Doing both standing and seated shoulder presses is an excellent way to develop strength and hypertrophy in multiple muscle groups in your shoulders and upper body.
But are standing shoulder presses or seated shoulder presses better? Standing shoulder presses are better for functional strength and for people who do CrossFit, powerlifting, weightlifting, or Strongman. Seated shoulder presses are better for hypertrophy because they isolate the shoulders more. They’re also a better option for people who haven’t yet built up a lot of core strength.
In this article, I’ll discuss:
- How to do standing and sitting shoulder presses properly
- The pros and cons of standing vs. seated shoulder presses
- Standing and seated shoulder press variations
- Who should do standing or sitting shoulder presses
Standing Shoulder Press
How To Do the Standing Shoulder Press Properly
You can do the standing shoulder press with either a barbell or dumbbells, but they each require a slightly different technique.
Standing Barbell Shoulder Press
- Adjust your squat rack so the bar is around shoulder height.
- Standing with your feet hip-width apart, grip the bar with your hands just outside your shoulders. Everyone will have a different grip width, but whichever you prefer, you should make sure you can keep your wrists relatively straight and your forearms vertical. A slight bend in your wrists is okay, but they shouldn’t be bent all the way back.
- Unrack the bar and rest it on your shoulders so it’s sitting on your deltoids.
- Make sure your elbows are slightly in front of the bar. Keep tension in your upper back without overly squeezing your shoulder blades.
- Squeeze your glutes and brace your core. Tuck your chin, then press the bar overhead. As the bar clears the top of your head, press your head through your arms and shrug your shoulders.
- Slowly lower the weight back to the starting position and come to a complete stop. Take a deep breath, squeeze your glutes and brace your core again, then repeat.
Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press
- Standing with your feet hip width apart, bring the dumbbells up to your shoulders with your palms facing forward or facing each other — a.k.a. a neutral grip. Holding the dumbbells with your palms facing forward targets the front of the shoulder more, but it can also cause discomfort in people with previous shoulder injuries. A neutral grip puts less stress on your shoulders.
- Squeeze your glutes and brace your core, then press the dumbbells overhead.
- As you lock out your arms, keep your biceps close to your ears but avoid banging the dumbbells together. You’ll also want to avoid arching your back.
- Slowly lower the dumbbells back to your shoulders, take a deep breath, then repeat.
2 Reasons To Do Shoulder Presses Standing
1. You Work More Than Just Your Shoulders
While other muscles are involved in seated shoulder presses to some degree, standing shoulder presses place a lot of emphasis on your biceps (if you use a barbell), triceps, traps, and pecs in addition to your deltoids.
2. It Has More Carryover to Other Sports
The sports of weightlifting, CrossFit, and Strongman all require athletes to push weight over their heads from a standing position. As such, building strength in the standing shoulder press provides a good foundation for being able to do other overhead movements. It’s also beneficial for powerlifters who are trying to improve their bench press.
2 Drawbacks of Doing Shoulder Presses Standing
1. It Requires a Lot of Core Strength
In order to press a lot of weight, you need to have a strong core to help stabilize the weight once it’s overhead. If your core is weak, it can limit the amount of weight you’re able to press over your head from a standing position.
2. It’s Harder To Maintain a Neutral Spine
Arching the back is a common flaw during the standing shoulder press, whether it’s because you’re trying too hard to push through fatigue or the weight is too heavy for you.
When you do seated shoulder presses, the back of the bench acts as a support to keep you from arching your back. But when you’re standing, it’s easier to compensate with poor form to get the weight overhead.
Standing Shoulder Press Variations
1. Single-arm Dumbbell or Kettlebell Overhead Press
Single-arm work is an excellent way to work on muscle imbalances. Some studies even show that unilateral work stimulates the muscles in the non-working side through a phenomenon called cross education.
2. Standing Arnold Press
The Arnold press is an advanced exercise that targets all three sections of the deltoids. Instead of starting with a palms-forward or neutral grip, you start with your palms facing you like they would at the top of a bicep curl.
3. Push Press
The push press is performed almost exactly the same way as a regular shoulder press. But instead of keeping the movement strict, you bend your knees slightly and use your legs to generate power to drive the weight overhead.
Push presses can be done with a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells. If you use dumbbells or kettlebells, you can also do them unilaterally.
Seated Shoulder Press
How To Do the Seated Shoulder Press Properly
Like the standing shoulder press, you can do the seated shoulder press with dumbbells, a barbell, or kettlebells. However, depending on what kind of rack you have access to, it may be easier for you to do it with dumbbells or kettlebells.
To perform the seated shoulder press with dumbbells or kettlebells:
- Adjust a bench so it’s anywhere between a 75° and 90° angle. Sit with your feet firmly on the ground and your back up against the bench.
- Pick up the weights from the floor and bring them to your shoulders. If you need to, you can rest them on your thighs first, then lift your knees one at a time for a little extra oomph to get them up to your shoulders.
- As with standing dumbbell shoulder presses, you can hold the weights with either your palms facing forward or a neutral grip.
- Take a deep breath and press the dumbbells or kettlebells overhead without arching your back. Keep your biceps close to your ears but avoid banging the weights together at the top.
- Slowly lower the weights to your shoulders, take another deep breath, and repeat.
3 Reasons To Do Shoulder Presses Sitting
1. It Places Less Stress on Your Lower Back
When you’re in a seated position and you have the bench to support your back, you’re less tempted to arch your back as you’re pressing the weight overhead. This makes seated shoulder presses ideal for people who are suffering from lower back injuries or those who still haven’t perfected their standing shoulder press technique.
2. By Removing Your Core from the Movement, You Can Isolate Your Shoulders More
Since you don’t need to utilize your core as much for seated dumbbell presses, they’re better for hypertrophy than standing shoulder presses. You also don’t have to worry about your core becoming fatigued before your shoulders do, which is common when doing standing shoulder presses.
3. You Can Lift More Weight
Many people feel stronger doing seated shoulder presses because the movement is less demanding on the core. And as I mentioned earlier, a weak core can be a limiting factor in how strong your standing shoulder press is. By taking the weak link out of the equation and doing seated shoulder presses, you can lift heavier weight.
2 Drawbacks of Doing Shoulder Presses Sitting
1. You Can Become Too Dependent on the Extra Back Support
If you only do seated shoulder presses, you’ll never learn how to properly brace and keep your back straight when you do standing overhead presses.
2. It Can Give You a False Sense of Security
Because you can often lift more weight when you’re seated, you might get overconfident if you try to lift the same amount of weight from a standing position and the weight is too heavy for you.
3. It Doesn’t Have a Lot of Carryover to Daily Activities
It’s not often that you have to push a heavy suitcase over your head or put something heavy back on a shelf when you’re sitting down. As such, the seated shoulder press isn’t a highly functional movement.
Seated Shoulder Press Variations
1. Z Press
The Z press is a seated overhead press variation that requires you to sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. It’s a movement that should only be done by advanced lifters because it requires a lot of hip mobility and core strength.
2. Single-Arm Half-Kneeling Shoulder Press
While you aren’t technically sitting when you perform this exercise, doing unilateral shoulder work in a half-kneeling position offers many of the same benefits as seated shoulder presses.
Being in a half-kneeling position also requires some core stabilization. If you don’t like doing seated shoulder presses because they don’t involve the core, single-arm half-kneeling shoulder presses are a suitable alternative.
If you have access to a landmine attachment, you can also do single-arm half-kneeling landmine presses.
3. Seated Arnold Press
The seated Arnold press is performed the same way as the standing Arnold press except you’re in a seated position.
Related Article: 14 Best Arnold Press Alternatives
Is It Harder To Do Shoulder Press Standing or Sitting?
It’s harder to do standing shoulder presses because it’s more demanding on your core. If you have a weak core or a lower back injury, you may find it more difficult to do standing shoulder presses because you can’t stabilize the weight overhead as easily.
The standing shoulder press is also a bit more technical and there’s less room for error, as it has a greater risk of injury if you do it incorrectly.
Do Standing Shoulder Press If
- You’re a weightlifter, powerlifter, CrossFitter, or Strongman competitor
- You want to develop more functional strength
Do Seated Shoulder Press If
- You’re training for hypertrophy
- You have a low back injury
- You don’t have enough core strength to stabilize weight overhead when you’re standing
Do Both If
- You have both strength and aesthetics goals
- You want to do multiple sets of shoulder exercises in the same workout without fatiguing your core
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Standing Shoulder Press Harder Than Seated?
The standing shoulder press is more difficult than the seated shoulder press because it requires more core stabilization. And because you don’t have anything to support your back, you have to work harder to keep your spine neutral.
Is Standing Shoulder Press Bad?
The standing shoulder press isn’t a bad exercise. In fact, it’s one of the best movements you can do to develop upper body strength. But when doing the standing shoulder press, it’s imperative to use proper form so you don’t injure your lower back or develop shoulder impingement.
Is Seated Military Press Safer?
The seated military press is safer than the standing military press because you’re less likely to excessively arch your back. However, you do have to remember to keep a neutral spine because you may still be tempted to arch your back even if you have the bench to support you.
Is Arnold Press Better Sitting or Standing?
Doing the Arnold press standing recruits more muscles in your upper back as well as your shoulders, but it’s not an exercise for beginners. Doing it sitting will allow you to perform the movement more safely, and you also get the added benefit of more shoulder isolation.
Overhead Press Resources
- Does Overhead Press Hurt Your Back? Try These 6 Tips
- 13 Overhead Press Cues To Increase Strength (With Pictures)
- 7 Tips to Improving Your Overhead Press With Long Arms
- How To Improve Your Overhead Press Lockout (8 Tips)
- Can You Overhead Press Every Day? (Pros and Cons)
- Bench Press vs Overhead Press: Differences, Pros, Cons
- Overhead Press In Gyms With Low Ceiling (7 Tips)
- 9 Best Overhead Press Alternatives (With Pictures)
- Does Overhead Press Help Bench Press?
- Why Is My Overhead Press So Weak? (7 Fixes That Work)
Choosing between standing or seated shoulder presses will depend on your goals and fitness background. Standing shoulder presses are more functional and have greater carryover to other sports and daily activities, but seated shoulder presses are better if you’re training for hypertrophy.
Because seated shoulder presses don’t require as much core stability, they’re also more ideal for individuals who have lower back injuries or those who don’t have a lot of core strength.
About The Author
Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.