What Is the Main Muscle Used in a Shoulder Press?

Woman's shoulder

The shoulder press is a compound weight training exercise, meaning it requires movement around more than one joint. In this specific exercise, it is your shoulder and elbow joints that must move to complete the exercise. Most of the force responsibility required of shoulder press, however, falls on one particular muscle in your upper body.

The Target Muscle

The primary muscle recruited in the shoulder press is the anterior deltoid, which is the front section of your shoulder muscle. The anterior deltoid originates at your clavicle and then runs down the front of your shoulder and inserts at the top of your humerus, or upper arm bone. When it contracts, the deltoid causes your shoulder to perform either abduction, which is lifting your arms up out to the side, or flexion, which is lifting your arms up in front of you.

The Assisting Muscles

Although your deltoids produce the greatest amount of force to perform the movement involved in shoulder press, they would not be able to complete the exercise without the pectoralis major, which assists in shoulder flexion, the triceps brachii, which extends your elbow joints, and the supraspinatus, trapezius and serratus anterior, which are smaller shoulder and scapular muscles that ensure that shoulder and scapula joints slide appropriately.

Performing the Shoulder Press

You can perform the shoulder press with either dumbbells or a barbell. You can also perform it sitting or standing. To execute the shoulder press with dumbbells, stand or sit while holding a dumbbell in each hand. Position the dumbbells at your shoulders with palms facing forward and your elbows directly under your wrists. Push the dumbbells up towards the ceiling until your elbows are fully extended. Lower the dumbbells back down to your shoulders. When using a barbell, be sure to position your hands on the bar so they’re shoulder-width apart and evenly distributed on the bar.

Incorporating the Shoulder Press

The shoulder press is commonly incorporated into a shoulder workout. If you’re going to utilize it in your own routine, it’s a good idea to perform it towards the beginning of your workout. John M. Cissik of the National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends completing compound exercises before isolation ones. Therefore, perform your shoulder presses before you move on to the lateral raise, which is an isolation exercise that strictly targets your deltoids because it only requires movement around your shoulder joint.