There are so many different ways I could go at this point. After covering the squat vs the leg press, the traditional vs the sumo deadlift, the pulldown vs the pull up and the bench press vs the dumbbell fly, the path in front of me feels literally wide open. This is because the lifts I’ve looked at thus far are the main lifts in any lifting program and now that I’ve covered those basics I can move on to some lesser used comparisons in this Vs series. Unless of course I’ve neglected another very basic lift that every lifter does in one way or another, which is exactly what I’ve done. I’m of course talking about the overhead press.
Name me one training program that does not include some sort of overhead pressing. Didn’t think you could. From powerlifting, Olympic lifting, cross fit, every weight/exercise class I’ve ever seen and of course bodybuilding, all of the above rely heavily on some form of overhead press to develop the shoulders amongst other things. If there is one exercise you need to do to increase your bench press, this is it. So where am I going with this with regards to the Vs series? I intend to look at the standing vs seated overhead press – dumbbell and barbell.
Why am I essentially putting four different lifts against each other? Well, in short because of this study (1) that I found. In this particular study the seated dumbbell, barbell and standing dumbbell and barbell overhead presses were looked at for their ability to activate the different muscles of the shoulder. The anterior, medial and posterior deltoids were tested as well as the biceps and triceps brachii. What the researchers expected to find was that all four of the exercises would show equal activation of the above mentioned muscles but the stability provided by being seated as well as using a barbell would result in greater strength.
15 healthy men aged 22 (+/- two years) with an average weight of 174 pounds (+/- 30 lbs) and an average height of 5’ 10.5” (+/- 2.5”) who were not competitive power or Olympic lifters, but did have five or more years of strength training, were used in this study. Four different testing sessions were used to 1) determine a 1RM in the seated barbell and seated dumbbell overhead press, 2) determine a 1RM in the standing barbell and dumbbell overhead press, 3) using 80% of their 1RM, perform 5 repetitions on each exercise and lastly 4) identical to the third session, but with EMG measurements to determine muscle activity during the four different lifts.
The Anterior Deltoid EMG results:
Seated barbell vs. seated dumbbell – muscle activation was 11% greater for the seated dumbbell press.
Standing barbell vs. standing dumbbell – muscle activation was 15% greater for the standing dumbbell press.
Seated dumbbell vs. standing dumbbell – muscle activation was 8% greater for the standing dumbbell press.
Middle Deltoid EMG results:
Standing barbell vs. standing dumbbell – muscle activation was 7% greater for the standing dumbbell press.
Seated dumbbell vs. standing barbell – muscle activation was 7% greater for the standing barbell press.
Posterior Deltoid EMG results:
Seated barbell vs. standing barbell – muscle activation was 25% greater for the standing barbell press.
Seated dumbbell vs. standing dumbbell – muscle activation was 24% greater for the standing dumbbell press.
Biceps Brachii EMG results:
Seated barbell vs. seated dumbbell – muscle activation was 33% greater for the seated barbell press.
Standing barbell vs. standing dumbbell – muscle activation was 16% greater for the standing barbell press.
Seated dumbbell vs. standing dumbbell – muscle activation was 23% greater for the standing dumbbell press.
Triceps Brachii EMG results:
Standing barbell vs. standing dumbbell – muscle activation was 39% greater for the standing barbell press.
Seated barbell vs. standing barbell – muscle activation was 20% greater for the standing barbell press.
As far as the 1RM strength test was concerned, the standing barbell overhead press was 7% greater than the standing dumbbell overhead press and the seated barbell overhead press was 10% greater than the seated dumbbell overhead press.
What do all of these numbers mean for you and I who are mostly concerned with building muscle and strength? It means that any form of standing press requires more stability which means that it will result in a lower 1RM, BUT the exercises that required the greatest amount of stability, meaning the standing barbell or dumbbell overhead press, required greater neuromuscular activity in the deltoids as well as the biceps and triceps brachii than did the seated version of both of the lifts.
This is somewhat of a surprise to me, but the clear winner as far as building muscle is concerned is both the standing barbell and dumbbell overhead press. It always made sense to me that when seated our core would have to do less work and therefore the shoulders would be able to do more, but this apparently is not the case. If a higher 1RM is your priority then the seated version is what you should focus on, but that is very few of us reading at this site. I know what I’m doing next shoulder day and the only thing I’ll be using the bench for is to rest between sets. Until next time my friends,
This article was researched and written by Matt Taylor
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