Shoulder Press – CrossFit Exercise Guide with Photos


Muscles Targeted: The shoulder press is an excellent foundational CrossFit movement for building muscle and increasing strength in the shoulders. It’s a compound weight training exercise and it requires movement around more than one particular joint (multi-joint), so we can divide the muscles targeted when performing this exercise into two categories (primary muscles and secondary muscles).

Primary Muscles
The primary muscle group targeted while performing a shoulder press is the anterior deltoid. The anterior deltoid include the muscles that are located in the front section of the shoulders. When the anterior deltoid contracts it causes the shoulder muscles to perform either abduction or flexion:

  • Abduction – lifting the arms up outwards to the side.
  • Flexion – lifting the arms up in front of you.

Secondary Muscles
When performing a shoulder press, the greatest amount of stress falls on the shoulder muscles, but without the assistance from various other muscles you would not be able to complete a single repetition. The other supporting muscles include:

  • Pectoralis major – Provides assistance in shoulder flexion.
  • Triceps brachii – Helps in the extension of the shoulder joints.
  • Supraspinatus, Trapezius and Serratus anterior – These are small shoulder and scapula muscles that assist the shoulder and scapula joints to slide appropriately while performing a shoulder press.

Exercise Instructions: It’s extremely important to perform this exercise accurately in order to avoid injury. Here are some tips to follow:

  • Place your feet securely on the ground using a shoulder width stance.
  • Position your hands firmly on the barbell with an overhand grip.
  • The barbell should be placed in a “rack” position on your shoulders with your palms facing forward.
  • The elbows should be placed directly under your wrists.
  • Begin by extending your arms and press the barbell directly over your head.
  • At the top of the movement, keep a slight bend in your elbows to keep the tension on your shoulders.
  • Slowly lower the barbell back down to the rack position onto the front of your shoulders.

Things To Avoid: There is a big difference between trying to perform an exercise, and actually executing it correctly with proper technique. Performing an exercise incorrectly increases the chances of injury and reduces the benefits you can achieve from the movement. The shoulder press is a powerful exercise, so it is crucial to always use correct form at all times. Here are several things that should be avoided:

  • Do not use too much weight. It’s very important to start with a light weight and work up from there. Avoid placing too much weight on the barbell which will cause you to lose form and could cause injury.
  • Do not arch your back. Keep your back flat with your chest out when executing the shoulder press.
  • Do not use your lower body. This is a shoulder specific exercise, so avoid using your legs at any time.
  • Avoid doing half reps. You should always use a full range of motion to get an optimal contraction.
  • Avoid holding your breath. Exhale when you press the weight up and inhale as you lower the weight.

Reps and sets: The number of repetitions and sets varies from person to person since there are many different aspects to take into account (strength and fitness level). Use the below details as a basic guideline and beginners should always start out by using only the bar (no added weights) in order to get the technique down correctly before moving onto heavier weight:

  • If your goal is general fitness: 12 or more reps at 67% of your one rep maximum.
  • If your goal is to build muscle size: 6 to 12 reps at 67% to 85% of your one rep maximum.
  • If your goal is to increase strength: 6 or fewer reps at 85% or more of your one rep max.

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