7 Best Vertical Push Exercises (with Pictures!)

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
November 27, 2022

Among the various resistance exercises available, one method of classifying them into groups is by the direction in which the muscles of the body exert force throughout the exercise.

Vertical push exercises are a further sub-grouping of this method, wherein the exerciser will create opposing force at an upward angle so as to complete whatever exercise is being performed.

The most common examples of vertical push exercises are the overhead press, the landmine press and the Arnold press - each of which involve an exertion of force at an outward and upward angle throughout the majority of the repetition.

What is a Vertical Push Exercise?

Vertical push exercises are characterized by an upward pressing motion that involves the musculature of the upper body, usually in the form of free weight exercises. 

push pull legs or ppl

In particular, vertical push exercises are also known as shoulder exercises, and are most often performed in tandem with other pushing exercises like the bench press so as to produce a more well-rounded workout.

Vertical push exercises are often performed to produce greater muscle mass and strength in the shoulders and other muscle groups that make up the upper body, though certain types of athletes will also perform these vertical pushing movements so as to produce a carry-over to their respective sport.

Muscles Worked by Vertical Push Exercises

Vertical push exercises will primarily target the anterior, posterior and medial heads of the deltoid muscle group, as well as the triceps brachii - both of which will act as the primary mover muscles throughout the majority of vertical pressing exercises.

Other muscle groups that are occasionally recruited (depending on the exercise) are the pectoral muscles, the trapezius muscles and the biceps brachii.

Benefits of Training Push Muscles Vertically

Performing vertical push exercises improved the stability and maximal force output of the shoulder muscles, as well as increased general non-muscle tissue density in the shoulder girdle area. 

In turn, this will result in a healthier and less injury-prone upper body, as well as greater athletic capacity in activities that directly involve a vertical pressing motion.

Apart from these benefits, vertical push exercises are also quite effective at building explosiveness at a vertical angle, especially in regards to the push press exercise which is specifically made for developing such an aspect of physical strength.

Vertical Push Exercises

1. The Military Press or Overhead Press

Also occasionally abbreviated to simply “OHP”, the military press is the quintessential vertical push exercise, acting as the basis and among one of the most effective overhead pressing exercises in a lifter’s repertoire.

military press

The military press targets the medial and anterior heads of the deltoid muscles alongside the triceps brachii, and is generally considered to be one of the standard tests of a lifter’s strength as it is performed entirely without jerking or other methods of increasing force development.

Purpose

The military press is performed so as to develop muscle mass and strength in the shoulders of the lifter, wherein its slow and controlled execution equates to maximum muscular hypertrophy and therefore better results in these aspects of training.

Variations

Quite a number of variations of the military press are available, the majority of which simply change the angle at which the bar is moved or the sort of equipment that is being utilized.

Among the most common variations of the military press are the behind-the-neck press and the dumbbell overhead press - both of which alter the target of the exercise by changing how the muscles of the lifter are utilized throughout the movement.

How-to:

To begin performing the military press, the exerciser will step beneath the bar with their hands wider than shoulder-width apart along the barbell prior to unracking it and stepping into the clear space of the rack.

Then, pulling the head back and flexing the deltoid muscles, the exerciser will extend their elbows upward until the arms have reached a state of full extension and the barbell is pushed overhead.

Once complete, the exerciser will then allow the bar to return to its original position in a slow and controlled manner, stopping once the bar has been lowered to their clavicle or neck area.

This completes a repetition of the overhead press exercise.

2. The Push Press

The push press is often considered the more functional and explosive alternative to the military press, wherein it is most often seen in athletic or olympic weightlifting training programs for the purposes of improving rate of force development throughout the entirety of the body.

push press

However, due to the intricacies of pushing large amounts of weight overhead in such an explosive manner, the push press is considered to be an advanced level exercise that is not a legitimate substitute to more traditional compound shoulder exercises.

Purpose

The main purpose of the push press within a training program is to develop power and explosiveness at an overhead capacity, aiding in athletic performance and also being quite efficient and breaking overhead press progress plateaus in powerlifters.

Additionally, the push press may also be used as a method of improving bodily coordination when under heavy load - another factor that is quite important in athletic performance.

Variations

The push press is primarily a stand-alone exercise with few variations due to the manner in which it is performed.

The sole alternatives to the push press primarily feature changes in equipment that retain the safety and capacity for cohesive muscular explosiveness as the standard olympic barbell, such as kettlebells or dumbbells.

How-to:

To begin performing the push press, the exerciser will begin by loading their military press working weight onto a barbell as it remains in the rack, setting their hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart along the barbell.

Then, unracking the barbell and resting it atop their chest shelf as they step into the open space of the rack, the exerciser will spread their feet hip width apart as they bend at the knees slightly, squeezing their chest and core muscles as they do so.

Once in the starting position, the exerciser will then explosively press the barbell upwards, utilizing momentum derived from extension of the knees as well as regular activation of upper body musculature so as to push the barbell overhead.

Once the arms have reached a state of full extension, the exerciser will allow the barbell to slowly return to its original position atop their chest shelf - thereby completing the repetition.

3. The Arnold Press

Named after the arguably most famous bodybuilder of all time, the Arnold press is a variation of the standard dumbbell shoulder press with enough variation in its movement pattern to be considered an entirely different exercise altogether.

arnold presses

The Arnold press is an intermediate to advanced level exercise performed as a progression from the standard dumbbell press, or otherwise as a method of targeting the muscle groups of the arms and shoulders in a slightly different capacity.

Purpose

The purpose of the Arnold press is to induce significant muscle mass growth and strength development in the deltoid muscles, triceps brachii and (to a certain extent) the biceps brachii as well.

Furthermore, it may be used as a method of improving shoulder and wrist rotation stability as it involves both of these biomechanics quite significantly.

Variations

The Arnold press is considered to be a standalone exercise only truly possible with unilateral equipment like dumbbells and kettlebells, and does not have any possible variations relevant to physical training.

How-to:

To begin performing the Arnold press, the exerciser will grip a pair of dumbbells in both hands with the dumbbells held at approximately shoulder height and the palms facing inwards, as if one is at the apex of a particularly narrow bicep curl.

Then, the exerciser will begin pushing the dumbbells overhead, rotating their wrists simultaneously until the arms reach full extension with the palms facing outwards. 

Once the initial phase of the movement has been completed, the exerciser will then simply reverse this motion in a slow and controlled manner, stopping once the dumbbells have returned to their inwardly-facing position at the initial start of the repetition.

This completes a single repetition of the Arnold press, with subsequent repetitions beginning from this inwardly-facing position instead of requiring the exerciser to raise the dumbbells to shoulder-height once more..

4. The Landmine Press

The landmine press is a unilateral vertical push exercise that involves the use of a barbell and landmine attachment so as to create a unique angle of resistance and movement pattern that is otherwise difficult to replicate with other exercises.

landmine press

This particular vertical pushing exercise is preferred by individuals who wish to move their shoulders in a more natural manner, reducing the risk of injury and allowing the scapula to be fully utilized without major stress being placed upon its tissues.

Furthermore, the landmine press is also quite effective at training the entirety of the deltoid muscle group as a whole - meaning that the anterior deltoid head is recruited as effectively as the medial and posterior heads as well.

Purpose

The landmine press - like most pressing exercises - is performed for the purpose of developing size and strength in the deltoid muscles. 

Where the landmine press excels however, is in maximizing force output within the shoulder’s natural range of motion, effectively acting as a more joint-friendly alternative to many other vertical pressing exercises.

In addition, the unilateral nature of the landmine press allows for greater proportionality and mind-muscle connection to occur, further cementing its place among the more rehabilitative and safe vertical pushing movements available.

Variations

The landmine press primarily acts as a standalone exercise and its sole variation features the exerciser performing the movement with both hands as opposed to a single hand, effectively switching the exercise to a bilateral one - as well as recruiting the pectoral muscles to a greater degree.

How-to:

To begin performing the landmine press, the exerciser will fasten one end of a barbell to a landmine attachment, with the other end being loaded with a moderate amount of weight.

Then, gripping this loaded end in one hand and raising it to approximately clavicle-height, the exerciser will create a stable base by bending slightly at the knees and flexing their core musculature.

Once this has been achieved, the exerciser will then press the weight upwards and somewhat forward, keeping the barbell perpendicular to the shoulder being used without any sideways movement.

Stopping once the barbell has reached a sufficient enough elevation to cause full elbow extension, the exerciser will then allow the barbell to slowly lower back to clavicle-height, ending the repetition.

Various Machine-Based Vertical Push Exercises

Apart from free weight vertical push exercises, there are a few machine-based movements that also replicate the training stimulus featured in their free weight counterparts, usually with the added benefit of reduced injury risk and a constant time under tension.

5. Machine Shoulder Press

The machine shoulder press is essentially the standard overhead press performed with the use of a resistance machine, thereby reducing stabilizer muscle contraction but providing numerous benefits like greater maximal load and reduced injury risk.

machine shoulder press

The machine shoulder press is best utilized as either an alternative to the standard overhead press, or as a secondary compound exercise meant to reinforce and support training stimulus placed on the deltoid muscles.

6. Seated Machine Bench Press

Though not entirely a vertical push, the seated machine bench press nonetheless involves much the same biomechanics and muscular recruitment as other vertical pushing exercises, making it unique among chest press exercises as a vertical pushing movement.

Various Calisthenic Vertical Push Exercises

In the event that you are away from the gym or otherwise wish to incorporate the benefits of bodyweight exercises into your routine, there are a few vertical push movements classified as calisthenic exercises available.

7. Handstand Push-Ups

An advanced calisthenic exercise that involves the exerciser pressing themselves away from the floor in an inverted position, handstand push-ups are the quintessential vertical pushing movement of calisthenic exercises.

handstand push up

The reason they are not frequently performed is simply due to the difficulty they involve, usually requiring great upper body strength and core stability in order to complete even a single repetition.

As such, less advanced calisthenics athletes have taken to leaning against a wall as they perform handstand push-ups, reducing the intensity and difficulty of the exercise and allowing them to produce effective training stimulus therein.

8. Pike Push-Ups

Considered a progression to full bodyweight inversion exercises, the pike push-up is a variation of the standard push-up wherein the exerciser will angle their torso downwards, producing a vertical angle of resistance while recruiting the muscle of the deltoids and triceps.

pike push up

Pike push-ups are more accessible than handstand push-ups and may be performed without the direct involvement of the core musculature, allowing higher volume sets and arguably greater muscular hypertrophy.

In Conclusion

Though we’ve covered the most common vertical pushing exercises in this article, there are still dozens more - all with more niche purposes and varying levels of complexity.

If you have not found the ideal vertical push exercise for your goals here, we encourage you to keep searching, as there is likely a perfect candidate for your training somewhere out there.

References

1. Soriano, M.A., Suchomel, T.J. & Comfort, P. Weightlifting Overhead Pressing Derivatives: A Review of the Literature. Sports Med 49, 867–885 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-019-01096-8

2. McKean MR, Burkett BJ. Overhead shoulder press—in-front of the head or behind the head? J Sport Health Sci. 2015;4(3):250–7.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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