muscle groups will also contribute to the media and generate the necessary force, allowing you to lift the weight over your head. With this in mind, let's take a look at the specific muscles that will be focused on in this exercise:


The deltoid muscles consist of the anterior (front delts), lateral (rear delts), and posterior heads. These are the prime movers in the overhead press. The anterior and lateral deltoids initiate the movement and raise the weight from shoulder level to the top of the motion, which is the overhead position.


Also known as the triceps brachii, these are located on the back of the upper arm. These will be critical in extending your elbow joints during the overhead press motion. While you press the weight overhead, these muscles will contract to straighten the arms and lock them into the extended position.

Supporting Roles

Even though the shoulders and triceps are the muscles with the most priority, several other muscles will also contribute, especially to the overall stability and execution of the overhead press exercise. What makes them even more relevant is that they are helpful so you can maintain proper form to reduce injury and ensure sufficient force transfer. These are the following muscles that will be considered supporting:


The trapezius muscles will be heavily involved in the overhead press across the upper back and neck. Their job is to allow you to stabilize the shoulder blades while maintaining an upright posture. The posture will help you ensure a solid foundation for every lift.

Core Muscles

There's no denying that a strong, engaged core is necessary for almost every strength training exercise. The overhead press is no exception. The rectus abdominis, obliques, and erector spinae collaborate to ensure that your spine remains stable while preventing any excessive arching or rounding of the back. Again, keep your core tight.

Forearms and Grip

While they are indirectly involved with pressing motion, the forearm flexors and grip strength are critical when it comes to gripping and controlling the weight. A strong grip allows you to hold onto the barbell or dumbbell securely while executing the proper force transfer. It will also minimize the risk of injury.

What is the Importance of the Overhead Press?

This is a question that many beginners might be asking (and even some seasoned lifters). Chris Bumstead and the Raw Nutrition team know the overhead press is not just any other exercise in your repertoire. For those in strength training, they highly recommend that you include it regularly for these reasons:

Functional Strength

The exercise mimics the motion of pushing or lifting objects above your head. You can do this in your daily life and various sports activities. By training using this movement pattern, you can create functional strength that will result in improved performance, especially in real-life tasks that matter. You could be working a job where lifting heavy objects is the norm, making this exercise in your fitness routine much more sense.

In addition to building strength, it can also help you build muscle. For those intense days, you can rely on Raw Nutrition's Essential Pre-Workouts to ensure you get that muscle pump and reduce soreness. Don't forget we also have a wide variety of protein powder selections. Choose the one that's best for you and include that in your supplement stack when you want to crank out overhead presses and similar exercises for stronger shoulders.

Shoulder Health

Another reason why the overhead press is essential is that it will help you improve your overall shoulder health. Specifically, you're improving mobility and shoulder stability. That's because the movements will require a full range of motion, ensuring that you prevent shoulder injuries from happening, along with improving your overall joint health. As long as you utilize the proper form, you can experience this specific benefit for the long term.

Core Engagement

A solid core will help you handle the overhead press and similar exercises more effectively. Engaging your abdominal muscles and lower back throughout the entire movement will allow you to improve your press and strength and ensure that your core is stronger and more resilient than ever. With a strong and resilient core, you can handle even more challenging exercises, including those where balance will be critical.

Improved Posture

If you're looking for a better upright posture, the overhead press won't disappoint. It also is the exercise that will counteract the effects of prolonged sitting or poor posture. If you're working a desk job where prolonged sitting is regular, you want to pay attention to the overhead press as part of your exercise regimen. That's because it will be able to strengthen the muscles that will be responsible for ensuring that you maintain good posture. In addition, it will also help reduce the risk of back pain while improving your overall body alignment.

A man wearing a black sleeveless shirt

Overhead Press and the Muscles Worked: How Many Sets and Reps?

Now you're wondering how many sets and reps you need to crank out on the overhead press and focus on the muscles worked. The good news is that we've got you covered. This section will cover how many sets you need to do and the necessary reps. In addition, we'll look at the recommended numbers based on your experience level. Let's take a look at the following list of training programs below:

  • Beginners: If you're starting, we suggest doing three to four sets of the overhead press at 8 to 12 reps each.
  • Intermediate: After gaining some experience, you can increase the number of sets but lower the number of reps. Do 4 to 5 sets at 5 to 8 reps each from here. If you are comfortable, you can increase the weight gradually.
  • Advanced: You've reached the advanced stage at this point, so it's the same as always in terms of increasing the number of sets and decreasing the number of reps for each. At this point, five to six sets at 3 to 5 reps each are recommended. Once again, feel free to increase the weight gradually if you feel comfortable doing so.

Overhead Press for Muscle Hypertrophy

If muscle growth is the goal, you must perform a higher-volume approach. We also recommend that you utilize moderate weights and high rep ranges. Let's go over the recommended sets and reps for each level if muscle hypertrophy is the goal:

  • Beginner: Perform three sets of 10 to 12 reps.
  • Intermediate: Four sets of 8 to 10 reps.
  • Advanced: 4 to 5 sets of 6 to 8 reps.

Endurance and Muscular Conditioning

Is your goal endurance and muscular conditioning? If this is the case, we recommend you utilize lighter weights and higher rep ranges. As is already customary from the previous sections, we will cover the following from beginner to advanced. Here are the following sets and reps for each:

  • Beginner: Two to three sets at 12 to 15 reps apiece.
  • Intermediate: 3 to 4 sets at 12 to 15 reps each.
  • Advanced: 4 to 5 sets at 15 to 20 reps.

Whatever your fitness goals, it is also essential to stick to the various individual factors. Make sure that you choose the exercise based on your skill level and overall training volume, as well as rest and recovery on a regular basis. Remember, gradually overloading by increasing the weight, reps, and sets over time will allow you to continuously challenge your muscles while allowing them to grow in size and strength.

We cannot stress this enough: Stick to your diet based on your fitness plan, get a good amount of sleep, and listen to your body should you ever have any concerns or potential injuries.

However, as long as you perform these exercises with proper form, the risk of injury will be reduced considerably (even if it isn't guaranteed). Nonetheless, we want you to make sure that the overhead press improves the strength of the muscles worked.

Variations of the Overhead Press

If you're interested in doing certain variations of the overhead press, we recommend a few exercises for beginners, intermediate, and advanced levels. In addition, we suggest that you stick to the sets and reps based on your fitness goals. Let's take a look at the following exercises now:

Beginner Variations

For those new to the overhead press, you want to start with something that will give you manageable variations and increased focus on the correct form. Make sure you have this down pat before moving on to more challenging variations. Speaking of which, here are some of the beginner variations for the overhead press:

Seated Dumbbell Overhead Press: Perform the overhead press while you are in the seated position and using a pair of dumbbells. This exercise will be effective for those who want to maintain proper alignment while minimizing the risk of compromising their form because of balance issues.

Push Press: This exercise involves being in the standing position and initiating the movement using your leg drive. It allows beginners to generate momentum and lift weights until they have built enough overhead pressing strength. For this exercise, we highly recommend lifting light weights.

Intermediate Variations

With experience and increased strength, that's when you can move to something more challenging. With this in mind, these are the intermediate variations that we recommend:

Overhead Barbell Press: This exercise will challenge your stability and core strength. However, you must make sure you maintain an upright posture while being able to press a balanced load overhead.

Z-Press: This can be a really fun exercise if you're looking for something even more challenging. The Z-press requires you to sit on the floor with your feet extended in front of you, challenging your core stability and press strength even further.

For Advanced Lifters

Are you ready to take things to the next level? Are you prepared to push through the limits? If you answered yes to these questions, these overhead press variations might be the most challenging exercises you've ever done.

One-Arm Overhead Press: This overhead press is done with a single arm (hence the name). Here, it will increase the demand for stabilizing muscles while addressing strength and balance imbalances between your right and left sides.

Overhead Press from a Deficit: From an elevated surface or deficit, like standing on plates or boxes, this exercise will allow you to increase the range of motion and even the overall difficulty of the movement. What makes this awesome is that it will challenge your strength and mobility to levels that you've never reached before. This may be an exercise not for the faint of heart or beginners and intermediate levels.

As you can see here, you can play around with plenty of fun variations. As a beginner, we ask you to stick with the beginner variations and resist the urge to try more challenging ones. The last thing we want you to do is increase your risk of injury that could derail your fitness goals - albeit temporarily.

A woman wearing a gray sleeveless shirt, standing in the gym


Final Thoughts

The overhead press is an excellent workout for those who want to build some of their upper body muscles while increasing their overall strength. Be sure to include this in your workout repertoire and get maximum results from it. Before you go, we'd like to remind you one more time that you should check out Raw Nutrition for all your supplemental needs in order to amplify an effective training program. Don't wait—visit us today.


The information being presented in this blog is intended to be used as educational or resource information only. It is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice from your healthcare provider. This content should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. If you have any questions or concerns about your health, please contact your healthcare provider. You should call 911 for all medical emergencies. Raw Nutrition is not liable for any advice or information provided on this blog, which advice or information is provided on an “as-is” basis, and assumes no liability for diagnosis, treatment, decisions, or actions made in reliance upon any advice or information contained on this blog. No warranties, express or implied, are made on the information that is provided.

July 10, 2024 — Briana Gonzalez
Tags: Training

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.