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Big 4: Overhead Press

Welcome to the third, and final installment of the Big 4 series.  So far, the deadlift has been covered here , and the bench press here.This series is comprised of four major barbell lifts, the bench, squat, overhead press, and deadlift. These four exercises are the most efficient exercises for building strength, power, confidence, and an impressive physique.

large 7223394614 Big 4: Overhead Press

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This installment will cover the overhead press, also known as the military press or barbell press. Unlike the bench press, squat, and deadlift, the overhead press has unfortunately been removed from powerlifting and Olympic lifting competition, which has led to a decrease in popularity. The overhead press is performed by standing (yes standing, not seated on a bench “Bucko”) and pressing a weighted barbell overhead. The overhead press is exceptional in that it not only builds ridiculously strong shoulders and triceps; it also challenges the core, upper back, and lats to maintain posture while pushing the bar directly overhead.

As with the bench press there are many critics of the overhead press because of shoulder injuries; however, this is due to poor form and a lack of balance in training. Chances are if your joints are giving you pain on an exercise it’s because your form is incorrect or you have muscle imbalances, get those fixed before throwing an exercise in the trash. The overhead press is a safer upper body press than the bench press because it forces the back muscles, core muscles (abs, obliques, glutes, errectors, serratus anterior and everything in-between) and shoulder muscles to stabilize a load overhead while allowing the scapula to actively move through a full range of motion. The overhead press will build stronger, healthier shoulders while also providing much-needed stability for the shoulder joint due to the synergy required among the bodies muscles to properly perform the exercise.

Here is how to perform overhead press:

Set Up

  • Either power clean the weight into position or un-rack the weight from a squat rack set at sternum level.
  • Grip the Bar with a slightly wider than shoulder width grip and squeeze until your knuckles are white.

-Play with using a false grip (thumbs not wrapped around the bar), it works better for some people, but is not as safe.

  • Breath in the air you can to stabilize your torso and squat the bar out of the rack, keeping your lats and upper back tight.
  • Keep the bar and chest high, this will create a larger base from which to push from as the bar sits higher on the anterior deltoids.
  • Find a fixed object and stare at it, no need to look up or down, tuck your chin and pack your neck.

Concentric

  • Squeeze those cheeks! Squeezing your glutes will help to stabilize your torso. This will prevent you from excessively arching your lower back.
  • Push the bar overhead without extending the knees, this is not a push press.
  • When the bar clears you head, shift your head and body underneath the bar.
  • Squeeze your shoulders down and together, as if you were putting them into your back pocket.
  • Fully lockout the elbows and stabilize the weight overhead on each rep, this builds a powerful lockout and will make for a healthier, stronger shoulder.

Eccentric

  • Lower the weight back to collarbone level if possible, otherwise as low as your chin will suffice.
  • Keep the bar racked high on your chest as your start each rep.

Miscellaneous Tips

  • Consider investing in a pair of wraps, I use these Wrist Wraps and they work just fine.
  • Push the bar overhead not out in front of the body. If you push out in front you will lose upper back tightness and total body stability.
  • Learn to bail on the lift correctly or perform the presses in a power rack with supports underneath you. Don’t crush your noggin’ junior!

The Overhead press is a great lift that hopefully will gain popularity and yet again become a mainstay in fitness programming. It not only builds strength, but stability and power in the upper body. Press on!

Please leave your comments below,
Cheers,

Eric Bach, CSCS

Copyright 2012 by Eric R Bach.  All rights reserved.  This material may not be duplicated or distributed without written consent from the author.

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2 Comments

  • Soc

    May 18, 2012

    You say keep the elbows high but wouldnt this cause the forearms to be too horizontal? For efficient pressing you need your forearms directly underneath the bar to press straight up. With high elbows you risk putting undie stress on the wrists as they will need to be bent to start the bar up off the shoulders.

  • bachfitness

    May 18, 2012

    I Understand your point. With the elbows higher(I’m not talking high as in a front squat, poor description on my part)the bar sits higher on the anterior deltoid/clavicle region, which reduces the distance the bar must travel. Each rep should start with the elbows slightly in front of the bar and the chest up. The head must tilt back and allow the bar to pass by. Thanks much for your feedback!

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