Time for installment No.2 of my series on multi-joint exercises (see installment No.1 HERE) that should be included in every athletes regular training, elegantly titled, “Why You Should…” Today, we’re talking about the bad-assery that is the overhead press.
Overhead presses are one of my favorite exercises to train, but that’s not the
only reason you should do them. The overhead press can be done in a variety of ways – seated, standing, military, traditional, push press, with dumbells, with barbells, with axles, with bands, with pronated grip, with neutral grip, and so on. Whichever variety you choose, you’ll still be engaging the entire shoulder girdle, as well as much of your trunk musculature (or “core”) depending on the press variation you perform. Overhead press movements can also be integrated into movements that engage both upper and lower body musculature, such as the clean and press. Building strength in the overhead press will translate into improved pressing movements overall (including push-ups, bench press, etc.) as well as improve your upper body coordination and overall balance – particularly if you practice standing presses! Some fun bodyweight variations on the overhead press include handstand push-ups, both against a wall and freestanding, and divebomber/inverted pushups (not exactly the same movement, but similar).
Here’s a good video tutorial for one of my favorite overhead press variations: Barbell Military Press.
Key Form Points:
- Keep wrists neutral. Bending your wrists back, as is common with heavier weights, can lead to injuries. If you can’t keep your wrists neutral, you may need to lower the weight you’re using and/or work on your grip strength.
- Make sure that your elbows are in line with your body (rather than pulled back or drawn forward) and that your wrists are tracking directly over your elbows (rather than dipping in towards your shoulders or falling away from your body). If that doesn’t sound clear, don’t worry- the guy in the video above demonstrates this.
- Maintain a strong posture. Keep your back straight and core tight to maintain stability. You want to have your weight evenly distributed on your feet, or a little back on your heels; many people tend to rock forward as they push the weight up.
- Don’t arch your back! This can be the natural inclination, especially with standing overhead presses for heavier weights, but it is bad news. If you can’t press it without arching your back, you need to lower the weight. Actually that goes for all movements: If you can’t lift it with good form, you need to be lifting less weight.
- Stay within a safe range of motion. The proper range of motion for each person is affected by his anatomy, mobility, and ability to maintain form…and in this case, it’s always better to err on the side of caution. When working to increase your range of motion, always always always stick with light weights and work up slowly.
- Warm up well! Rotator cuff injuries are not something to mess around with, and when you’re less-than properly warmed up, it’s all too easier to let your form slip. All it can take is one moment of lost control to ruin your alignment and lead to a debilitating injury.
One of my long term fitness goals is to be able to overhead press my body weight. It’s a long way off – especially given my tricky left shoulder – but I’m determined to get there!
Which overhead press variation is your favorite? Can you overhead press your own bodyweight yet? (If you can, I’m both impressed and jealous!!)