Last updated on August 24th, 2023 at 12:41 pm
There are few better exercises to really test your pushing muscles than the shoulder press.
In fact, I would say that pressing overhead is far more beneficial to your overall physique than the favoured bench press.
However, you may have noticed that you often feel the shoulder press in various muscles other than those that are specifically targeted.
One such area is the biceps.
So, allow me to explain why you feel shoulder press in your biceps and what you can do to fix it.
There are numerous reasons why you feel shoulder press in your biceps. Firstly, if you allow your elbows to flare out to the side you’ll place additional stress on the brachialis. Furthermore, allowing your wrists to bend back during a pressing movement places pressure on your forearms and elbow joint. Plus, the biceps are an antagonistic muscle to the triceps, which are worked hard during the shoulder press.
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You’re Allowing Your Elbows to Flare Out to the Side
One of the main reasons you feel shoulder press in your biceps is that you’re allowing your elbows to flare out to the side.
In fact, this is a form issue I see all the time in the gym environment.
It seems that gym-goers everywhere typically press a weight overhead while having their elbows flared out to the side, and their upper arms parallel to their body.
Firstly, this arm position places a huge amount of stress on the shoulder joint.
Plus, you immediately place yourself at a mechanical disadvantage.
In other words, by allowing your elbows to flare out you’re probably not pressing as much weight as you can actually manage.
Furthermore, this dangerous arm and shoulder position will generally mean that your shoulders collapse as you bring the weight back down.
Once more, this can be a cause of shoulder injuries, and you definitely won’t be pressing as much weight as you’re capable of.
When you shoulder press with your arms in this position you’ll also immediately place much more stress on the brachialis.
So, it can often feel as though your biceps have had a real good going over while you’re pressing a weight above your head.
Realistically, the best overhead pressing position is to have your elbows in front of you throughout the movement.
So, in effect, your arms are tucked into your sides and you can see the bottoms of your elbows in a mirror straight in front of you, thus allowing for a far safer and anatomically correct position.
You’re Allowing Your Wrists to Bend Back
One of the biggest errors in form when it comes to the shoulder press is allowing your wrists to bend back.
Actually, the same can be said of any pressing movement, including the bench press.
The aim with any press is to keep your wrists ramrod straight.
However, as you add more weight to the bar, there is a tendency to allow the wrists to bend backwards.
If you find this happening it may be time to drop the weight slightly, or even consider lifting with wrist wraps.
Firstly, this is obviously a very dangerous position to have your wrists in.
Plus, you’ll be placing an unbelievable amount of stress on your wrists as well.
And once again, this isn’t the greatest position to allow you to perform the shoulder press efficiently, so you’re probably not pressing as much weight as you could.
So, always keep your wrists straight with any pressing movement, but especially so when you’re pressing a weight overhead.
The bent wrist position will limit your ability to extend the triceps, which is extremely important when pressing.
Additionally, not only are you placing a great deal of pressure on the wrists, but also on the forearms and elbows.
This is typically why it feels as though your biceps have been put through the ringer when you shoulder press.
A great set up cue is to ensure that your knuckles always face slightly forward, and definitely never facing back towards yourself.
This will immediately help you to keep your wrists much straighter.
Finally, rather than pressing the weight overhead, you’ll literally want to punch the barbell or dumbbells overhead.
This ensures that not only do your wrists stay straight, but you can also power out of the bottom of the press.
The Biceps Are an Antagonistic Pressing Muscle
Something else to consider is that you hit your triceps extremely well when you shoulder press.
In fact, you won’t often see someone who has a great overhead press that doesn’t also have an impressive set of triceps.
Basically, heavy overhead pressing and fantastic horseshoe triceps go hand-in-hand.
So, it makes a great deal of sense that you’ll feel shoulder presses in your triceps, especially when you’re lifting heavy or with a lot of volume.
However, you’re probably thinking to yourself that this doesn’t really explain why you feel shoulder press in your biceps.
Well, the biceps are an antagonistic (opposite) muscle group to the triceps.
In other words, the triceps and biceps tend to work in tandem with each other.
So, when the triceps contract, the biceps will extend (or relax), and vice versa.
Therefore, when either your biceps or triceps are doing something, the other muscle group is doing the opposite.
Now, this will typically mean that while you’re putting your triceps through their paces by pressing overhead, your biceps also need to go through a reactionary force.
Admittedly, you shouldn’t really feel the movement more in your biceps than your triceps, but your biceps still have some work to do.
So, the heavier or more volume with which you perform shoulder presses, the more of a workout your triceps get.
And in turn your biceps will need to constantly extend while you’re doing this.
So, as you can see, there are a number of reasons why you feel shoulder press in your biceps.
The most obvious of these is that you’re allowing your elbows to flare out to the side.
Not only does this put you at a mechanical disadvantage, but it also stresses the brachialis.
The exact same can be said for allowing your wrists to bend back when you press overhead.
You definitely won’t be lifting to the best of your abilities, plus you’re placing additional pressure on the forearms and elbows.
This can often feel as though it’s your biceps that ache.
Finally, your triceps will generally get a great workout whenever you overhead press.
So, as the biceps are an antagonistic muscle group to the triceps, it stands to reason that they will be involved in some way.
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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.