Blog Fitness Assistance Exercises For Overhead Press: Working Up To The Overhead Press

Assistance Exercises For Overhead Press: Working Up To The Overhead Press

assistance exercises for overhead press

There is a particular order you have to follow in life when you are doing some things. For instance, when you were small, you didn’t just start walking straight away. You began by crawling, then walking, and finally running. Crawling made you prepare for walking, and walking made you prepare for running. Without the previous stage, the next step wouldn’t be possible. That is but one example. We could sit here and give more examples of that manner. Do you know that there are some exercises that you can’t just wake up one day and do them? In the same way, you can’t start by running, and some activities are so intense that you need other less intense exercises to prepare you for them. An example of such a workout is the overhead press. The less strenuous activities that prepare you for explosive movements are referred to as assistance exercises. In this read, we shall look at the assistance exercises for overhead press, how to do them, and look into the overhead press a little bit more.


Understanding The Overhead Press

The overhead press is an exercise that involves a person standing with a bar on their shoulders and then pressing the bar upwards until the bar ends up overhead, hence the name. The overhead press is also known as the shoulder press, as it mainly engages all three heads of your shoulders. However, it doesn’t mean that this intense workout only works the muscles on your shoulders as it also engages other muscles like your traps, your abdominal muscles, your lower back muscles, and many other muscles. The overhead press is not an easy exercise; both expert gym-goers and beginners can attest to this. Just because it is not an easy workout, it does not mean it is an impossible workout. It just needs you to work on it until it becomes manageable to you constantly. 

The key to getting a hold of the shoulder press is to use assistance exercises. This means setting the overhead press as the primary movement and using secondary pressing movements as well as different variations of the shoulder press to build the power needed to get to the king, which in this case, we are referring to the overhead press. Assistance workouts for this intense workout play an essential role in getting your body ready. To do the overhead press, you need to have a strong back, biceps, triceps, and other muscles. Practical assistance exercises help to achieve this and also help to maintain healthy joints. 

Taking this approach to mastering the overhead press also prevents or reduces the chances of getting injured. The use of assistance workouts is the equivalent of easing yourself into an exercise.  You can avoid getting an injury by getting your body strong enough to handle the pressure you will exert on it once you get to the shoulder press. This approach also makes you able to effectively perform the shoulder press, hence enjoying the numerous benefits that come with it. There are different assistance exercises that you can use. In the next section, we shall look at the best assistance exercises for the overhead press.

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Read More: Overhead Press Benefits You Need To Know


Assistance Exercises For Overhead Press

Which Are The Best Assistance Exercises For The Overhead Press?

Different workouts can help you get the correct form, strength, and power to effectively carry out the shoulder press. Here are some of those workouts:

Seated Dumbbell Overhead Press

This is a less intense variation of the overhead press. It is less severe because you perform this exercise while seated, while other overhead presses are usually performed while standing. 

How to do the seated dumbbell overhead press (1)?

  1. Start by holding a pair of dumbbells, one on each hand. Then sit down on a bench with a backrest so that your back, shoulders, head, and butt are in contact with the bench. Make sure you place your feet firmly on the ground and stabilize your torso by bracing your core and abdominal muscles. 
  2. Then breathe out and gently lift the dumbbells to the level of your shoulders. Your palms should be facing away from your body, and you should make sure you secure the dumbbells with a firm grip. The dumbbells should be shoulder-width apart or a bit wider. As for your wrists, they should be in a neutral position. 
  3. The next step is to exhale and press the dumbbells upwards until they are over your head and your elbows are fully extended. While doing this, make sure your back does not arch. You can make sure of this by keeping your back in contact with the bench all through the workout. 
  4. Then inhale and gently bring down the dumbbells to the original position where the elbows are bent, the wrists are neutral, your back is in contact with the backrest, and your feet are firmly on the ground. Please make sure you have control of the dumbbells while you lower them.

If you feel like you are not strong enough to do this exercise alone, ask an expert to be your spotter. Better safe than sorry. The seated overhead press works your arms and shoulders. 

Push Press

This is yet another exercise that can be used as an assistance exercise for the shoulder press. Unlike the overhead press, the push press is simpler as you get to generate most of the momentum from your lower body. This workout helps increase the strength of your shoulders and your upper body strength in general. It also helps to strengthen your core, and a strong core is vital in mastering the overhead press. 

How to do the push press (4)?

  1. You start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and holding the bar with your fingers. Make sure you have the proper grip. For your grip, you want to wrap your thumbs around the bar. Your grip should not be too broad; shoulder-width is okay. You should make sure your forearms are vertically below the bar. Make sure you hold the grip as tight as you can as this gives your control over the bar, and also it activates some of the muscles in your arms. 
  2. The next step is to rest the bar you are currently holding in front of your shoulders. 
  3. With the bar in front of your shoulders, drop down into the squat position, centering your weight under the bar. When dropping into the squat position, most people make the mistake of dropping too deep, and it should be a shallow squat. Make sure your knees are slightly bent, as this enables you to drive up as powerfully as needed. 
  4. Then by pressing through your heels, lift the bar directly above your head until your arms are fully stretched. 
  5. Then lower the bar back down to your chest. Make sure you maintain a neutral arch in your spine throughout this whole movement.
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Overhead Dumbbell Tricep Extension

If you’ve ever noticed, most people who go to the gym are always concerned with working their biceps, and the triceps are mostly ignored. Triceps are just as important as biceps. If you want bigger strong arms, you need the triceps just as much as you need the biceps. 

Since the triceps are usually not that important to most people, most of the exercises people do like the bench press and the press-ups engage the triceps as the secondary muscles, but that cannot be said for the tricep extension, which has its primary attention on the triceps. 

There are different variations of the tricep extension, and here we shall concentrate on the overhead dumbbell tricep extension. To master the overhead press, you need strong triceps, and that’s why this exercise fits as one of the assistance workouts. 

How to do the overhead dumbbell tricep extension (2)?

  1. You begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. With your hands, hold a pair of dumbbells, one on each hand in front of you. 
  2. Then raise the dumbbells in your hands above your head until your hands are fully stretched out straight. 
  3. The next step is to lower the dumbbells back behind your head gently. While doing this, you need to be careful not to pull your elbows out too much. 
  4. Then gently bring back the dumbbells to the original starting position.

While doing this exercise, you need to make sure that the dumbbells you use are not too heavy. Using very heavy dumbbells increases your chances of getting injured as this workout engages your triceps through a full range of motion. If the dumbbells are too heavy, there is a high chance you will hurt yourself when you move the dumbbells behind your head (2).

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This is a good variation of the overhead press that you should definitely add to your workout program. It is a similar workout to the push press, and the main difference is that you make a deeper squat with the thruster than the push press. Creating a deeper squat means it is a little more intense than the push press. It is an effective full-body compound exercise. It can be done using a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells. It all depends on your preference.

How to do the thruster (4)?

  1. You start by standing with the bar in front of the squat rack position, holding it with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. The next step is to lower yourself into a squat. While doing this, try to keep your elbows as high as you can, keep your knees wide apart, and your heels firmly on the ground. Go down until your thighs are parallel with the floor. 
  3. Then push up through your heels using your quads and glutes. Maintain the momentum throughout the movement and help it to push the bar over your head until your hands are fully stretched out.

Read More: What Does Overhead Press Work?

How To Perform Overhead Press?

It would be an injustice not to highlight a bit about the exercise we are working on. Knowing how to do a workout correctly and holding the proper form is quite important. This can also be said for the overhead press. 

Knowing the correct procedure and form helps prevent injuries, especially with intense workouts like this one. The overhead press is not an easy workout, so any person attempting to do it should always be careful to do it correctly and hold the correct form. Knowing exactly how to do an exercise also helps one get the most out of the workout, which is usually why most people do the exercise. With that said, here is how you do the shoulder press (5):

  1. Take the bar from the rack and stand with it on your front shoulders. You should make sure you have a narrow grip on the bar, make the grip just a little wider than the shoulder-width length. You should also make sure your wrists are straight, and your forearms are as vertical as they can be. Then lock your knees and hips. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart. 
  2. The next thing to do is to lift your chest. You do so by lifting your chest towards the sky and arching your upper back. The position should look as if you are trying to touch your chin with your upper chest.
  3. Then inhale deeply, hold your breath and press the bar in a vertical line. Make sure not to press the bar in front of your head or at the back of your head. Make sure to press it over your head. 
  4. The next step is to move forward. Stay as close as you possibly can to the bar while you press the weight up. Once the bar passes your forehead, move your body back under the bar by driving your torso forward and back to the standing position. 
  5. At the very top of the lift, shrug your shoulders slightly and lock your elbows.
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You should make sure your body is tight throughout this entire process. Keeping your body tight helps you not miss the lift, hence why that is very important. The key is to engage as many muscles as much as possible, which can be achieved by doing the following things. 

For starters, when you hold the bar, try and squeeze the bar tightly as if you are trying to bend it upwards. Doing that helps to engage your latissimus dorsi muscles (5). While doing all that, you should also try to squeeze your elbows towards your body as if you are trying to keep the insides of your biceps touching your chest during the whole process (5). When you are just about to lift the bar, you should take a deep breath and hold all that air in your stomach. Brace your abdominal muscles, squeeze your glutes and then start pressing up. Only release the air once you get at the top of your lift.

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Which Muscles Are Worked When You Do The Overhead Press?

Now that you know how to do the shoulder press, it is crucial to know the muscles that you will work with while doing it. The overhead press is a compound exercise and what this means is that it works multiple muscles and joints simultaneously. Here are the muscles you are likely to engage doing this workout (3): 


The muscles in the shoulder are the primary muscles worked. You can perform these muscles when you raise your upper arms so that you can lift the bar. That movement works the muscles of your shoulders. This is to say that it works your front, side, and back deltoid. These three muscles can develop evenly hence leading to broader shoulders. 


The process of straightening your elbows to press the weight overhead engages the muscles in your arms. The arm muscles engage mainly the triceps, which are found at the back of your arms. This workout makes your triceps bigger, and this results in bigger arms altogether. 

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Rotator Cuff  Muscles

The shoulder press also works the different rotator cuff muscles. These are usually the small muscles that cover your shoulder blades. The act of balancing the bar overhead is what engages these muscles.

assistance workouts for overhead press


Your traps are worked when you shrug your shoulders at the top of each repetition. 

Abdominal Muscles

These are the muscles primarily found in the core. All movements start from the core, and since the workout involves many activities, the core is heavily involved. The abdominal muscles help stabilize your body while your arms and shoulders do all the heavy lifting. Stabilizing your body helps you from falling under the bar, and in this process, the various abdominal muscles, the obliques, and the lower back muscles are all strengthened. 


Your legs are needed to maintain balance while you press. The shoulder press hence works your hips, ankles, thighs, and calves. Do not expect the shoulder press to work these muscles as much as other exercises that involve more leg movement do. Remember, while doing this exercise, your legs don’t move. 

Those are the muscles that are worked when you do the shoulder press.

The Bottom Line 

We have highlighted the best assistance exercises for the overhead press. The activities mentioned above will help you get the power, strength, and range of motion needed to carry out the overhead press. 

We have highlighted how to correctly do each of those exercises to reduce the chances of getting injuries. Before you try any of those exercises, it would be safe first to consult an expert to see if it is okay for you to attempt them. 

When choosing the weights to be used in the exercises, as mentioned earlier, don’t try to do too much by using hefty weights that might end up causing more harm than benefit. It is actually recommended to go for light weights and do more reps than going for heavyweights and doing fewer reps. It would be best if you also had a spotter while performing most of the workouts highlighted.



This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!


  2. How To Do An Overhead Dumbbell Triceps Extension (n.d.,
  3. How to Overhead Press with Proper Form: The Definitive Guide (2018,
  4. How To Perfect The Overhead Press  (n.d.,
  5. How to Perform the Overhead Press: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide (2019,
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