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Why the overhead press is essential to upper-body strength

For true full-body strength and overall fitness, a person must have a capable upper-body. This capability includes muscular strength and endurance as well as mobility. Without these things the quality of life a person enjoys will be diminished and the activities of daily living (ADLs), let alone performance in other activities, will be harder. When speaking of upper-body strength, the overhead press can provide significant benefit.

What is the overhead press?

The overhead press refers to a wide category of exercises that work the arms, shoulders, back, core, and to lesser degree, the lower body. The overhead press can help develop anterior (i.e. front of body) and posterior (i.e. rear of body) strength, endurance, and mobility, specifically in the shoulders and arms.

The overhead press includes:

  • Behind the neck barbell press

  • Overhead dumbbell press

  • Barbell push-press

  • Barbell push-jerk

  • Barbell half-press

  • Handstand push-up

  • And more

Muscles worked

The overhead press works various muscles in the upper-body, but like all exercise has primary movers, stabilizers, and secondary muscles.

Primary movers

The deltoids (i.e. shoulder muscles) and the triceps (i.e. back of arms) are primary movers when performing overhead pressing movements, which includes inverted exercises such as the handstand push-up. The main deltoid muscles involved are the anterior delts, though the medial and posterior plays varying roles, dependent upon which overhead press variation you perform.


The tendons and ligaments of the shoulders, elbows, wrists, and even the neck help stabilize and balance weight as you press it overhead. Secondary muscles help with stabilization as well.

Secondary muscles

When performing an overhead press, the trapezius, rhomboids, forearm muscles (such as the adductor), finger flexors, and biceps, among other muscles, are involved, though to lesser degrees than the primary movers. The exact level of involvement varies on the muscle and type of exercise performed.

Mobility benefits of the overhead press

When performed in full range of motion (ROM), the overhead press helps improve mobility of the elbows, shoulders, and all the soft tissues involved. When performed regularly over time, you can expect to see improvements in mobility in the exercise as well as related movements.

Why the overhead press is essential

Upper-body strength, endurance, and mobility is important for everyone. It does not matter if you are an office worker, gym rat, or athlete; if you lack upper-body ability, it will impact your ability to do the things you need to do on a daily basis.

Strengthening the upper back, delotids, and arms will enable to keep good posture longer, lift things overhead easier, type on a computer for longer times, and hold things in your arms for longer periods of time, among other benefits.

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Nathan DeMetz holds degrees in Exercise Science, Business Administration, and Information Technology as well as certifications in strength and conditioning, sports nutrition, and other areas. His credentials come from organizations such as Indiana Wesleyan University, Ivy Tech College, and the International Sports Sciences Association. Nathan has 17 years of personal and professional experience in the health and fitness world. He works with people from across the globe, including locations such as Kuwait, Australia, and the USA.

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