The overhead press is a solid exercise for sculpting the front of your shoulders. But, when you keep adding plates to the bar, it’s unbelievably common to arch your body backward to make up for the extra weight.
So, we’re going to go over some of the best overhead press alternatives that’ll still work your shoulders without risking form.
Table of Contents
1. Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Because there’s no back support during the overhead press, it’s really easy to “cheat” on form and arch your back to get the weight up. That’s why the dumbbell shoulder press is the best alternative, hands down.
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Using a bench propped up to a 90-degree angle and keeping your feet firmly planted on the ground will help you to focus on just your shoulders. Plus, dumbbells let you hit each side individually, which means a more even physique.
- Set up a bench to be a little lower than 90-degrees (too close to 90 degrees might hurt your lower back).
- Plant your feet on the floor and bring both dumbbells to about shoulder level.
- Extend your arms upward so they’re nearly straight.
- Slowly lower the dumbbells back down.
2. Dumbbell Arnold Press
The dumbbell Arnold press was developed by Arnold Schwarzenegger back in his bodybuilding days. Rather than just hitting the fronts of your shoulders with the overhead press, you can also work the sides of your shoulders with the Arnold press.
All you need for this exercise is a bench, two dumbbells, and attention to detail. The Arnold press requires a little extra movement, so make sure you’re really focusing on form with this exercise.
- Set up a bench to be about 90-degrees.
- Begin with a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing you in front of your chest (kind of like a defensive position in boxing).
- Slowly bring the dumbbells outward and begin rotating them so your palms are facing outward.
- While doing that, begin to push the dumbbells upward like a regular shoulder press.
- When you’re lowering the dumbbells, rotate them back inward.
3. Behind the Neck Shoulder Press
When the regular overhead press just isn’t cutting it anymore, the behind the neck shoulder press can really help to switch up your routine. It also helps to target other areas of the shoulders and the rotator cuffs.
With more pressure placed on your rotator cuffs, you need to be really careful about the weight you’re choosing. You also might want to use a Smith machine in place of a barbell for added safety.
- Set up the bench in the Smith machine to about a 90-degree angle with the bar behind you rather than in front of you.
- Begin lowering the bar as you would with the shoulder press to about the level of your upper neck.
- Slowly extend the bar back upward to the starting position.
4. Dumbbell Military Press
The overhead press causes so much arching of the back because barbells are bulky. You need to lean back to keep from hitting your face and the movement can be a tad awkward when you start going heavier.
The dumbbell military press is basically the same exercise, just a little easier. It’s much simpler to keep your form and you can work on each shoulder on its own.
- Choose dumbbells that are half the weight (or less) of your regular overhead press weight.
- Begin with the dumbbells a little bit above the shoulder level.
- Keeping your back straight and your feet planted, push the dumbbells upward until your arms are almost completely straight.
- Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.
5. Upright Row
To get rounded and bulky shoulders, you really need to be hitting all areas of your shoulders instead of just the fronts. When you do the upright row, you’ll also be targeting the sides of your shoulders and even your traps.
You can do this exercise with the cable machine, barbells, a kettlebell, or even dumbbells. Just be careful about how much weight you’re loading up, as this exercise might cause shoulder pain if you go too heavy.
- Grip the bar with your hands about shoulder-width apart with your palms facing toward you.
- Keeping your hands in close proximity to your body, act as if you’re raising your elbows into the air and bring the weight up with this motion.
- Raise the bar until the bar reaches about the level of your armpits and then slowly return to the starting position.
6. Dumbbell Front Raise
You don’t always have to do variations of the shoulder press to work on your shoulders. Exercises like the dumbbell front raise also hit the same areas, but don’t require you to use as heavy of a weight.
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No matter how heavy you can go on the overhead press, it’s really important to start with a low weight for the front raise. This is a very different movement and going too heavy will cause your form to slip.
- Get into a standing position with your dumbbells dangling in front of your body and your palms facing inward.
- Keeping your back and your arms straight, lift the dumbbells in front of you until your arms are nearly straight out in front of you.
- Slowly begin to lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.
- You can also do alternating front raises as well.
7. Shoulder Press Machine
A lot of gym pros wince at the idea of using a machine when doing strength training. Yet, machines are a great way to help you keep form during an exercise and still get a good strength workout in.
The shoulder press machine is perfect if you’re finding the overhead press to be a little difficult in terms of form. Plus, all you need is the machine and yourself.
- Sit in the shoulder press machine and adjust it so the handlebars are at about your shoulder-level.
- Keep your feet planted and push the bars directly upward.
- Carefully, lower the bars back to the starting position.
Overhead Press Alternatives Conclusion
When you realize that you can’t do the overhead press without slacking on your form, it might be time to adapt your shoulder routine to continue seeing growth. So, whip out those dumbbells and try hitting your shoulders with some of the new exercises we just reviewed above!
Looking for a workout program that can help you build those shoulders? Check out The Phat Program: Layne Norton’s Size and Strength Routine to get started!