How to Overhead Press with Proper Form

Overhead Press

The Overhead Press: lift the bar from your shoulders over your head. Keep your legs locked at all times.

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, starting from 11:14

StrongLifts 5×5 Workout B: FULL Video (Official)


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. You can also clean the weight off the floor at the start of each set.

  • Foot Stance. Don’t put your heels together (that’s a Military Press) but about hip-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.
  • Forearms Vertical. Your forearms should be vertical to the floor from every angle. Straight line bar to wrist to elbow.
  • Look Forward. Looking up is bad for your neck. Look forward, fix a point on the wall before you.
  • Knees locked. Lock your knees, straight legs. Do not press with bent knees, lift the weight using your arms and shoulders only.
  • Squeeze Your Glutes. Makes it impossible to arch your lower back, thus increasing safety. Squeeze your glutes hard.

How to 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.
  • Lock Everything. Press until your elbows are locked. Then shrug your traps for extra support.
  • Breathe. Take a big breath at the bottom, and hold it on the way up. You can hold it until you lower the bar back to your chest and then inhale. Or you can exhale at the top, quickly take a big breath, and don’t bounce the weight on your chest quickly to press it back up. Exhaling at the top makes the weight easier to lift. But only if you’re able to stay tight. Master proper form by breathing at the bottom before trying to do it at the top.

Common Overhead Press Issues

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

  • Elbows Back. Most people Overhead Press with their elbows behind the bar looking from the side. Your forearms must be vertical for optimal power transfer. Remember to move your elbows forward at the start of each rep so your forearms are vertical to the floor.
  • Bent Wrists. Your wrists will hurt if you don’t keep them straight when you Overhead Press. Bent wrists also put the bar in front of your elbows which is ineffective for power transfer. Keep your wrists straight. Grab the bar low in your hands, close to your wrists.
  • Staying Back. You’ll miss reps if you stay back vs. getting under the bar. Shift your torso forward when the bar reaches your forehead level. Shorten the distance between the bar and your shoulders to make the weight easier to lift.
  • Excess Lower Back Arching. Your lower back will hurt if you hyper-extend your lwoer back when you Overhead Press. Your lower back should remain neutral. Natural arch like when you normally stand. Squeeze your glutes and your abs to avoid excess arching.

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