Overhead Press Seated

Start Position
End Position

Starting position:

  1. Adjust the seat height accordingly so that you can you extend elbows effectively. Handles will be just below the level of your ears.
  2. From a seated position, grab the handles with a closed grip (palms will be facing outward in the same direction you are facing).
  3. Sit straight up with feet flat on the floor. Keep torso erect throughout the entire movement.

Upward movement/concentric phase:

  1. Lift the weight upward, extending elbows until they near full extension (do not lock elbows/fully extend).

Downward movement/eccentric phase:

    1. In a controlled fashion, slowly lower the weight to starting position. .
Do not hold your breath. Exhale during the concentric phase and inhale during the eccentric/lowering phase.


Exercise Data

  • Primary Muscles: Middle deltoids
  • Synergists: Triceps brachii, anconeus, pectoralis major, coracobrachialis, trapezius, levator scapulae, serratus anterior, biceps brachii
  • 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: Seated overhead press machine
  • Lever: 3rd class lever
  • Level: Beginner to advanced
  • FAQ'S & FACTS ABOUT Overhead Press Seated

    What Is A Machine Seated Overhead Press?

    Overhead presses on a machine target the middle deltoids. This exercise is performed seated and mimics the movement of an overhead press performed with a barbell or dumbbells as the weight is lifted overhead.

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

    The purpose of the overhead press machine is to strengthen the middle deltoids while also promoting the hypertrophy (increases in size) of the middle deltoids.

    Why Do A Machine Seated Overhead Press?

    Seated overhead presses on a machine provide a variation in the overhead press that stresses the middle deltoids, promoting increases in their size and strength. The positioning of this exercise activates the middle deltoids as the elbows flare out to the sides.

    The overhead press is a staple exercise for developing the middle deltoids. Performing overhead presses on a machine may serve as a safer alternative to behind-the-head overhead barbell presses for individuals with a compromised shoulder joint. In addition, performing overhead presses on a machine may be useful for beginners adapting to the mechanical stress of the exercise before transitioning to free weights. 

    Activating the middle deltoids can significantly contribute to overall deltoid aesthetics. Performing this exercise in a seated position allows the lifter to further isolate the movement to their upper body. The pulley system of the machine also provides a uniform resistance throughout the entire range of motion.

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

    Anatomy Of A Machine Seated Overhead Press

    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 external rotation and flexion of the shoulder in this exercise causes the elbows to flare out to the sides, activating the middle 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. 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 during this exercise. 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 the 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 Machine Seated Overhead Press

    Seated overhead dumbbell press, seated overhead barbell press.

    How To Improve Your Machine Seated Overhead Press

    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 handles reach their 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.

    If able to, transition to the free weight version(s) of this exercise (i.e. seated overhead dumbbell press, seated overhead barbell press).

    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 Machine Seated Overhead Presses

    Lowering the weight too low and/or starting from a position that is too low can place the shoulder in a compromising position (increasing the risk of injury). Preventing the weight from going too low not only prevents injury, but also optimizes the activation of the middle deltoids.1 Adjust the seat height accordingly to prevent this.

    Lowering the weight too quickly can also pose another risk. It not only removes the benefits gained from a controlled eccentric contraction, but also increases the risk of injury. It is important that the concentric and eccentric portions of the lift are controlled.

    It is important to note that exercise machines, in general, may not accommodate ergonomically to the varying heights, torso lengths and limb lengths of individuals. Adjust the seat height accordingly and ensure that you do not place your joints in any compromising positions against the weighted resistance.

    1. Paoli A, Marcolin G, Petrone N. (2010). Influence of different ranges of motion on selective recruitment of shoulder muscles in the sitting military press: an electromyographic study. JSCR. 24(6):1578-83.

    Injuries Or Ailments & Their Effects Regarding Machine Seated Overhead Presses

    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.