Is It Better to Do Shoulder Presses Standing or Sitting? The Definitive Guide

Is It Better to Do Shoulder Presses Standing or Sitting?

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Is It Better to Do Shoulder Presses Standing or Sitting? The Definitive Guide

The shoulder press is a fundamental exercise for developing strong and defined shoulders. They play a crucial role in enhancing upper body strength, stability, and overall shoulder development. However, when it comes to performing shoulder presses, a common debate arises: should you do them standing or sitting?

In this article, we will delve into the standing vs. sitting dilemma, exploring the benefits, drawbacks, and individual considerations associated with each variation.

Is It Better to Do Shoulder Presses Standing or Sitting?

Standing shoulder presses have their advantages, such as engaging your entire body and activating your core. This type of exercise mimics real-life movements and improves your balance and coordination. On the other hand, sitting shoulder presses have their own benefits. By sitting, you can really focus on targeting your shoulder muscles and alleviate stress on your lower back and legs. This option is particularly suitable for beginners or individuals who have concerns about stability. The decision between standing and sitting ultimately depends on your specific goals, fitness level, and personal preferences. It’s also important to take into account the equipment available and how it affects muscle activation. Additionally, consider the potential for injury and the various exercise variations you can incorporate. Regardless of your choice, prioritise safety by following proper form, taking precautions, and gradually progressing. A well-rounded approach to shoulder development and functional fitness involves incorporating both standing and sitting exercises, along with variations and periodisation. To optimise your results, it’s advisable to seek guidance from a professional, listen to your body, and maintain consistency in your training.

Understanding Your Goals and Fitness Level

Before delving into the standing vs. sitting debate, it’s crucial to assess your personal fitness goals and objectives. Are you aiming to build overall strength and stability, enhance functional fitness, or isolate and develop specific shoulder muscles? Identifying your goals will help determine the most suitable approach for you.

Additionally, consider your current fitness level and experience. Beginners may benefit from starting with the seated variation, as it provides better stability and reduces the risk of injury. On the other hand, more experienced individuals seeking a challenge and improved balance may find standing shoulder presses more beneficial.

Difference between Standing and Sitting Shoulder Presses

To make an informed decision, let’s explore the technique and execution of both standing and sitting shoulder presses.

Standing Shoulder Presses

Standing shoulder presses involve pushing the weight overhead while maintaining an upright position. This variation engages a wide range of muscles, offering a comprehensive full-body workout.

Muscles Involved and Activation

Standing shoulder presses primarily target the deltoid muscles, specifically the anterior deltoids, lateral deltoids, and posterior deltoids. The anterior deltoids are responsible for lifting the arms forward, while the lateral deltoids assist in lifting the arms to the sides. The posterior deltoids, located at the back of the shoulders, aid in pulling the arms backward.

In addition to the deltoids, standing shoulder presses engage several other muscle groups. The trapezius muscles help stabilise and support the shoulders, while the core muscles, including the abdominals and obliques, activate to maintain an upright posture throughout the exercise. The glutes and leg muscles also contribute to overall stability and balance.

Stabiliser Muscle Engagement

One of the key benefits of standing shoulder presses is the increased activation of stabiliser muscles. Since the exercise requires balancing the weight, stabiliser muscles such as the rotator cuff muscles, rhomboids, and trapezius muscles work harder to maintain proper form and stability.

Sitting Shoulder Presses

Sitting shoulder presses involve performing the exercise while seated on a bench or using a shoulder press machine. This variation provides stability and isolates the shoulder muscles, allowing for more focused activation.

Muscles Involved and Activation

Similar to standing shoulder presses, sitting shoulder presses primarily target the deltoid muscles. However, since the movement is performed while seated, there is less involvement of the core muscles and lower body muscles compared to the standing variation.

Sitting shoulder presses isolate the deltoids to a greater extent, particularly the anterior and lateral deltoids. By eliminating the need for balance and stabilisation, the exercise places more emphasis on the targeted shoulder muscles.

Stability and Focus on Targeted Muscles

The seated position in shoulder presses provides a stable base, allowing individuals to focus solely on the movement of the shoulder joints. This can be advantageous for individuals who want to isolate and target the deltoid muscles without the involvement of other muscle groups.

Benefits of Standing Shoulder Presses

Now that we have explored the differences between standing and sitting shoulder presses, let’s delve into the benefits of the standing variation.

Full-body Engagement and Core Activation

Standing shoulder presses engage a broader range of muscles, making it a compound exercise that works multiple muscle groups simultaneously. The core muscles, including the abdominals, obliques, and erector spinae, play a crucial role in maintaining proper form and stability throughout the movement. As a result, standing shoulder presses provide an effective way to strengthen and tone the entire body.

Improved Balance and Coordination

Performing shoulder presses in a standing position challenges balance and coordination. The need to stabilise the body while lifting the weight overhead engages the smaller stabiliser muscles surrounding the shoulder joint. Over time, this can improve balance and coordination, benefiting overall athletic performance and functional movements in daily life.

Functional Strength Development

Standing shoulder presses closely mimic movements used in everyday activities and sports. The ability to push objects overhead with stability and control is essential for various tasks such as lifting heavy items, placing objects on high shelves, or participating in sports like basketball or volleyball. By incorporating standing shoulder presses into your routine, you can develop functional strength that translates into real-life activities.

Cons of Standing Shoulder Presses

While standing shoulder presses offer numerous benefits, it’s important to consider the potential drawbacks associated with this variation.

Higher Demand on Stability and Balance

Standing shoulder presses require greater stability and balance compared to the seated variation. This can pose a challenge, particularly for beginners or individuals with balance issues. It’s crucial to ensure proper form and start with lighter weights to avoid compromising stability and risking injury.

Increased Risk of Using Momentum and Improper Form

The standing position allows individuals to generate momentum, especially when using heavier weights. While momentum may enable lifting heavier loads, it can compromise form and shift the focus away from the targeted muscles. It’s essential to perform standing shoulder presses with controlled movements, avoiding excessive swinging or arching of the back.

Potential Limitations for Individuals with Certain Injuries or Conditions

Standing shoulder presses may not be suitable for everyone, especially individuals with certain injuries or conditions. Those with lower back problems or stability issues may find it challenging to maintain proper form during standing exercises. In such cases, it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or a qualified fitness trainer to determine the most appropriate exercise variation.

Benefits of Sitting Shoulder Presses

Now, let’s explore the benefits of sitting shoulder presses and why they may be a preferred choice for some individuals.

Increased Focus on Targeted Shoulder Muscles

Sitting shoulder presses eliminate the need for balance and stabilisation, allowing for a more targeted and focused activation of the deltoid muscles. By isolating the shoulder muscles, individuals can place greater emphasis on developing and strengthening the anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoids.

Reduced Stress on Lower Back and Legs

Seated shoulder presses provide a stable base, minimising the involvement of the lower back and legs. This can be advantageous for individuals with lower back issues or those who wish to focus primarily on their shoulder muscles without additional strain on other areas of the body.

Suitable for Beginners and Those with Stability Concerns

Sitting shoulder presses offer a more controlled environment, making them an ideal starting point for beginners or individuals with stability concerns. The seated position provides a sense of security, allowing individuals to focus on proper form and technique without the added challenge of balance.

Cons of Sitting Shoulder Presses

While sitting shoulder presses have their advantages, it’s essential to consider the potential drawbacks associated with this variation.

Limited Core Engagement

Sitting shoulder presses provide less activation of the core muscles compared to standing variations. The stable position removes the need for core stabilisation, which may be a disadvantage for those aiming to develop core strength and stability along with their shoulder muscles.

Potential Reliance on Machine Assistance

In a gym setting, individuals often perform seated shoulder presses using a machine. While machines offer stability and ease of use, they can also lead to a reliance on the equipment for support. It’s important to ensure that the machine settings and adjustments are appropriate for your body mechanics to maintain proper form and muscle activation.

Lower Overall Calorie Burn

Due to the reduced involvement of other muscle groups and limited core engagement, sitting shoulder presses may result in lower overall calorie burn compared to standing variations. If calorie expenditure is a primary focus, incorporating standing exercises or combining shoulder presses with other compound movements may be more beneficial.

Related: Do Face Pulls Work Traps?

Does the Type of Equipment Affect the Choice?

The type of equipment used for shoulder presses can influence the choice between standing and sitting variations. Let’s explore the impact of different equipment options and how they can affect muscle activation and exercise variations.

Dumbbells vs. Barbells vs. Machines

Shoulder presses can be performed using various equipment, including dumbbells, barbells, or machines. Each option has its advantages and considerations.

Dumbbells allow for a greater range of motion and require more stabiliser muscle activation to control the weight independently. Barbells provide stability but limit individual arm movement. Machines, on the other hand, offer guided movements and stability, making them suitable for beginners or individuals with specific needs.

The choice of equipment depends on personal preference, availability, and fitness goals. Experimenting with different equipment options can help determine the most suitable variation for you.

Impact on Muscle Activation and Exercise Variations

The choice of equipment can also impact muscle activation and exercise variations. For example, using dumbbells for standing shoulder presses allows for a freer range of motion and engages stabiliser muscles more than using a machine. On the other hand, using a machine for sitting shoulder presses can provide better support and isolation of the targeted muscles.

It’s important to note that the equipment itself does not determine whether standing or sitting variations are better. The key is to understand how different equipment options influence muscle activation and exercise variations, and then select the equipment and variation that aligns with your goals and preferences.

Is It Better to Do Shoulder Presses Standing or Sitting?

Which Exercise Is More Prone to Injury?

Injury prevention is a crucial aspect of any exercise routine. Let’s analyze the risk factors associated with standing and sitting exercises and explore common injuries and precautions for each variation.

Analyzing the Risk Factors Associated with Standing and Sitting Exercises

Both standing and sitting shoulder presses carry a risk of injury if not performed correctly or if individuals exceed their physical capabilities. Understanding the risk factors associated with each variation is essential for injury prevention.

Standing shoulder presses pose a higher risk of injury due to the demands on stability and balance. Improper form, excessive weight, or using momentum can lead to shoulder impingement, rotator cuff strain, or lower back strain.

Sitting shoulder presses, while providing stability, can still pose risks if performed with incorrect technique or excessive weight. Common injuries associated with sitting shoulder presses include shoulder impingement, muscle strains, or overuse injuries.

Common Injuries and Precautions for Each Exercise Variation

To minimise the risk of injury during standing shoulder presses, it’s important to maintain proper form and technique. This includes keeping the core engaged, avoiding excessive arching of the back, and using controlled movements without relying on momentum. Starting with lighter weights and gradually increasing the load can also help prevent injuries.

For sitting shoulder presses, it’s crucial to ensure proper positioning of the bench or machine. Adjusting the equipment to align with your body mechanics can help maintain optimal joint alignment and reduce the risk of shoulder impingement. Additionally, avoiding excessive weight and focusing on controlled movements can prevent muscle strains or overuse injuries.

Regardless of the variation chosen, it’s crucial to prioritise proper form, listen to your body, and seek guidance from a qualified fitness professional or healthcare provider if you experience any pain or discomfort.

Variations to Try

To add variety to your shoulder workout and target the muscles from different angles, here are some variations of shoulder presses to consider:

Seated Arnold Press

The seated Arnold press is a seated shoulder press variation that incorporates a rotation of the arms during the movement. Start with dumbbells at shoulder height, palms facing your body. As you press the dumbbells overhead, rotate your palms outward. This variation engages the deltoids and adds an element of rotational movement, targeting different fibres of the muscles.

Single-Arm Standing Dumbbell Press

The single-arm standing dumbbell press allows for unilateral training, targeting each side of the body independently. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in one hand at shoulder height. Press the weight overhead, focusing on maintaining balance and stability. This variation challenges core engagement and helps correct muscle imbalances between the left and right shoulders.

Behind-the-Neck Barbell Press (with caution)

The behind-the-neck barbell press is an advanced variation that requires careful execution. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a barbell behind your neck with a grip wider than shoulder-width. Press the barbell overhead, ensuring controlled movement and proper alignment. This variation places more emphasis on the posterior deltoids and can be beneficial for overall shoulder development. However, it may not be suitable for everyone, especially those with mobility restrictions or existing shoulder issues. Exercise caution and consult a fitness professional to ensure proper form and safety.

Push Press Variations

Push press variations involve generating power from the lower body to assist in pressing the weight overhead. The leg drive allows for heavier loads to be lifted and can enhance overall shoulder strength. Both standing and sitting variations can be performed using a barbell or dumbbells.

Alternating Seated Dumbbell Press

The alternating seated dumbbell press is a variation that focuses on unilateral training and stability. Sit on a bench or chair with dumbbells at shoulder height, palms facing forward. Press one dumbbell overhead while keeping the other arm at the starting position. Alternate between arms, ensuring controlled movements and maintaining stability throughout the exercise. This variation helps improve balance, coordination, and addresses any muscle imbalances between the left and right sides.

Incorporating these variations into your shoulder workout can add diversity and stimulate muscle growth from various angles. However, it’s important to master proper form and technique before attempting advanced variations and to adjust the weight according to your fitness level.

Addressing Individual Preferences

Individual preferences play a significant role in adherence to an exercise routine. When deciding between standing and sitting shoulder presses, it’s essential to consider personal preferences and exercise enjoyment.

Some individuals may prefer the challenge and full-body engagement of standing exercises, while others may find comfort and focus in the stability of sitting variations. Experimenting with both variations and considering which approach aligns with your preferences and goals can help you establish a sustainable and enjoyable workout routine.

Is It Better to Do Shoulder Presses Standing or Sitting?

Safety Precautions and Form Tips

To maximise the benefits of shoulder presses and reduce the risk of injury, it’s crucial to follow proper safety precautions and form guidelines. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Providing Guidelines for Proper Posture, Breathing Techniques, and Range of Motion

  • Maintain an upright posture with the chest lifted and the shoulders pulled back throughout the movement.
  • Engage the core muscles to stabilize the spine and maintain proper alignment.
  • Breathe out as you press the weight overhead and breathe in as you lower it back down.
  • Avoid excessive arching of the lower back or shrugging of the shoulders, as these can strain the spine and the neck.
  • Control the weight throughout the entire range of motion, ensuring smooth and controlled movements.

Emphasising the Importance of Starting with Lighter Weights and Gradual Progression

When starting any new exercise or variation, it’s important to begin with lighter weights and gradually increase the load as your strength and technique improve. This approach allows your muscles, joints, and connective tissues to adapt to the new demands and helps prevent overuse injuries.

Remember, quality of movement and proper form should always take precedence over the amount of weight lifted. Focus on mastering the technique before advancing to heavier weights to ensure safety and effectiveness.

Incorporating Periodisation

Periodisation is a training concept that involves dividing a workout program into distinct phases or cycles. Incorporating periodisation into your shoulder training can optimise results and prevent plateaus. Here’s how it can be applied to standing and sitting shoulder presses:

Explaining the Concept of Periodisation in Shoulder Training

Periodisation typically involves three main phases: the preparatory phase (focused on building a foundation), the strength phase (aimed at increasing muscle strength), and the power phase (emphasising explosiveness and power).

Highlighting the Benefits of Alternating between Standing and Sitting Exercises

Periodising your shoulder training by alternating between standing and sitting exercises can provide a balanced and progressive approach. During the preparatory phase, focusing on sitting shoulder presses can help establish proper technique and activate the deltoids effectively. As you progress into the strength phase, incorporating standing shoulder presses can enhance overall strength and functional fitness. Finally, during the power phase, incorporating explosive variations, such as push press variations, can further improve power and athletic performance.

Related: Why Is Shoulder Press So Hard To Progress?


Should you do shoulder press standing or sitting?

The choice between standing and sitting shoulder press depends on your goals, fitness level, and personal preferences. Consider the benefits and drawbacks of each variation, such as full-body engagement and core activation with standing, or increased isolation and reduced stress on the lower back and legs with sitting. Assess your needs and choose the option that aligns best with your objectives.

Why is standing shoulder press better?

Standing shoulder press offers benefits such as full-body engagement, core activation, improved balance, coordination, and functional strength development. The standing position activates additional muscles and challenges stability, making it a popular choice for those seeking overall strength and functional fitness.

What is the best shoulder press position?

The best shoulder press position depends on your specific goals and preferences. Standing shoulder presses provide full-body engagement and core activation, while sitting presses allow for greater isolation of the shoulder muscles. Assess your needs and choose the position that aligns best with your goals and desired muscle activation.

Is standing overhead press good for shoulders?

Yes, standing overhead press is an effective exercise for targeting the shoulders. It engages the deltoids, trapezius, triceps, and core muscles. The standing position requires stability and coordination, making it a challenging and beneficial exercise for shoulder development.

Does standing shoulder press build muscle?

Yes, standing shoulder press can contribute to muscle building in the shoulders and other involved muscles. The exercise targets the deltoids, which are the primary muscles responsible for shoulder development. By progressively increasing weights and maintaining proper form, standing shoulder press can stimulate muscle growth and strength gains.

Is standing barbell shoulder press better than dumbbell shoulder press?

Whether standing barbell shoulder press is better than dumbbell shoulder press depends on individual preferences and goals. Both variations offer benefits and can be effective for shoulder development. Barbell shoulder press provides stability and allows for heavier loads, while dumbbell shoulder press engages stabilizer muscles and offers a more natural range of motion. Consider your specific needs and experiment with both variations to determine which works best for you.

Final Thoughts…

In the debate of standing vs. sitting shoulder presses, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Both variations offer unique benefits and considerations. Understanding your goals, fitness level, and individual preferences can guide your decision-making process.

Standing shoulder presses provide full-body engagement, improved balance and coordination, and functional strength development. However, they require stability and balance, and there’s a higher risk of using momentum or improper form.

Sitting shoulder presses focus on targeted shoulder muscles, reduce stress on the lower back and legs, and are suitable for beginners or those with stability concerns. However, they may limit core engagement and overall calorie burn.

Consider the type of equipment available, the impact on muscle activation, and the specific needs for deltoid isolation and activation. Prioritise safety precautions, proper form, and gradual progression to minimise the risk of injury.

Incorporating a combination of standing and sitting exercises, along with variations and periodisation, can optimise your shoulder development and functional fitness. Remember to seek professional guidance, listen to your body, and stay consistent with your training to achieve the best results.

Which type of shoulder press do you prefer and have these tips helped? Let me know in the comments section below.

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Beginners Upper Body Kettlebell Workout


Founder – Sport CBDs

Featured Image Attribution – Image by andreas on Freepik

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