How to Master The Overhead Press

The Overhead Press is a full body compound exercise that works your shoulders the most. You perform the Overhead Press by lifting the bar from your front shoulders overhead until your elbows are locked.

Your knees and hips must remain locked through the whole movement otherwise you’re doing Push Press. Your stance should be shoulder-width apart because heels together is a Military Press and harder.

You can see me Overhead Press in the StrongLifts 5×5 Workout B video, at 18:34


Is the Overhead Press Safe?
If you can’t press the bar overhead, lower it back on your chest & put it on the floor like in the above Overhead Press video. You’ll never find yourself stuck under the bar like with the Bench Press.

Like with any barbell exercise, you’ll have problems finding balance the first time you try to Overhead Press. Start light, focus on your technique & add weight progressively. You’ll improve. And make sure you press the bar right above your ears – not too far forward or back, otherwise you’ll lose balance (because the bar isn’t over the middle over your foot, your balance point).

4 Reasons To Overhead Press. You can lift more weight with the Bench Press than with the Overhead Press. But the Overhead Press has many benefits over the Bench Press. Some examples:

  • Full Body. The Overhead Press works your body as one piece. Your trunk & legs stabilize the weight while your shoulders, upper-chest & arms press the weight overhead.
  • Builds Muscle. Abs & back stabilize the weight. Shoulders, upper-chest & triceps press the weight overhead. The Overhead Press builds the physique of old-time strongman like Eugen Sandow.
  • Healthy Shoulders. The Bench Press works your front shoulders more than your back shoulders. The Overhead Press works all shoulder heads equally. Alternating the Overhead Press with the Bench Press minimizes risks of shoulder injuries caused by muscle imbalances.
  • It’s Fun. Picking up a weight from the floor & pressing it overhead is more fun than pressing the same weight while lying on a Bench.

Overhead Press Setup. Put the bar on your front shoulders by taking it out of the uprights of your power rack or by Powercleaning the weight on every set.

  • Foot Stance. Don’t put your heels together (that’s a Military Press) but shoulder-width apart. This will increase stability and thus strength.
  • Grip Width. About shoulder-width apart. The larger your build, the wider your grip. Hands should never touch your shoulders.
  • Gripping the Bar. Grip is same as for the Bench Press. Bar close to your wrist, in the base of your palm. Not close to your fingers.
  • Chest Up. Make a big chest & lift it up. Makes it easier to use your back muscles & shortens the distance the bar has to travel.
  • Elbows Forward. Elbows in front of the barbell when looking from the side. Not upper-arms parallel with the floor, it’s not a Front Squat.
  • Look Forward. Looking up is bad for your neck. Look forward, fix a point on the wall before you.
  • Squeeze Your Glutes. Makes it impossible to arch your lower back, thus increasing safety. Squeeze your glutes hard.

Performing the Overhead Press. Press the bar overhead in a straight line, that’s the shortest distance from start to finish. Unfortunately your head is in the way. So you’ll need to move your head & torso during the Overhead Press.

  • Tilt Head Back. Quickly tilt your head back so the bar can pass your chin/nose without hitting them. Keep looking forward.
  • Shift Torso Forward. Once the bar reaches forehead level, shift your torso forward. Continue pressing the weight overhead.
  • Head Forward. Your chin should almost touch your chest when the weight is overhead. Look forward, not down.
  • Lock Everything. Press until your elbows are locked. Then shrug your traps for extra support.

Tips to Improve Your Overhead Press Technique. Common errors you’ll make while learning how to Overhead Press with correct technique.

  • Elbows Forward, Chest Up. You’ll forget to reposition yourself between reps at first. Start each rep with elbows in front of the bar & chest up.
  • Bar High. The higher the bar on your chest, the shorter the distance it has to travel. Put the bar close to your clavicles. Quickly tilt your head back & forth. Clavicles might hurt at first, your skin will adapt & thicken.
  • Go Forward. You’ll miss reps if you stay back vs. getting under the bar. Shift your torso forward when the bar reaches forehead level.
  • Breathing. If you breathe at the top, you can bounce the bar off your chest making the next rep easier. Breathe at the bottom & you’ll press from a dead stop, making the next rep harder. The former allows more weight. The latter makes the exercise harder, making the former easier.

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