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Overhead Press Form for Strength and Muscle

Just like the other compound movements, there are many variations of the Overhead Press. The Overhead Press with a strict form is the best variation for beginners because it uses a full range of motion that recuits more muscles than the other variations. In the future, this exercise will have the greatest carry over to other upper body exercises.

Unlike the Push Press, you will not be using the momentum generated by your legs. When that momentum comes into play, you skip the initial range of motion and as a result, you will miss the work on the muscles required for that range. The push press can incorporated in the future, after you have learned the Overhead Press succesfully.

The shoulder joints are one of the most common places that people get injured. So start light, focus on the technique and build it up.

Here is a check list of how to do the Overhead Press, for more details and to see it in action, I recommend checking out the videos in the following section.

How To Do the Overhead Press

Hands are slightly wider than shoulder width apart when you grip the bar. The grip is narrower than the bench press which helps keep your forearms vertical. The bar should rest on the heel of your palm, which prevents you from straining your wrists:

Overhead press form grip

The red line represents bar placement on hand. Picture from Starting Strength 3rd edition

This is what it looks like with a closed grip:

Overhead press form grip 2

Notice that the bar is supposed to be placed on the heel of palm, not higher up. Placing it higher up will strain your wrist. Picture from Starting Strength 3rd Edition

It’s a subtle, yet important difference.

Forearms are vertical from every direction. The elbows should be slightly raised to maintain vertical forearms. Do not let your elbows flare out when you press the barbell up.

Feet are shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed slightly outwards. The angle depends on your preference, find out what creates the most stable stance for you.

Knees and legs are not used to create momentum. Remember that this is not a push press.

Hips are slightly thrusted forward so that you can squeeze your glutes and abs. This is only for the beginning portion of this movement. As you push your bar over your head, you get under the bar and your hips move back to complete the movement. You can see this in the 2nd video.

Head and upper body is leaning back slight at the beginning. Once the bar is over your head, get under the bar so that you are no longer leaning back.

These dynamics are difficult to describe with words so make sure that you watch the videos.

Shrug at the very top of the movement. This will recruit your traps. When you recruit your traps, you will be able to move more weight in a safer manner. If you have never done this before, start light and get the feel first.

Video Demonstrations

Mark Rippetoe is coaching the Overhead Press in the videos below. He is the author of Starting Strength, which is the basis of the 600 Club. He is one of the few strength athletics authorities to publish both peer-reviewed articles as well as books for the lay population. Unlike most strength and conditioning academics, he has several decades of practical application as an elite-level strength coach, former competitive powerlifter, and a current gym owner.

The Set Up

Using a Heavier Weight And Adding Hip Thrust

Remove Momentum from The Legs and Replace it with Hip Thrust

The Next Step

This article covered enough to get you started. After you have trained for a few sessions, try adding these 4 Tips To Take Your Overhead Press To The Next Level.

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