Seated Vs. Standing Overhead Press

One of the most popular shoulder exercises on the planet and among bodybuilders is the seated dumbbell overhead press. However, with the increasing interest in barbell training the standing overhead press is making a comeback. Which one of the two is better – seated or standing military press.

U.S. strength coach Bill Starr performs the overhead press

U.S. strength coach Bill Starr performs the standing overhead press

The only benefit of the seated dumbbell press is that it allows you to use dumbbells and get them into position easier than if you were standing. Getting heavy dumbbells into position for pressing when you are upright is quite hard and unless you have some sort of hanging device, you will have to hang clean the dumbbells into position.

The good side of using dumbbells is that you develop unilateral strength and both arms receive similar amount of stimulation.


The biggest downfall of the seater dumbbell and barbell overhead press is that it places a lot of stress on your lower back. In general, your lower back does not like when you sit for prolonged amount of time.

Many office workers experience significant lower back pain due to sitting all day in front of a computer. When they are walking after work the lower back pain diminishes significantly. That’s because when you are standing there is less shear force than when you are sitting.

Also, when you are standing the core and the glutes can be  activated and stabilize the spine. That’s why walking is often one of the best remedies for chronic lower back pain.

The same logic applies to the seated overhead press – it places too much stress on the lower back region. For those reasons we recommend to do the overhead press a.k.a. military press from a standing position.

Make sure that you engage your core and flex your glutes. You have to form a sturdy surface from which to press. Don’t be surprised if the next day you have sore mid-section because of the overhead press. It’s sort of supposed to be this way, if you do the exercise properly.

Another benefit of the standing overhead press is that it’s actually less dangerous than the seated version which often requires a spotter in order to be done safely. When you are sitting on a bench and you have a heavy barbell over your head simply dropping it is not an option when you struggle to complete your set.

On the other hand when you are standing you can drop the barbell much more safely and with minimal risk of hurting yourself. Of course, you could damage the floor and ultimately you should never miss a rep.

Don’t train to complete failure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *