Cuban Press A versatile shoulder exercise

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The Cuban press, which anecdotally can be traced back to the Cuban weightlifters of the 1960s, is in fact a step-by-step muscle snatch. Originally an aid exercise for weightlifters, the Cuban press today has a much wider range of applications.

The Cuban press is in fact a combination of three exercises: an upright row, external rotation (turning the upper arm outwards or upwards from this position) and finally an overhead press. That makes the Cuban press a real compound exercise.


The three characteristic phases of the exercises target different muscles. The upright row mainly appeals to your middle shoulder head. The external rotation focuses specifically on your infraspinatus – or lower spine muscle – which is assisted by your posterior shoulder head. Finally, the press mainly targets your front shoulder. Your traps, teres minor, biceps, triceps and some other muscles are also put to work.


The Cuban press is certainly not a replacement for basic exercises such as the overhead press, dumbbell shoulder press and upright row. You can perform both presses and rows heavier than the Cuban press, in which the external rotation is the limiting factor. Because of this external rotation, the exercise is especially popular as prehab exercise, an exercise aimed at injury prevention, in this case by strengthening the shoulder joint.

If you train for strength and/or muscle mass, the Cuban press cannot match the basic exercises. It is, however, an efficient exercise: you tackle your entire shoulder section with it. And you will get quite a good pump because of the constant muscle tension. Also, for some much-needed variety, it may be worth incorporating the Cuban press into your schedule, but again, not as a basic exercise.

It’s different for weightlifters. The Cuban press is similar to the muscle snatch. And the muscle snatch is a better snatch exercise—one of the two parts of weightlifting—that emphasizes strength rather than explosivenessStrength-wise, weightlifters can benefit from the Cuban Press. For them, the drill acts as a carryover to the snatch.


Weightlifters use a barbell for the Cuban press. In principle you can also use a few dumbbells.

Unlike the muscle snatch, you do not perform the Cuban press explosively, but in a controlled manner. The muscle snatch is almost one fluid movement, while the Cuban press is divided into three recognizable phases.

This is how you perform the Cuban press correctly.

  • Grab a barbell with a pronated (palms facing you), medium-wide grip (equal to your grip width on the bench press).
  • Raise the barbell until your elbows are in line with your shoulders, or until your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Your wrist joint is almost directly below your elbow joint.
  • Now rotate your upper arm 180 degrees so that your forearms are pointing straight up and the bar is at about eye level. Keep your elbows in the same place all the time.
  • Now push the weight further until your arms are fully extended as in a normal overhead press.
  • Reverse the steps to return to the starting position and repeat.

If a standard 20 kg barbell is too heavy for you, you can also use a lighter 15 kg barbell (“women’s bar”) or an EZ curl bar.

The version with dumbbells looks like this:


You can do the Cuban press as a warm-up or as a conclusion to your shoulder training. A set or three is sufficient. Use light weights, especially in the beginning, and aim for 12-15 reps. As you get a little stronger, you can gradually increase the weight you use and lower the number of reps to 8.

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