Overhead Press Variations & Which One You Should Do

Squat Style Jerk
Image: dehwang

Several readers contacted me with questions on the Overhead Press. There seem to be confusion about the Overhead Press variations: which they are, their technique & what they’re meant for. So here’s a post on topic.


Press.
The correct name for the Overhead Press is Press. Most say Overhead Press to avoid confusion with the Bench Press.

The Press is done with feet shoulder-width apart. You can use a staggered stance. Keep your knees locked during the whole lift. Your arms & shoulders push the weight overhead while your torso shifts forward.


Military Press.
The Press done with heels together. This makes the Military Press harder than the Press. Intermediate & advanced trainees can use the Military Press as overload: switching to the Press will feel easy.


Push Press
. This is a Press using leg drive. The leg drive allows you to lift more weight than with the Press. Proper leg drive gets the bar off your shoulders to nose/forehead level. Your arms only need to lockout the weight.

Perform a short dip, like a quarter Squat. Then drive up, pressing the bar using shoulders & arms. The faster the drive up, the more weight you can Push Press. Lift fast & squeeze your glutes hard.


Jerk
. This is what weightlifters like Brent do. Perform a short dip, drive up with your hips, then dip under the bar again while straightening your arms. The Jerk is an explosive movement which allows you to lift the most weight overhead.

If you want to build muscle in arms & shoulders, the Jerk isn’t the best exercise: upper-body is more stabilizing than pressing. Different Jerk styles are possible: split style (left) & squat style (right).

Split Style vs. Squat Style Jerk
Left: Split Style Jerk. Right: Squat Style Jerk. Image: dehwang


Behind Neck Press
. The Press done with the barbell in your neck instead of on your shoulders. Bad posture & lack of upper-body flexibility will cause injury on this exercise. Do shoulder dislocations before trying the Behind Neck Press.

You can do the Behind Neck Press military style, push press style or jerk style.


More Press Variations.
There are more Press variations, you’re only limited by your own creativity. Here’s a non-definite list of Overhead Press variations.

Arthur Saxon doing a 300lbs Bent Press in the 19th Century

  • Seated Press. The Press done seated. Stresses your lower back & legs less. Strength is equal to the Press.
  • Reverse Grip Press. The Press done with the palms facing you. Old time strongman exercise.
  • Bent Press. The Press done with one hand while twisting under the weight. Picture on the right.
  • Bench Press. Actually a variation of the Press: the Press is the oldest exercise of the two.
  • Olympic Press. Part of Weightlifting competitions until 1972. Press involving leaning back.


Which Press Variation Should You Do?
Each Press variation has benefits and drawbacks. Beginners should start with the Overhead Press. Intermediate & advanced trainees can experiment with Military Press, Push Press, Jerks, etc.


Substituting the Press When You Stall.
One reader asked:

“The technique for the Overhead Press you describe stipulates that you lock your knees and lift from a complete stop. I’m finding it difficult to press the barbell from a standstill now that I’ve added 20 lbs. Other instructions explain you should bend at the knees a couple of inches and then explode up and push the weight as you rise.

You don’t start doing Half Squats when the Squat gets hard. In the same way, you don’t start using leg drive & perform a Push Press when the Press gets hard. You work at it, apply deload techniques if needed & persist.

If you want to build muscle you need to get stronger. Never substitute one exercise for another because it gets hard. It’s called cheating.

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