Why You Should Lift Something Heavy Over Your Head

The overhead press is one of the best shoulder exercises out there but it also has benefits beyond that. Here are some reasons why you should lift something heavy over your head, today.

Brock Armstrong
3-minute read

Photo of a woman doing an overhead press

Weight training not only strengthens muscles, it strengthens your bones by increasing your bone density. This can reduce the risk of fractures and broken bones as we age, and who doesn't want that? Research has also shown that weight training, especially the kind that loads your entire skeleton, can increase spinal bone density to create an entire strong and healthy body. And what better way to load your entire skeleton than by lifting something heavy over your head using a weightlifting move known as the Overhead Press?

Before I tell you how to do an Overhead Press, let's talk about its benefits. 

Core Strength

Overhead Press requires all of the stabilizing muscles in your torso to engage to keep your posture strong as you move the weight up and over your head. This includes the muscles the good old rectus abdominis, erector spinae, and the external obliques. The overhead press requires activation of all three of these muscle groups, especially when the lift is done with dumbbells, and unilaterally (one hand at a time). 

Shoulder Strength

The main muscles involved in the overhead press are the anterior deltoids and medial deltoids. These muscles make up the front and the center part of your shoulder. The anterior deltoid stars the lift, the medial deltoid keeps the lift going, and then the posterior deltoid stabilizes the lift when you get to the top.

Research has shown that weight training, especially the kind that loads your entire skeleton, can increase spinal bone density.

Back Strength

The trapezius (or trap for short) is a major muscle in your back and it moves, rotates, and stabilizes your scapula (shoulder blade) and your head and neck. The trapezius will engage to stabilize the weight during the overhead press when you do what is called the lockout (when you hold the position at the top of the lift). 

Skeleton Strength

Weight training, weight lifting, or nearly any type of strength training creates resistance against your muscles in order to strengthen them. That resistance then produces a strong pull on the adjacent bones when the muscles contract. That stronger tug on the bones then stimulates the bone-building cells in your body to be activated. The force (or loading) on the skeleton, through its axis, has been shown to stimulate the bone's natural function of increasing in density. The greater the load on the skeleton, the greater the effect it has on the density of bone.

The greater the load on the skeleton, the greater the effect it has on the density of bone.

How do you do an Overhead Press?

It's really quite simple.

  1. Stand with your heels hip-width apart and your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Hold both dumbbells with a 90-degree bend at your elbow.
  3. Start with your elbows at shoulder height.
  4. Keeping your core strong,
  5. Press the weights overhead without letting your back arch.
  6. Don’t press in front or behind your head - press over your head.
  7. Lower the weights back down to the starting position. 
  8. Repeat. 

As simple as it is, the overhead press involves technique and precision, especially when the weight gets heavy. So here are some things to watch out for:

  • Don't press in front of your body.
  • Don't arch your back (too much).
  • Don't start the lift in your legs and let momentum do all the work.
  • Don't stop before you get your arms straight.

Approximately 26.2 million postmenopausal women have either osteoporosis or osteopenia and are at an increased risk of fracture, particularly at the vertebrae, forearm, and hip. Of these three body parts, fractures of the vertebrae are the most common (approximately 56% of all fractures). One potential intervention for increasing or maintaining vertebral bone mineral density (BMD) is weight-bearing exercise. So let's all take advantage of this low-cost, nonpharmacologic intervention whether you are a postmenopausal woman or not.

Strong bones are important for everybody and every body.

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All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Brock Armstrong Get-Fit Guy

Brock Armstrong was the host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast between 2017 and 2021. He is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute.