Do Shoulder Presses Work the Entire Deltoid?

The overhead press works multiple muscles in one motion.
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Shapely shoulders take center stage in sleeveless weather and can be your best accessory in strappy dresses. Capped deltoids and shoulder definition are the well-earned reward for the discipline of training them. Shoulder presses are one of the most effective compound movements in a shoulder exercise routine that hits multiple parts of the shoulder in a single exercise.

Types of Press

    Overhead shoulder presses may seem like a basic exercise with limited options for creativity, but presses come in many versions. Presses can be done with a barbell or dumbbells. Barbells can be positioned in front of the head or behind the neck, and dumbbell presses can be performed one arm at a time to make sure both sides pull their weight equally. You can slam out Arnold presses with dumbbells, or you can enlist the help of the Smith machine if you’re feeling like Xena on any given deltoid day and want to move some extra weight.

Anterior Deltoid

    The anterior, or front, deltoid definitely comes along for the ride in a shoulder press workout. Whether using dumbbells or a barbell, the general motion of pressing overhead activates the front deltoids, since the weight is generally slightly forward of the shoulder joint. The torque from the position of the weight corrals the front deltoid into action to help initiate and continue the movement overhead. Front barbell presses are a great option for poking the front deltoid with just a little more emphasis, since the position of the barbell places the weight even further forward of the joint.

Medial Deltoid

    The medial, or side, deltoid is the meaty mass of the shoulder that forms the fabulous cap and curve at the top of the arm. The side deltoid is a major workhorse when performing overhead presses, drawing the arm upward and then inward at the top of the motion. Regardless of which version of overhead press you sweat through, the side deltoid will get a burn no matter what. Behind the neck barbell presses, with a wide grip, force the elbows wide and lay much of the work squarely on the side deltoid when lifting overhead. However, keep in mind that a certain level of flexibility in the shoulders and neck is required to perform behind the neck presses safely and with good form.

Posterior Deltoid

    The smallest of the three deltoid sections, the posterior, or rear, deltoid sits this exercise out. The rear deltoid is activated when the shoulder blades come together and the shoulder joint swings the arm towards the back of the body, as when performing a reverse fly. The physics of the overhead press doesn't incorporate this movement at any point in the range of motion, so the rear deltoid gets a break. However, reverse flies, bent over rows and seated rows are a great way to target the rear deltoids separately.

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