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Why is the Shoulder Press so Hard?

blog Oct 25, 2023


The shoulder press is a fundamental exercise for building strong and well-defined shoulders. However, it's not without its challenges. From coordination and stability issues to potential joint strain, there are several factors to consider when incorporating shoulder pressing movements into your workout routine. In this article, we'll delve into the intricacies of shoulder pressing and explore alternatives that can optimize your shoulder gains while keeping discomfort at bay.

Coordination at the Core

  • The Core of the Challenge

Performing a standing barbell or dumbbell overhead shoulder press demands a high degree of coordination and stability within your core and lower back muscles. Coordinating the movement overhead while maintaining proper form requires practice and engagement of these muscle groups.

  • Overcoming the Challenge

To enhance your coordination during shoulder presses, consider starting with lower weights and focusing on proper form before progressing to heavier loads. Engaging your core and maintaining a neutral spine throughout the movement will help you find your balance and stability.

Keep Your Shoulders Healthy

  • The Strain Dilemma

Overhead pressing can be challenging due to the potential strain it places on your shoulders. If your shoulders lack external rotation, pressing heavy weights overhead can lead to shoulder impingement and discomfort.

  • Prioritize Joint Health

Before incorporating any overhead pressing movement, assess your shoulder mobility and range of motion. Opt for exercises that align with your body's capabilities to prevent undue strain on your joints.

Why I Don't Press Overhead with Barbells

  • Personal Preference

Opting for alternative exercises is a valid choice based on individual preferences and comfort. Dumbbells provide more freedom to adjust your arm path and can accommodate your unique structure.

  • Freedom in the Scapular Plane

Pressing in the scapular plane, approximately a 45-degree angle, can reduce stress on your joints and improve muscle engagement. This angle aligns with your shoulder blades' rotation and optimizes the movement for better results.

Pressing in the Scapular Plane

  • Customizing Your Path

Understanding the scapular plane can transform your shoulder pressing experience. By aligning your arm path with this plane, you minimize the risk of joint strain and maximize muscle activation.

Why I Don't Program Barbell Overhead Presses

  • Specific Goals Matter

The decision to include barbell overhead presses depends on your fitness goals. If you're training for powerlifting or Olympic lifting, these exercises can be beneficial. However, if hypertrophy and muscle growth are your focus, alternatives may yield better results.

Tailoring for Hypertrophy

For hypertrophy, seated overhead presses can be more effective as they require less coordination and stability, allowing you to concentrate on muscle engagement. Reducing unnecessary movements and focusing on tension within the muscle is key.

Example Exercises without Using Barbells

  • Exploring Options

Dumbbell presses and cable presses offer viable alternatives that prioritize muscle engagement and comfort. Specialty bars, like the Swiss bar, provide additional flexibility in your training routine.

Getting Creative with the Overhead Press

  • Personalization is Key

Adapting the overhead press to your body's needs is crucial for optimizing results. Seated dumbbell overhead presses can be enhanced by adjusting the bench angle to align with the scapular plane, reducing strain and discomfort.

Working with your Structure

  • Stability and Progression

Choosing exercises that align with your body's structure while enabling progression is essential. Prioritize movements that feel natural and effective, allowing you to achieve muscle growth without compromising joint health.


The shoulder press is a powerful exercise, but it's vital to tailor it to your body's capabilities and your fitness goals. By understanding your structure, leveraging the scapular plane, and choosing alternatives that offer both muscle engagement and comfort, you can optimize your shoulder gains while ensuring long-term joint health. Remember, the journey to well-defined shoulders is a combination of effective movements, personalized choices, and consistent effort.

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