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  • Nathanael Littauer, CSCS

Should Athletes Shoulder Press?

I got a question in a Q+A box on Instagram a while back asking whether or not athletes should shoulder press in their training programs. As I was watching a high school wrestling match recently, this question came back to mind, and I felt like it needed some diving into.

I think a lot of times we like to break down exercises into the black and white categories of "Good" and "Bad", when really all exercises fit into a gray area. I think we like the categories of "Good" and "Bad" because blanket statements are easily digestible and allow us to not have to think.

But if we label exercises as inherently "Good" or "Bad" (even based on specific population), we may be leaving a lot of gains on the table. This is especially true for the Shoulder Press.


When we look at the Shoulder Press, we first have to look at the demands it places on the body, and what it requires in terms of mobility and stability in order to execute properly. With putting a bar overhead there needs to be some level of shoulder mobility, and more specifically in regards to scapular elevation and depression, and scapular protraction. We also must have adequate amounts of thoracic extension available to have the shoulder blade move through those ranges of motion. We need to have access to these motions, and be able to stabilize the joints within the motions.


The second thing to look at when considering the Shoulder Press for athletes, is the sporting movements and the demands on the shoulder during the sporting movements. Remember the wrestling match I mentioned earlier? It got me thinking of the shoulder press because I watched a wrestler have his shoulder torqued in elevation of the scapular and internal rotation of the humerus so aggressively that he almost high fived himself behind his back and with his other arm outstretched (you could see the bony structures of his humerus clearly through the muscle and skin there was so much torque). In a situation like that, does it make sense to have that athlete shoulder press? Does it make sense to try to create more tension and demand on the shoulder there? Perhaps. Which brings us to our next consideration.


After looking at sporting movements, we then have to consider the time of year and phase of training an athlete is in. Admittedly, this is becoming far more difficult as athletes are playing their sports year round without breaks and are engaging in repetitive patterns on a near daily basis. But if an athlete, and we'll use baseball for this example, is not engaging in high volumes of practice or games then it may be okay to shoulder press to build capacity. A baseball player, especially a pitcher, who throws at high velocities and place tons of torque on their shoulder may want to avoid adding stress to a system that is already under lots of stress. In the case of the afore mentioned wrestler, during season when his shoulder could be getting cranked into odd positions against his will may not be a good time to throw the shoulder press into the mix of exercises.

When we consider these factors, then we can start to determine if the shoulder press would be appropriate. The order of consideration is also important, because if overhead patterns are minimal or non-existent in an athlete's sport, the considerations are limited only to their status of mobility and stability, not the time of year or practice/game volumes.


But if we can check the boxes of adequate mobility/stability, understand the sporting motions, and then consider the time of year in relation to the season during which the athlete is performing a Shoulder Press, we start to understand it as a movement outside of the realms of "Good" or "Bad."

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