Blog Fitness What Does Overhead Press Work?

What Does Overhead Press Work?

overhead press muscles

Resistance training exercises have become pretty common over the years. These exercises have been deemed effective at burning calories and increasing muscular size and strength (5). In light of this, most individuals have incorporated resistance training exercises such as the overhead press to help increase muscular strength. But what does overhead press work, and what are its benefits? Read on as we unveil the answers to this question.BetterMe


What does overhead press work? Today we will discuss all the muscles targeted by this exercise. We will be highlighting how these muscles are targeted and how one can use the correct form to reap various benefits. Check it out!

What Muscles Does The Overhead Press Work?

You will get varying answers to this question from different people, depending on how they believe this exercise works. Some will mention the arms, while others may limit their response to the shoulder muscles. There is no wrong answer when comparing the two. However, the fact remains that this exercise works out more than just your arm and shoulder muscles. Below are the muscles targeted by this exercise:

The Trapezius

These are one of the upper back muscles. They run from your occipital bone located in your skull to the thoracic spine in the back. These muscles also extend to the width of your shoulders (10). The trapezius muscles separate into three categories: the superior, inferior, and middle. According to Medical News Today, each of these plays a crucial yet different role in the movement of your neck and shoulders (10).

When you are doing the overhead dumbbell press or overhead barbell press, you get to engage your trapezius muscles actively. They elongate when you raise these weights overhead, targeting any fat located in your upper back area. Performing this exercise repeatedly can benefit your trapezius muscle in the following ways:

  • Improving Flexibility

If you do not thoroughly exercise these muscles, they tend to become stiff or tight. Like with tightness or stiffness in any other area, this results in pain. Pain in the trapezius caused by muscle tightness can be excruciating and also accompanied by other symptoms such as (10):

  • Muscle spasms
  • Numbness in one or your two arms
  • Neck or shoulder pain
  • Decreased movement in your neck or shoulders.
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When you perform a standing overhead press, you get rid of muscle tightness in this region. It helps improve the flexibility in this region and increases the range of motion of your shoulders and neck. overhead press

  • Increased Stability of Your Shoulder Blades

As mentioned earlier, the trapezius muscles are in one way or other connected to your shoulder blades. The upper or superior category of the trapezius muscles helps with elevating your shoulder blades and rotating and tilting your neck (10).

The middle category helps bring your shoulder blades back and provide shoulder stabilization during various arm movements (10). The lower trapezius group helps with getting your shoulder blades down (10).

As seen, all these trapezius muscles help in one way or the other when it comes to the movement of your shoulder blades. If they are not adequately exercised, they may become stiff and hinder movement and proper stabilization.

  • Improved Active Movements

Doing the overhead press exercise also helps your trapezius muscles improve their ability to perform various active movements. These include performing internal arm rotations, bending and turning your head, and elevating and depressing your shoulders (1).

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The Triceps

Regardless of what equipment you use to perform the overhead press, the fact is that it targets your tricep muscles. The triceps refer to the large and thick muscles located on the dorsal part of your upper arm (2). These muscles often appear in the shape of a horseshoe on the posterior aspect of your arm (2).

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As the name may suggest (tri=three), these muscles consist of three heads: a long head, a lateral head, and a media head (2). All these heads combine to form one tendon distally, which attaches to the ulna’s upper part (2).

The tricep muscles are actively engaged in the overhead press when raising and lowering the barbell and arm. However, you must be very careful during the lift to avoid overstretching your arm. This does not do you any good, even if you believe it increases the intensity of your workout.

Instead, experts claim that overstretching your hand can rupture your tricep muscles and result in an injury (2). That said, if done correctly, this exercise can help in:

  • Toning Your Triceps

The overhead press ranks among the best arm exercises as it helps increase the size of your triceps. Most individuals, especially men, forget to train their triceps in a rush to exercise their biceps. They forget that they must work out their triceps as much as their triceps if they want well-toned arms. Keep doing this exercise, and in the correct form, if you wish to tone and increase muscle mass and strength in your triceps. overhead press

  • Improved Extension Of The Elbow Joint

The primary function of the triceps is to help with the extension of your elbow joint (2). Giving these muscles a well-deserved workout by using this exercise helps them improve their ability to extend your elbow joints.

  • Increased Muscle Endurance

We can all agree that training with weights is challenging. The first minute into any weight lifting exercise will have you rethinking all your life decisions. It pretty much happens to anyone because such exercise routines are overwhelming and may take a toll on you.

Despite that, the advantage of such exercises is that they can help to increase muscular endurance, especially if you do not quit or give up. If you repeatedly perform the overhead press, you will end up increasing the endurance of your triceps muscles. 

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Remember that muscular endurance, strength, and mass occurs with time and an increased intensity (9). This means that you have to increase your reps to train your triceps and help improve their endurance constantly. Keep in mind that you cannot decide to increase your reps overnight. You always have to discuss such matters with your trainer before putting them into play.

  • Increased Upper-Body Strength

The overhead press does not only help tone your triceps but also your entire body. Arm toning is crucial as it helps increase your upper body strength. Having upper body strength is essential as it allows us to perform various activities like lifting at a quick pace (7).

Read More: Military Press Vs. Overhead Press: Techniques, Common Mistakes, And Potential Benefits overhead press

The Core Muscles

When doing the standing overhead barbell or dumbbell press, you will need to stand upright. Performing this exercise in a vertical stance helps engage your core muscles. There are several core muscles in your body’s trunk, and each serves a different function, as shown below (6):

  • The Transversus Abdominis. These muscles help in stabilizing your pelvis during movement.
  • The Rectus Abdominis. These muscles are what is commonly known as the six-pack. They help you bend forward effortlessly.
  • The Lumbar Multifidus. These refer to some back muscles that help support your spine when making any movement.
  • The Internal and External Obliques. These are the muscles at the side of your core. They help your trunk to rotate or bend sideways.
  • The Erector Spinae. These refer to a group of muscles and tendons that work together to straighten your trunk whenever you bend. They also support your body when lifting, for example, the barbell or dumbbells to perform the overhead press.

Experts have for the longest time deemed it essential to train and strengthen your core for various reasons. Some of these include:

  • To Improve Your Posture

The overhead press exercise focuses on postural alignment. You have to maintain the correct posture for this exercise to bear fruits. The proper posture needed to perform a standing overhead press will have you standing upright without arching your back. The stance allows you to highly engage and strengthen your core muscles. Strong core muscles will eventually help improve your posture (6). overhead press

  • To Improve Your Stability

The overhead press also helps improve the stability of your trunk. Experts acknowledge that a stable trunk is crucial because it does more than help you maintain an upright body posture. According to them, it also improves your body balance and postural control during movements like landing (3). A strong core also contributes to the stability of your spine, minimizing any injuries and risks to your spine arising from poor posture (3).

  • To Prevent Falls and Injuries

A strong core can also decrease your risk of falls and injuries (6). This is because of the improved stability you obtain from exercising various core muscles such as the transversus abdominis.

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The Pectoral Or Chest Muscles

Performing the overhead press workout with or without a barbell or dumbbells also works your pectoral or chest muscles. That said, for many the problem is that they end up with musculoskeletal chest pain instead of exercised chest muscles.

According to Medical News Today, such pain results from intercostal muscle strains (4). The intercostal muscles are the muscle groups sitting between your ribs (4). They have three layers: external, internal, and innermost intercostal muscles. All these work together to help with breathing and stabilize the rib cage (4). Experts consider it essential to work the overhead press muscles, primarily the chest muscles, because of the following:

  • It Tones Your Chest Area

Almost every other man in the gym wants to get a big and muscular chest. Doing an overhead press or shoulder press can help you attain this goal. These exercises target your pectorals and help burn more calories as well as tone it.

  • It Improves Your Posture

Working your chest muscles and back muscles at the same time helps increase your upper body strength. With this strength, you can keep and maintain a good posture.

  • It Increases Your Chest Size And Mass

Experts reveal that working out with the overhead press exercise significantly increases the size and mass of your chest muscles (8). Doing this exercise consistently increases your skeletal chest muscle size and strength regardless of age (8).

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The Bottom Line

What does overhead press work? This exercise targets your trapezius (upper back), triceps, pectoral (chest), and core muscles. If you follow the correct steps in doing an overhead press, you will benefit from exercising all these muscles. As always, remember to consult your fitness program before making changes to your exercise regime.BetterMe


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 for decision-making. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!


  1. Anatomy, Back, Trapezius (2020,
  2. Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Triceps Muscle (2021, ncbi,
  3. Effects of core strength training on core stability (2018,
  4. Pulled muscle in chest: Symptoms and treatment (2019,
  5. Strength Training Tips From the Pros (2016,
  6. The 8 best core exercises for gym and home training, from beginner to advanced (2021,
  7. The Best Arm Exercises (2008,
  8. Time course for arm and chest muscle thickness changes following bench press training (2012,
  9. Weight Lifting (Resistance Exercise) (2019,
  10. What is the trapezius muscle? (2019,
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