Press yourself into shape

Exercise • Overhead and side presses provide a more complete upper body workout.
This is an archived article that was published on in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Nearly everyone who lifts weights or works out wants to have strong, sculpted shoulders. But the wrong exercises or poor form can prevent the desired look.

One of the best exercises to build strong shoulders — as well as arms and core — is the overhead press.

Most people are familiar with the bench press, but it's not functional for the average person.

The overhead press is a much better choice because it translates to everyday actions. This simple exercise is done either standing or sitting and can be performed with either a bar or dumb bell weights.

If using a bar or weights, press them from the chest directly overhead — an action referred to as a "push press."

With the weights, you can also do a side shoulder press. Start with the weights out to the side at ear level then drive the weights overhead.

However, there are a couple common mistakes you want to avoid when doing the side shoulder press. First, if your low back sways or buckles as you drive the weight overhead, it is a sign your core isn't stable enough to support the weight. If this happens, use a lighter weight until your core is stronger.

Another mistake is allowing the weights to come forward as you drive them overhead. This happens when people have weak back muscles or a tight pec/chest muscle that discourage a full range of motion.

As you drive the weight overhead, make sure your neck and head do not slip forward — you want a nice straight line dissecting the top of the head through the shoulders. The weight should stay level with your ears. It should not come forward, as you reach the extension end point of the move. Always be mindful of making the upper back work in this exercise.

If your goal is to build strength, 3-to-5 sets of 6-to-8 reps is a good range in which to work.

The side shoulder press, if performed correctly, can be a very challenging exercise and may make you more sore than you were when using heavier weights.

But when done correctly, the side shoulder press is particularly good for developing the arms, shoulders and backs and can be used then to correct muscle imbalance. Working on the presses, particularly the side shoulder presses, can help improve posture, work the stabilizing core muscles and target muscle deficiencies.

Try to incorporate a variety of presses into workouts. Because they work the body in different ways, presses offer a more complete upper body workout.

Lya Wodraska is a certified CHEK Practitioner and Holistic Lifestyle Coach. E-mail her at Twitter: