How to Barbell Shoulder Press: An 8-Step Guide from Noah Ohlsen

CrossFit Games Athlete Noah Ohlsen walks you through the steps of the shoulder press and how to recover from it using Marc Pro.

What is a Shoulder Press?

A shoulder press is a type of strength-based movement that requires you to only use your upper body to press a barbell overhead. Therefore, this exercise is mainly used to strengthen the shoulders and upper body. Another name for the shoulder press is the strict press. The word “strict” means that you are completing the movement without creating any extra force through the rest of your body. You are only using your arms and upper body to press the bar above your head.

Why Shoulder Press?

The main reason for doing the shoulder press is to build strength. It’s not the most efficient method for getting the bar overhead, the push press and split jerk are better for that, but it is a great way to build upper body strength. Shoulder presses will help with barbell pressing, strict and kipping handstand pushups, thrusters, and any other movement that requires you to lift some sort of load overhead.

How to Shoulder Press

Warm up: Noah likes to incorporate this drill to loosen up his front rack position before getting into the movement.

  • Take the bar out of the rack and rest the bar comfortably on your shoulders, with elbows out in front of the bar.
  • One arm at a time, lift elbow up so that it’s at the same height as the bar
  • Hold for 5-10 seconds
  • Cycle through a few reps, alternating arms

Before beginning the movement, set up your barbell with weight plates on a weight rack.

  1. Place the end of your thumb on the line where the rough part of the bar meets the smooth and grip the bar here.
  2. Lift the bar out of the rack and allow it to rest on your shoulders. Keep your elbows in front of the bar.
  3. Engage your glutes, hips, and core, while keeping your chest tall.
  4. Take a big breath and lock it into your diaphragm to create a strong base
  5. Initiate the movement and press the bar overhead
  6. Lean your head back and keep the bar close to your face as you bring it upwards
  7. As the bar gets overhead, bring your head back to neutral. The bar should be in line with your heels.
  8. While bringing the bar down, do the same process in reverse.

As you increase weight on the shoulder press, there are a couple common faults to look out for. Often times, people will lean their body back as they press the bar up to accommodate for the bar path. This can put a lot of unnecessary stress on the low back that you’ll want to avoid. Maintain a tight core and think about pulling your ribs towards your hips so you don’t loose your good position.

Another potential error people make is exhaling before pressing. Doing this can cause your position to collapse, meaning you aren’t going to be as strong from there. While maintaining a nice, tight core, take a deep breath in and hold while pressing up.

Post Workout Recovery

The two areas that tend to get the most sore after shoulder presses are the general shoulder area and triceps. To quickly and effectively recover these areas, Noah sets up his Marc Pro with one pad on the  meat of his tricep and another on the center of his shoulder (using one lead to target his left side and the other to target his right). Some other areas that can get sore from shoulder presses are lats and traps, so a pad placement targeting both of these muscles can be a great way to recover as well.

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