Overhead presses are one of the greatest moves to develop shoulder strength and mass. They build up the deltoids and muscles that support the scapula, strengthening the shoulder through a wide range of motion and improving performance both in and out of the gym. But they’re not the single best shoulder exercise for men. That title belongs to the landmine shoulder press.
Why? Because even when you’re careful to crank out overhead presses with picture-perfect form, something is usually off. And even slight form flaws can eventually lead to pain or injury. Enter the landmine shoulder press.
What’s the Landmine Shoulder Press?
A landmine is a unique strength-training tool, created by securing one end of a barbell into a metal sleeve attached to the floor (or by wedging the end in a corner with towels or between two weights). The free end is then loaded with weight plates and used for resistance.
When it comes to the landmine shoulder press, the end is—you guessed it—pressed overhead using your shoulders.
“What truly separates the landmine shoulder press from other overhead shoulder press variations is the weight and shoulders’ movement path,” explains Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S., strength coach and owner of CORE training studio outside Boston.
With traditional shoulder presses, the weight travels straight up overhead in line with the ears, whereas the landmine demands an arched movement path. As you press the weight, it also moves forward in front of you in a curved trajectory.
Why the Landmine Shoulder Press Is So Effective
The landmine shoulder press’ movement path is important because it builds shoulders without the risks associated with most straight-overhead lifts.
Those risks, which include shoulder and low-back pain as well as wear and tear to shoulder cartilage, all stem from common shoulder mobility restrictions, Gentilcore says. These are typically due to a combination of sitting, hunching over phones and computers, muscular imbalances between the anterior and posterior chain, or simply not training mobility, he says.
The landmine shoulder press, however, doesn’t require above-average shoulder mobility, since you move the weight up and in front of the body. Translation: all of the benefits with less of a risk.
What’s more, the setup allows for pressing higher loads than typically possible with traditional military and overhead presses.
Pressing up and out, the shoulder is in a stronger position than pressing straight up. It also gets an assist from the chest muscles, further increasing how much weight you can handle, explains Prentiss Rhodes, C.P.T., product manager with the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
Plus, the landmine shoulder press is something of a mix between a free weight and fixed weight exercise, Rhodes explains. While the shoulders have to control the weight in some planes of motion, they don’t have to work as hard to stabilize a landmine as they do when moving a free barbell or dumbbells.
Still, the control that the landmine shoulder press does require is still sufficient to improve shoulder stability, Rhodes says, and it’s important to focus on owning each phase of the exercise with firm, packed shoulders. The overhead phase also requires a lot of stability from the core.
Last, it’s also worth considering grip: The landmine shoulder press is performed with a neutral grip, positioning the humerus, or upper-arm bone, within the shoulder socket in a joint-friendly way. A pronated grip during shoulder exercises tends to carry a higher risk of impingement and joint discomfort.
How to Do the Landmine Shoulder Press with Perfect Form
- Attach the barbell to the landmine with the appropriate weight plates and secure the load with a weight clip. If you don’t have a dedicated landmine available, you can place the end of a barbell in a corner (created by two walls) or two high, heavy, rubber weight plates.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, with the loaded end of the barbell between the balls of your feet. (Other options include a staggered stance, bracing on both knees, or sitting down with your legs outstretched in front of you.)
- With both hands, clean the barbell close to your chest with your elbows pointed straight down toward the floor.
- Keeping your core and lats braced, press the weight up until your arms are fully extended. To match the weight’s arched movement path, lean slightly forward from your ankles.
- Pause, slowly lower the weight back to your chest, and repeat.
“Technique-wise, it’s very important to keep the upper back flat and core engaged, and not allow any dipping into the low back,” says Roger Earle, C.S.C.S., C.P.T., co-author of Weight Training: Steps to Success. This prevents weight from dumping into and hurting the lower back while also preventing any forward rounding through the shoulders. Try to keep your legs, torso, and arms in one long, straight line throughout the entire exercise.
As a progression, you can try the landmine shoulder press from a half-kneeling or split stance position, pressing with one arm at a time (with the opposite leg forward). This will focus on unilateral strength and put a greater demand for stability on the shoulder and rotator cuff muscles. It will also train the core’s anti-rotational strength and obliques to a high degree , Rhodes notes.
How to Integrate the Landmine Shoulder Press into Your Workout Routine
The landmine shoulder press can fit seamlessly into any workout regimen. Depending on your programming schedule, you can add it to total-body, upper-body, push, and shoulder-specific workouts.
If the shoulder press is one of many overhead pressing movements in your arsenal, consider training it two to three times per week. However, if you also perform various shoulder presses with free weights or machines, integrating it into your workouts even once a week can be highly beneficial.
The right load for you is going to be very individual, and based on both your goals and shoulder health. Because the landmine shoulder press is a multi-joint move, you can load it with a relatively high-rep maximum to hone in on maximal strength. For example, try 4 sets of 6 reps or 5 sets of 5 reps.
You can also use moderate or light weights and higher reps to prioritize muscular endurance or to keep your risk of injury at a minimum if you have cranky joints or a history of shoulder problems. Consider everything from 3 sets of 12 or 15 reps to 4 or 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps. The heavier you go, the earlier in your workout you should hit the move.
And even though the landmine press doesn’t demand the utmost shoulder mobility, it never hurts to train it. Perform a few minutes of drills such as wall slides, serratus anterior slides with a foam roller, or shoulder rotations before taking hold of the landmine.
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