Often understood as the basic and irreplaceable exercise for overall shoulders development, barbell shoulder press has been crowned the king of all shoulder exercises. While there is some truth in the statement that shoulder press will help you increase shoulder size, there is plenty to add to it. Let’s debunk some of the big misconceptions about barbell shoulder press that still rules in the gyms around the world…
First, shoulder press can be performed much safer and more effectively with dumbbells or shoulder press machines than with the barbell. While barbell locks your elbows and shoulder joints in the rigid and unchangeable position allowing the force to be applied only in a straight line, dumbbells offer much more freedom in the shoulder and elbow joint. As our bodies are far from symmetrical and perfectly aligned pushing the barbell upright will force the spine, scapulae, shoulder and elbow joint to twist around their axes in order to perform straight linear motion. That will obviously lead to many shoulder and back injuries, as well known to so many bodybuilders. Using dumbbells while performing shoulder press will eliminate all those risks and enable you to drive the weights up in the best possible biomechanical position of your shoulder joints (the trajectory line goes straight through the middle of your head, which is impossible to achieve with the bar).
Second, believing that shoulder press behind the neck involves more of the lateral and rear deltoids is a nonsense that has caused so many chronic shoulder injuries. Every shoulder press, performed with barbell, dumbbells or a machine will always activate only the front head! Period. Once the weight is pushed upwards, above the head, the only part of the shoulder that will be involved directly is the front deltoid. Lateral and rear will be stabilising shoulder muscles, but not directly involved. Activating the rear deltoids requires totally different plane of action through which force is applied. The same applies for the lateral deltoid. The plane in which vertical force is applied on during the shoulder can only activate the front deltoid.
Third, the biggest problem with shoulder press is when it is performed with a barbell or Smith machine lowering the bar behind the neck. Unfortunately, because of lack of education in the field, this exercise is very popular among many bodybuilders, even very experienced ones… The reason why this exercise is your nemesis and will definitely cause shoulder injury sooner or later is the following: when pushed upwards from behind the neck, humerus grinds against the acromion bone impinging the cartilage called subacromial bursa and causing subacromial bursitis/chronic shoulder pain that will keep you away from many shoulder and chest exercises for many months. This unfortunate scenario is happening every time you perform press behind the neck, therefore no excuse can be found reasonable. You may get away from the problems for some time, depending on your genetics, but the unwanted bill will arrive sooner or later. To be on the safe side, perform shoulder press always to the front, preferably with the dumbbells or some good shoulder machines.