Why Your Elbows Must Be In Front of the Bar on The Overhead Press

Unlike Squats & Deadlifts you can’t do much wrong on the Overhead Press. The most common mistakes are not starting each rep with your elbows in front of the bar and not shifting your torso under the bar.

Performing the Overhead Press with your elbows under or behind the bar is bad technique. You must readjust your elbows on each rep so they’re in front of the bar when looking from the side.


Why Does It Matter?
Tony asked in StrongLfits.com Forum why you must start the Overhead Press with your elbows in front of the bar on each rep.

I understand what the proper form is for OHP. I have read Starting Strength and referred back to it several times. I have read Mehdi’s articles about the lift several times also. I have watched all the videos that have been posted here about the lift. I know that it is emphasized that the elbows be in front of the bar and not under it.

My question is, Why?

On Bench Press, I put the bar right on the base of my palm, right where the thumb connects to the palm, then wrap thumb and fingers around the bar. My wrist cannot roll back this way. However, on OHP, with elbows in front, it seems like it causes your wrists to roll back so the weight of the bar is now near your fingers and not on the base of the palm.

I know in Mehdi’s article on OHP (and other places) it says to keep the bar near base of palm and keep elbows in front of bar. How can you do both? If I keep my elbows under the bar my wrists are in the perfect position to let the bar sit right on the base of my palm. No wrist bending at all. But if I put the elbows in front, my wrists automatically roll back to accommodate this position and so the bar ends up closer to my fingers and not on the base of the palm anymore.

It seems anatomically impossible to put your elbows in front of the bar but still keep the bar on the base of the palm and don’t let the wrist roll back. And if the wrists are back it doesn’t seem safe for them and it sure doesn’t feel strong to me.

The Wrist Issue. You can’t keep your wrists perfectly straight on the Overhead Press. Look at this, this, this and this picture of weight lifters doing the Jerk. Their wrists are slightly bent. You can’t avoid it.

But you can minimize it. Your wrists can bend more if you put the bar close to your fingers. This stretches your wrists the hard way, increasing risks of injury. Put the bar close to the heel of your hand.

Lack of flexibility makes it harder to get into the correct Overhead Press starting position. Keep your chest up at all times. Stretch your wrists & triceps, improve thoracic mobility and do shoulder dislocations.


Hyperirradation.
When you do a weight lifting exercise, tightening each muscle in your body during the whole movement makes you stronger. In Power to The People Pavel Tsatsouline calls this hyperirradation.

How does this makes you stronger? You increase neural stimulation and can lift from a more stable position. Some ways to do this are: squeezing the bar hard, squeeze your glutes hard, planting your feet into the ground, …


The Lats.
On the Overhead Press you can apply hyperirradation using your lats. Pull your shoulders into their socket by flexing your lats. Imagine you have a tennis ball in your armpit and you’re trying to squeeze it.

Try it now. Make a big chest. Bring your right arm in the correct Overhead Press starting position: elbows forward. Tighten your right fist, pec & lat. Squeeze your armpit. Compare tension when your elbow is not forward.

When you put your elbows forward on the Overhead Press, your lats act like a cushion where you can press from. You can lift more weight this way. This is why increasing your strength on Pull-ups help your Overhead Press.

How much your elbows should be in front of the bar depends on your built. Put your elbows in a position which lets you drive up with your forearms vertical and which lets you use your lats in the starting position.

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