VIKING PRESS - THE ULTIMATE SHOULDER BUILDER

February 10, 2022 6 min read

Viking press

The Viking Press is traditionally a strongman competition lift in which the athlete is required to perform as many repetitions as possible.   The movement is essentially an overhead press of a max weight and in a competition the athlete is required to lock out arms and legs in order for the rep to count towards their total.

Over the past few years it has been gaining popularity in strength training circles with some gyms even investing in a Viking Press machine for their members.  This is because it’s an excellent movement to isolate the shoulders building both muscle and strength. 

WHAT MUSCLES DOES THE VIKING PRESS WORK?

At its core the Viking Press is a movement that targets the anterior, medial and posterior deltoids. 

However, because of the secondary muscles it can work, it is classed as a compound movement meaning it will hit a number of muscle groups. 

These include the following:

CORE MUSCLES

The Viking press exercise will involve a lot of stabilisation due to the amount of force being transmitted throughout your body, allowing you to press the weight overhead.   

LEGS

Unless you lock out your entire body when doing the Viking press and prefer to start with a knee dip (giving you momentum to push up the weight) then you’ll be engaging much of your leg muscles during this exercise.

TRICEPS

As well as being a fantastic shoulder building exercise, the Viking press will also give a great workout to the triceps.  You’ll be using your triceps when you lock out at the top of the movement and also incorporating these muscles on the downward part of this exercise. 

Primary muscles worked during a Viking press movement;

shoulder muscles

HOW TO PERFORM THE VIKING PRESS

WITH A MACHINE

The easiest way of incorporating a Viking press exercise into your routine is to make use of a machine dedicated to this exercise.

The Viking press machine is very simple to use and generally features an adjustable upright which you would modify depending on your height and ideal starting position.  The weight of the frame alone can be heavy enough for some users, with some wanting to add a few plates to increase that weight. 

  1. Once the machine is set up correctly you can either perform the exercise facing towards or away from it.
  2. Stand in between the handles whilst keeping your feet at around shoulder width apart.
  3. Position your hands on the grips.
  4. If you want to isolate the shoulders, keep your legs locked out with no bending at the knees and simply press up until your arms are locked out then return back to the starting position.
  5. If you want to incorporate more muscles, once you are holding the grips bend the knees slightly and explode upwards until legs and arms are locked out.
  6. You will likely isolate the shoulders with a lighter weight whilst using more of your legs when going much heavier to give you the momentum needed to complete the exercise.

Typically a machine would offer two different handle positions; these would be pronated and supinated grips.  Pronated grips will allow you to press whilst keeping your palms facing away from your body whereas supinated would be pressing with palms facing towards your body. 

The two different grips on the machine would allow for more or less emphasis on different muscles giving you a bit more versatility. 

Some machines do have quite a heavy starting weight.  This is because the frame alone is heavy before adding any plates to the machine.  This has the unfortunate outcome of meaning it cannot always be used by people.  That being said, some machines do offer a counter balance.  This counter balance would be located to the rear of the machine and would allow the user to add a plate or two.  This would offset some of the frame weight making the starting weight considerably lighter meaning it is more accessible to users. 

It is worth investigating different Viking press machines on what they offer before investing as some are definitely more user friendly than others. 

WITHOUT A MACHINE

If your gym does not have access to a Viking press machine than an alternative could be by using a Viking press attachment.  This is a handle attachment that generally locks onto a standard Olympic barbell.  The end of the barbell can then be placed into the corners of a wall (this is to keep the barbell as secure as possible) or can be fixed via a landmine attachment.  A landmine attachment is an apparatus that is anchored either to the floor or a power rack (this would be safer than using just the wall for support). 

The main drawback to undertaking the Viking press exercise in this way is that you are required to lift the weight from floor level (as opposed to starting from shoulder height with the machine) making injuries more likely if you’re not careful.  This also makes it near impossible to really go heavy. 

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF THE VIKING PRESS

Because of the different grips offered with a Viking press machine, opting for the supinated grip is very shoulder friendly and keeps a lot of stress away from your wrists.  So if you happen to suffer from any shoulder or wrist problems, undertaking the Viking press in this way would help to minimise any problems. 

As mentioned above, the machine allows you to start the weight at shoulder height.  Not only is this more beneficial from a health and safety perspective it also means you can press a heavier weight.  You will also be preserving your energy for pressing and not expending it, just getting the weight into position. 

When doing a Viking press with a dip knee to provide momentum, you’ll be giving your body a full workout by using legs, core and your arms and shoulders.  As such, this makes the Viking press a very versatile exercise. 

ARE THERE ANY ALTERNATIVES TO THE VIKING PRESS?

If you don’t have access to the Viking press machine, detailed below are some substitutes to give those shoulders a great workout.

Neutral Grip Dumbbell Shoulder Press

This is going to target the same muscles as using a Viking press machine, you may need a spotter to assist with getting heavy dumbbells into place and also for any failed lifts. 

  1. Start by standing with feet shoulder width apart
  2. Keeping your forearms vertical, hold the dumbbells at shoulder height whilst keeping your palms facing inwards.
  3. You can press the weight directly up and overhead either by locking out your legs or dip the knees for momentum if you prefer.
  4. Lock out the arms at the top of the movement then return back to the starting position.

Shoulder Press Machine

Using the shoulder press machine means sitting for this exercise which of course will remove any leg involvement.  That being said, you should be able to undertake with a supinated grip and as it supports your back this would be a great alternative for those with lower body injuries. 

Trap Bar Overhead Press

Even though the trap bar is traditionally used for deadlifts you can also use this bar for targeting the shoulders.  You’ll also need access to a full power rack.  Here’s how to set up to mimic the Viking press movement:

  1. Set the safety bars on the power rack to shoulder height. Choose the same height as you would if using a Viking press machine. 
  2. Place the hex trap bar on the safety and load up with weight (if required).
  3. Standing between the handles, use the grips to press the weight above you until arms are locked out.
  4. You can either lock out the legs for complete shoulder isolation or incorporate the legs for a more explosive movement and all over body workout.

The Push Press

This movement will hit the very same muscles as the Viking Press and can be used with either a barbell or dumbbells.  If using a bar, set up in a power rack so you can start at shoulder height preserving your energy for the pressing!

The drawback to the push press movement is that your grip will be pronated (palms facing away from you) so it’s not as shoulder or wrist friendly so if you happen to suffer with any wrist problems you may want to avoid this one. 

CONCLUSION

The Viking Press is a great exercise to incorporate into your training, whether you’re looking to improve shoulder strength and add muscle mass or for an all over workout. 

If you have access to the Viking press machine, that’s great.  If not, consider the above alternatives and reap the benefits of this fantastic exercise. 


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