In the Starting Strength chapter on the over-head press, Rippletoe writes

The press starts at the rack with the empty bar. After a good shoulder warm-up, approach the bar.

I suppose this means that doing reps with an empty bar does not constitute the shoulder warm-up. What kind of exercise should I do before pressing?

3 Answers 3


+1 for the joint rotations/etc, but I'd also just do overhead presses with nothing--just move your arms up and down, with your hands at varying widths, keeping your elbows in the same plane as the body.

I also do a vertically-oriented breast stroke while rotating my wrists through a full range of motion; it's one of my favorite "just move" uh... moves.

(Not related, but senior citizens seem to really like it too.)


Personally I do a thorough set of joint rotations and arm swings in all directions.

The goals are to raise the temperature of our body (particularly our shoulder girdle and trunk), get synovial fluid flowing in the joints, detect any joint or muscle issues before we get started with an external load, and do a little bit of mobility improvement (perhaps "ungluing" some tissue, as Kelly Starrett says) so that we are sure to safely hit our entire range of motion. Joint rotations, maybe some jumping or running around, and arm swings hit all those goals for me.

Getting these points out of the way allows us to safely do our activity-specific warm-up, which is to say, pressing weights that are very light for us.


In additional to joint rotations I like to start any compound movement with a set of 5-8 repetitions at 50% of whatever my target weight for that exercise is at. Using the lighter weight sometimes feels strange but focus on a controlled movement and good form. Resist the temptation to just blow through your warm up with speed.

Additionally if this is an exercise where I have plateau-ed I keep the "warm-up" weights nearby, so I can do a drop set if can't complete the last set.

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