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How to Do a Perfect Shoulder Press

Strengthen your whole upper body by mastering this classic lift.

You already know the shoulder press—often called a military press—will turn puny delts into cannonballs. But a lot of guys don't realize that the shoulder press can also help you carve harder abs and increase your bench press as well.

According to Jim Wendler, a strength coach in London, Ohio, the simple shoulder press activates more core muscles than a crunch and helps build the strength to heave bigger loads on every upper-body lift.

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How to Do a Shoulder Press

1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart (or slightly narrower), and grab the bar with a grip that is slightly wider than shoulder-width grip. Make sure to wrap your thumbs around the bar. To get the bar into position, you can either explosively heave it up off the floor and up to your shoulders—a motion called a clean—or simply set the bar at shoulder-level on the supports of a power rack before loading weight on.

2. Once you have the bar in your hands, make sure to squeeze your shoulder blades together, fire your abs to stabilize your core, and push your chest out.

3. Begin pressing the bar overhead, making sure to move your head back slightly as you lift the bar in front of your face. When the bar passes your head, press it up and slightly backward so that it it's vertically aligned with the back of your head. Hold at the top for a moment, then lower the bar back to your shoulders. That’s one rep.

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Pro Tips

Try these pressing variations for more muscle:

Push Press: From the starting position, bend your hips and knees slightly as if you were about to jump. Bounce back up quickly, straightening your hips and knees, and explosively press the bar overhead.

Bradford Press: Press the bar up as normal, but leave a little bend in your elbows at the top. Lower the bar behind your head, then press it back up. This move keeps all the stress on the delts. Be sure to try it with light weight, so you don't risk injury.

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Surefire Shoulders

Three secrets for better pressing:

1. Never allow the bar to touch your upper chest when you lower it. If you find that it does, “raise your elbows up slightly,” says Wendler. This will prevent your delts from stretching too much.

2. Pressing heavy loads requires significant recovery time, so limit the exercise to one workout per week. “If you train your upper body twice a week, do bench presses one day and shoulder presses the next,” Wendler says.

3. Don’t get psyched out. “The first rep is the hardest,” says Wendler, “because the lift starts with no eccentric [lowering] phase and no stretch reflex.” After the first rep, the reflex will kick in to help you.

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