Standing vs. Sitting Dumbbell Shoulder Press

In an earlier article we discussed the dumbbell shoulder press, a great movement to gain valuable muscle mass, strength, and address asymmetries for athletes and lifters of all sports. When looking at the dumbbell shoulder press, some questions came up regarding which variation (sitting or standing) was best, and why.

Therefore, in this article we will briefly demo each exercise and discuss the distinct differences to help coached and athletes determine the best movement variation for their goals.

The Sitting Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Below is a brief demonstration of how to perform the sitting dumbbell shoulder press.

The Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press (Military Press)

Below is a brief demonstration of how to perform the standing dumbbell shoulder press.

Sitting vs Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Below are five differences between the sitting and the standing dumbbell press.

Core Strength and Stabilization

Lifting anything up overhead is a great way to develop core strength, however when doing from a standing position one can really maximize core stability. When sitting, the lifter is not required to fully support themselves (the seat will offer support), often allowing for increased loading and/or volume. In the standing press, core strength and stabilization is highly demanding, especially as the loads increase.

Isolation of Shoulders in Lift

Both pressing movements hit the shoulders, however the sitting press may be a more direct approach as it requires slightly less core stability and strength (often a contributor to weakness and failure in the standing press). Additionally, lifters may find that they have a harder time pressing from a sitting position relative the the standing, often because they cannot use leverage (leaning back) and additional core strength to move the barbell overhead.

Injury Precautions

In the event a lifter has issues with their lower body and lumbar spine, the standing press may aggravate the movement especially at heavier loads/higher volume as fatigue sets in and often leads to sloppier repetitions. The sitting press can be a great way to isolate the muscle groups needed to be hit while minimizing spinal extension, which will result in great shoulder usage and less leverage to move the lift (often leaning back into hyperextension of the spine).

Application to Muscular Hypertrophy

Due to the sitting press often allowing for increased emphasis on the shoulders (as the lifter does not need to stabilize the core as much as in the standing), the sitting press can often be a good way to isolate the pressing muscles to develop muscle hypertrophy. This is not to say that standing cannot build shoulder mass, it is just that often lack of core strength could be a leading contributor to the overall movement rather than shoulder fatigue (which is what we are looking for if training for hypertrophy).

Application to Strength and Power Sports

Seeing that strongman and weightlifting require a lifter to be standing and press/move heavy objects overhead, it’s safe to say that the standing version would have the most application to the specific sport movement, core stability, and overhead mechanics needed to succeed. The sitting press however, can and should be used to increase upper body strength and muscle mass, both of which can then be transitioned into more sport specific muscle fibers with training.

Increase Upper Body Strength and Mass NOW!

Increasing upper body strength, mass, and overhead performance shouldn’t be a mystery. Below are two articles you need to read if you are at all concerned about getting strong and healthy.

Featured Image: @barbellphotography and @ironhouseco on Instagram

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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.