It’s a question I see asked all the time, “How Deep Should I Go On Shoulder Press?”
The shoulder press is generally seen as the best shoulder exercise when it comes to building size and strength.
In reality, the shoulder press allows you to load the shoulders with more weight than many other shoulder exercises.
Plus, you probably know just how well it works your triceps too.
With that being said, the shoulders can be prone to injury, especially if you’re performing certain exercises incorrectly.
Therefore, it’s important to know exactly how deep you should go on shoulder press.
To be honest, this will vary depending on a number of factors.
So, I’ll explain these to you now.
How Deep Should I Go On Shoulder Press?
When shoulder pressing with dumbbells you should lower the weights to below chin level. When using a barbell you should bring the weight down to your collarbones. With both methods your elbows should be pointing out to the sides, but slightly in front of your torso. You can also barbell shoulder press with your elbows pointing forwards. However, if your elbows are in line with your torso, as typically happens with the behind the head barbell shoulder press, then you shouldn’t go deeper than ear level.
1. Elbow Position Determines How Deep You Should Go on Shoulder Press
Okay, so how deep you should go on shoulder press will largely depend on the equipment you’re using.
I would also say that your overall shoulder health, mobility, and flexibility play a role.
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So, I’ll assume that you have no issues here.
Firstly, the ideal way to shoulder press, regardless of equipment, mainly depends on where you’re able to position your elbows.
The overhead press, shoulder press, military press, etc. are mainly aimed at targeting the middle delts.
It is the middle delts that will typically add size to your shoulders, as well as giving you that appearance of cannonball delts.
With that being said, you’ll also work the front delts too, although the rear delts won’t get that much of a look in during overhead presses.
Now, to ensure that you’re training your middle delts, you’ll want your elbows pointing out to the side, but ever so slightly in front of your torso.
Therefore, your elbows shouldn’t be completely out to the sides and in line with your body.
This position places a great deal of stress on the shoulder joint in general, as well as the rotator cuff.
Basically, by having your elbows in line with your body, you’re placing yourself in a precarious position.
Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Now, when you perform shoulder presses with dumbbells, seated or standing, it’s much easier to maintain this position.
Therefore, you can lower the dumbbells to just below chin position.
Barbell Shoulder Press
The exact same can be said for barbell overhead presses, and you can lower the weight to your collarbones.
However, what you’ll generally notice is that your elbows will come out in front of the body when you use a barbell.
In effect, you have to take the barbell around your head, which is not something you have to worry about with dumbbells.
Nevertheless, the fact that you need to move the barbell around your head means that your elbows could end up pointing directly ahead.
Once more, this is absolutely fine, but this will work your front delts to far greater effect.
This is something you’ll need to be wary of, as the front delts usually get a lot of training in the gym, especially if you regularly bench press.
Should You Do Overhead Press and Bench Press on the Same Day?
Your aim is to keep your elbows out to the side, but slightly ahead of your torso.
Behind the Neck Shoulder Press
Things completely change when performing the behind the neck shoulder press.
Basically, this will mean that your shoulders go through external rotation, which in turn can compromise the rotator cuff.
You’ll also notice that your elbows will automatically be in line with your torso, or even pointing slightly behind.
Therefore, you don’t want to apply excessive stress to the shoulder joint, so it makes sense to only lower the weight no further than ear level.
The same can be said if you’re performing shoulder presses with a wider than shoulder-width grip.
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Once again, this forces the elbows out, thus placing the shoulders and rotator cuff in a dangerous position.
2. Does Depth Make a Difference in Standing vs. Seated Shoulder Press?
To be honest, nothing much changes, in terms of depth, when you shoulder press standing or seated.
So, as long as you can keep your elbows out to the side, but slightly in front of the body, then you can lower the weight to below chin level.
And of course, if your elbows are flared out to the side, and either in line with, or behind, the body, then only lower the weight to ear level.
The main difference between the standing and seated variations is how much you can lift, as well as how well the body is “protected”.
What I mean by this is that the standing shoulder press is much better on your lower back.
Basically, whenever you sit down, the spine is compressed, and it also needs to absorb the force from the weight you’re holding.
However, when you stand, you’re initially in a far more functional position.
Additionally, and more importantly, your hips, legs, knees, and ankles, are able to take some of the force from the load.
In other words, the force of holding a weight, pressing and lowering it, is better distributed among more body parts.
Furthermore, you will get far more core involvement during a standing overhead press.
So, it’s a win-win, and I always prefer performing shoulder press while standing.
With that being said, as your torso is supported, you’re typically able to press more weight while seated.
Therefore, if gaining strength is more important to you, and you don’t have any lower back issues, then the seated shoulder press is probably a better variation for you.
What’s the Difference Between Seated vs. Standing Shoulder Press?
So, hopefully you understand that how deep you should go on shoulder press will depend on various factors.
However, you should mainly be lowering the weights, whether barbell or dumbbells, to just below chin level.
In fact, you can lightly brush your collarbone if using a barbell.
Both movements will allow you to keep your elbows pointed out to the side, while still being slightly ahead of your torso.
With the barbell shoulder press you can even have the elbows pointing directly ahead, although this will work the front delts more.
The main issue with depth is when your elbows end up either in line with your torso, or even slightly behind.
This causes external rotation of the shoulder, which places the shoulder joint and rotator cuff in an extremely precarious position.
If this is the case then you should only lower the load to ear level.
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Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.