Overhead Press Seated

Start Position
End Position

Starting position:

  1. Position the safety pins of the power rack so the barbell is positioned just above chest level when you are in a seated position.
  2. Grasp the bar with a closed, standard-width grip.

Upward movement/concentric phase:

  1. Lift the bar off the racks and push the bar upward overhead. (Do not lock elbows/extend them completely.)

Downward movement/eccentric phase:

    1. In a controlled fashion, slowly lower the bar until it briefly touches the safety pins.
    2. You may have to accommodate to the head slightly tilting backward as the bar lifts off and returns to the rack, however, keep looking straight ahead throughout the entire movement.
Do not hold your breath. Exhale during the concentric phase and inhale during the eccentric phase.


Exercise Data

  • Primary Muscles: Anterior deltoids
  • Synergists: Triceps brachii, anconeus, pectoralis major, coracobrachialis, biceps brachii, trapezius, levator scapulae, serratus anterior
  • Stabilizers: Wrist flexors and rotator cuff muscles
  • Type: Strength, hypertrophy, muscular endurance
  • Mechanics: Elbow extension, shoulder flexion and upward rotation and elevation of the scapula
  • Equipment: Barbell and Power Rack
  • Lever: 3rd class lever
  • Level: Intermediate to advanced
  • FAQ'S & FACTS ABOUT Overhead Press Seated

    What Is A Barbell Seated Overhead Press (In front of the head)?

    An overhead barbell press, performed in front of the head, is a compound resistance exercise, which targets the anterior deltoids. This exercise can be performed with an Olympic bar or other barbell alternative. It is performed seated with the barbell lifted in front of the head.

    The concentric portion of the lift is elbow extension, shoulder flexion and upward rotation and elevation of the scapula as the bar is pressed upward. The eccentric portion is elbow flexion, shoulder extension and scapular depression/downward rotation as the bar is lowered.

    The purpose of the overhead barbell press, performed in front of the head, is to strengthen the anterior deltoids while also promoting the hypertrophy (increases in size) of the anterior deltoids.

    Why Do A Barbell Seated Overhead Press (In front of the head)?

    Overhead barbell presses provide a variation in the overhead press that stresses the anterior deltoids, promoting increases in their size and strength. When performing presses in front of your face, the press activates the anterior deltoids as the elbows are positioned in front of your body with shoulder flexion. Activating the anterior deltoids complements overall deltoid aesthetics.

    In-front-of-the-head overhead barbell presses may serve as an alternative to behind-the-head overhead presses for individuals who may have a compromised range of motion with their shoulder joint. Performing this exercise in a seated position allows the lifter to further isolate the movement to their upper body.

    In addition to serving as an exercise that enhances the aesthetics of the deltoids, overhead barbell presses also complement athletic performance as the lifter’s overhead and pushing mechanics are optimized.

    Anatomy Of A Barbell Seated Overhead Press (In front of the head)

    The deltoid is a thick, multipennate muscle that forms a curtain around the shoulder. It is the primary muscle involved with arm abduction. When developed, the deltoids give the shoulder their round shape. The flexion of the shoulder positioned to the front of the body, activates the anterior fibers of the deltoid. The origin of the deltoid is located at the insertion of the trapezius, lateral third of the clavicle and the acromion spine of the scapula. Its insertion is located at the deltoid tuberosity of the humerus.

    The triceps brachii, the primary elbow extensor, is located on the back of the upper arm, originating at the shoulder and inserting in the elbow joint. It consists of three heads, the long, medial and lateral head. The medial head lies beneath the long and lateral head. The long head origin is located at the infraglenoid tubercle of the scapula (shoulder blade). The original of the lateral head is located at the posterior shaft of the humerus. The medial head origin is located at the radial groove of the posterior humeral shaft. The long and lateral heads make up the “horseshoe” portion of the triceps. All three heads merge, sharing insertion into the olecranon process of the ulna, located at the elbow joint.

    The anconeus is a short, triangular muscle located at the elbow joint. It is the triceps brachii’s synergist with elbow extension. Its origin is located at the lateral epicondyle of the humerus, inserting at the lateral aspect of the olecranon process of the ulna.

    The pectoralis major assists the deltoid with shoulder flexion to a greater extent when barbell is lifted in front of the head compared to behind the head. The pectoralis major originates at the sternal end the clavicle, sternum and rib cartilage (ribs 1-6) with fibers converging at the insertion located at the greater tubercle of the humerus. The coracobrachialis assists the pectoralis major with shoulder flexion. It is a small muscle originating at the coracoid process of the scapula and inserting half way down the shaft of the humerus. The biceps brachii also assists with shoulder flexion when the arms are positioned to the front. The biceps brachii is a weak shoulder flexor, however.

    The trapezius is the most superficial muscle of the posterior thorax. It is a flat and triangular-shaped muscle. The upper fibers of the trapezius elevate the scapula during this exercise. The origin of the trapezius is located at the occipital bone of the posterior skull, the ligamentum nuchae located behind the neck, and at the spines of C7 and all thoracic vertebrae. Its continuous insertion points are located along the acromion and spine of the scapula and lateral third of the clavicle.
The levator scapulae assists the upper fibers of the trapezius with scapular elevation. It is a strap-like muscle deep to the trapezius located at the back and side of the neck. Its origin is located at the transverse processes of C1-C4. Its insertion is located at the medial border of the scapula, superior to the spine.

    The serratus anterior is responsible for upward rotation of eh scapula during this exercise, aiding in arm abduction. It is a fan-shaped muscle that lies deep to the scapula. It also runs deep to pectoral muscles on the lateral rib cage. When well-defined, you can see the serrated/sawtooth appearance of this muscle below the axilla. Its origin is located at rib 1 through 8 (sometimes 9) by a series of muscle slips. Its insertion is located at the vertebral border of the scapula, covering the entire anterior surface.

    The wrist flexors and rotator cuff muscles play an essential role in stabilizing the wrists and shoulder joint, respectively, during this exercise.

    Variations Of A Barbell Seated Overhead Press (In front of the head)

    Standing overhead barbell press, overhead barbell press (behind the head), overhead dumbbell press, cable shoulder press, shoulder press machine.

    How To Improve Your Barbell Seated Overhead Press (In front of the head)

    Individuals with healthy shoulder joints can greatly benefit from also performing overhead barbell presses with the barbell lifted behind the head. Therefore, it is important to perform both variations of the overhead barbell press, in front of the head and behind the head. The behind-the-head overhead press is a staple exercise for developing the deltoids as it activates the middle deltoid. Strategically alternate the two variations in your training program.

    Strategically incorporating exercises that strengthen the wrists and, in particular, the rotator cuff muscles into your training regimen will promote optimal performance and safety with overhead press exercises.

    Focus on the concentric portion of the contraction, concentrating on “squeezing” as bar reaches its highest level overhead.

    Emphasis on eccentric contractions, prolonging the eccentric portion of the contraction, may also be incorporated in a training program focused on increasing strength. This should be implemented accordingly and with adequate muscle recovery as eccentric contractions cause substantial damage to muscle tissue.

    It’s important to note that your repetition and set volume will depend on your goals (e.g. strength, hypertrophy, muscular endurance). It is also important to allow adequate recovery days in between triceps and chest training to allow muscles to repair.

    Common Mistakes When Doing Barbell Seated Overhead Press

    Adjusting the safety pins of the power rack too low can place the shoulder in a compromising position (increasing the risk of injury) as the bar is lifted off and lowered. It is important that this also applies to overhead presses not performed in a power rack (with the assistance of a spotter) as you want to prevent the bar from going too low.

    If you have a history of shoulder injury or perform the exercise incorrectly, overhead presses can increase the risk of injury. Overhead presses performed in front of the head are recognized as a safe exercise for men and women with a healthy shoulder girdle, uncompromised shoulder range of motion (ROM) and an uninjured and stable trunk when adhering to proper technique.1

    1. McKean MR and Burkett BJ. (2015). Overhead shoulder press – in-front of the head or behind the head? Journal of Sport and Health Science. 4(3):250-257.

    Injuries Or Ailments & Their Effects Regarding Barbell Seated Overhead Press

    If proper technique is not adhered to the likelihood of injury increases. If the lifter has a compromised range of motion with the shoulder joint, this exercise can increase the risk of injury and/or exacerbate a previous injury. It is also important that the lifter has proper trunk stability to perform this exercise to prevent back or neck injury.

    If proper technique and recovery are not adhered to, impingement syndrome, rotator cuff injuries, and glenoid labrum tears may result. Therefore, it’s best to avoid overhead press exercises when addressing impingement syndrome/rotator cuff injury unless advised by a physical therapist.