Last updated on November 16th, 2022 at 11:25 am
So, you want to know whether you should arch your back when shoulder pressing.
An arch of the back is typically viewed as acceptable when you bench press.
This is probably due to the fact that you are supporting much of the weight with a bench.
However, there is no such “support” when you should press, although you may find that your back does tend to arch as the weight gets heavier.
So, is this acceptable or are you simply asking for a lower back injury?
Let’s find out.
Should You Arch Your Back When Shoulder Pressing?
It’s okay to have a slight arch in your back when shoulder pressing, but this definitely shouldn’t be as exaggerated as when you bench press. You should squeeze your glutes, bring your hips forward, and lean back ever so slightly. It’s also important to remember that you should move your body around the bar and not the other way around. If you find that you are excessively arching your back this will typically mean that you are shoulder pressing more weight than you can comfortably handle.
1. Squeeze Your Glutes When You Shoulder Press (& Your Core)
There will always be some “arch” when you shoulder press, especially as the load becomes heavier.
In fact, I would go as far to say that one of the technique cues for a perfect overhead press is to lean back ever so slightly.
I know this may go against the grain, and some would argue that you should keep your entire body ramrod straight.
However, as you add more weight to the bar, you will typically always lean back slightly.
So, there’s no real problem with having an arch in your back, as long as this is minimal.
You don’t want to go down the route of arching in the same way as you would with a bench press.
Plus, remember there is a bench there to support your lower back too.
If you find that the arch in your back is a little excessive for the shoulder press then this could point to a few technique issues.
Firstly, and most importantly, you must squeeze your glutes whenever you press a weight overhead.
I know this may sound a little weird, but trust me it works.
You’ll want to contract the glutes as hard as you can and you’ll notice that you automatically straighten up.
Furthermore, this provides support for your lower back.
You should also contract your core muscles as well, thus providing a great all-round base of support for your lower back.
2. Move Your Body Around The Bar
You’ll generally want to move the bar straight up and down during a shoulder press.
Realistically, throughout the entire movement the bar should remain in line with your shoulders, hips, and mid-foot.
However, at the beginning of the press the bar is usually directly below your chin.
So, in effect, if you were to press the bar up in a straight line you would smack yourself on the chin (and no-one wants that).
Therefore, you really need to move your head out of the way as you press the bar up.
I’ve seen two “variations” of this, neither of which are considered correct form, or are any good for your lower back.
Firstly, some people tend to move the bar around their body instead of moving the body around the bar.
So, they are literally curving the bar around their face to get it above their head.
Now you may get away with this for lighter loads, and it probably won’t make a huge amount of difference to you.
But once you have a fairly heavy load on the bar this “curving the bar around your face” could soon cause all sorts of problems.
While the bar is being held in a slightly forward position there’s a huge amount of strain being placed on the lower back.
And this is why the shoulder press gets a bad rap as an exercise that can injure the lower back.
Secondly, there are those who shoulder press by moving their face out of the way beforehand.
Now, as I’ve mentioned, I see no problem with a slight arch in the back, and I even agree that you should lean back ever so slightly with heavier loads.
However, by having your face completely out of the way from the start you will automatically be arching the back far more than you should.
Plus, this also puts additional stress on both the neck and lower back.
So, remember to move your body around the bar and not the other way around.
3. Fix Your Form & Press Less Weight
One of the main reasons that you are over-arching your back during the shoulder press is because you’re trying to lift too much weight.
I know training is all about progressive overload, and therefore you want to be increasing the weight you lift on a regular basis.
However, this should never come at the expense of good form.
Plus, I often think that the shoulder press is one of those exercises that produces greater results with more reps.
In fact, in terms of shoulder development, I would go as far to say that raise variations done regularly would produce far better results.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be shoulder pressing, and that you can’t use a heavy load.
It’s just a case of being sensible and lifting within your own abilities.
Basically, the heavier the load that you need to press overhead, the higher the likelihood of you over-arching your back.
So, it might be time to put your ego in check, reduce the load, and correct your form.
I often see people hyperextend their lower back when shoulder pressing.
This typically produces a curvature in the lower spine, the hips shift back, and the glutes stick up in the air.
Unfortunately, this will force the muscles in the lower back to contract, which will then put them under additional stress as soon as you press a weight overhead.
I would say that there are 3 perfect cues prior to overhead pressing:
- Squeeze your glutes (and core)
- Shift your hips slightly forward
- Push your chest up and lean back ever so slightly.
How To Overhead Press
So, as to whether you should arch your back when shoulder pressing, I guess the answer is both yes and no.
As I’ve mentioned, I see no problem with having an arch in the back, and you should in fact be leaning backwards ever so slightly.
However, you don’t want to get into the realms of over-arching the back as you would with a heavy bench press.
The immediate fix for over-arching the back is to squeeze your glutes and core tight.
You’ll immediately notice that you straighten up, plus this provides ideal support for your lower back.
It’s also important that you move your head out of the way when you press overhead.
This is opposed to trying to curve the bar around your head or simply leaning your head back from the start.
Both of these “methods” are likely to cause problems with either your neck or lower back.
Finally, if you find that you are excessively arching your back during the shoulder press this could mean that you’re trying to lift too much weight.
So, reduce the load slightly and concentrate on perfect form.
Next, moving onto your traps from your shoulders, discover what I have to say about shrugs and they’re in fact worth doing.
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.