The Best Shoulder Exercises

The best shoulder exercises are standing overhead presses and handstand presses.  They build the strength and muscle mass of the deltoids, trapezius and triceps. 

In the Gaining Strength program you build the strength and size of the shoulders with the standing overhead press (a.k.a. the press).  

Standing Overhead Press

The standing overhead press is a fundamental exercise for building strength and size of the shoulders and arms.

The standing overhead press is better than the handstand for progressing in vertical pushing strength because it is more easily scaled and incrementally progressed than any handstand or handstand press variation.  

You will do the standing overhead press because it increases the strength of your base and teaches you how to use your body as a unit to transmit force from your feet through your torso to your arms.  

You can do the standing overhead press with a barbell, dumbbells, or Bodylastics resistance bands. Either has the advantage of systematic incremental progression, while resistance bands have the advantage of providing increased resistance in the overhead position where you are stronger.  

The barbell press is fundamental and has advantages to the dumbbell press in several respects, including: 1) it is easier to load and systematically progress a barbell than dumbbells; 2) it is easier to safely get a barbell to your shoulders – using a rack – than to get dumbbells of adequate weight to your shoulders; and 3) overall the barbell provides a superior neuromuscular stimulus due to a combination of stabilizing and greater load.1

However, a 2013 study found that the standing dumbbell press elicited the highest neuromuscular activity of all three heads of the deltoids (compared to seated dumbbell press or barbell press performed either seated or standing).2  The standing press with Bodylastics resistance bands introduces the greater instability of pressing with arms moving independently, while eliminating the difficulty of getting heavy dumbbells to the shoulders.  

Handstand Press Training

The handstand press is a fundamental gymnastic strength training vertical pushing exercise.

If you desire, you can incorporate it in the Gaining Strength program as an alternate or addition to standing overhead press.  

The main problem with the handstand press is that you need to be able to press at least a portion of your bodyweight in a pike press to use it progressively, and then because your body most likely weighs more than you can press it is very difficult to scale and incrementally progress the handstand press.  In addition free standing handstand presses require development of unusual balance skill.  Then when you get to a full handstand press how do you add load?  Again it is a challenge.  

Finally, there is no normal activity wherein you stand on your hands to accomplish some task, whereas there are many occasions when one must lift something overhead while standing on your feet.  Therefore I think most people should forget about doing handstand presses and do the press with Bodylastics bands, dumbbells, or barbell instead. 

The Best Shoulder Exercises Summary

When doing the Gaining Strength program, you do the best shoulder exercise, the standing press with  Bodylastics bands, dumbbells, or a barbell.


1.  Fimland, M. (2013). Effects of Body Position and Loading Modality on Muscle Activity and Strength in Shoulder Presses. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(7), 1824–1831-1824&ndash-ndash;1831-1824–1831.

2. Saeterbakken AH, Fimland MS. Effects of body position and loading modality on muscle activity and strength in shoulder presses. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Jul;27(7):1824-31. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318276b873. PMID: 23096062.

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