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5 Tips To Take Your Overhead Press To The Next Level

Overhead Press Tips

by Yuan

Let’s talk about overhead press tips. After learning the basic overheard press form, pay attention to some of these details to take your lift to the next level.

I absolutely love this exercise. A while ago, the bench press caused my left shoulder a lot of pain and the condition improved after I started paying attention to the overhead press and pulling movements. Done correctly, it is very good for shoulder health (if you have shoulder problems, obviously consult a doctor).

If something feels off and you’re not 100% confident in your technique, I recommend using a moderate weight and doing higher volume (more reps and sets). It will still help you grow and getting in those extra repetitions will be valuable for your technique.

Tip#1: Overhead Press Technique Check Up

Hands and Wrist

I see a lot of people straining their wrists from bending their hands back too much. This is from gripping of the bar incorrectly. It not only feels bad, you lose leverage as well.

The bar should rests on the heel of your hand like this:

Overhead press form grip

The red line represents bar placement on hand. Picture from Starting Strength 3rd edition pg.83

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 pg.83

Grip Width

Using the grip described above, you will have to narrow your grip if you have been taking a wide grip. Right outside of shoulder width is a good place to start.

Depending on your physique, it may be optimal for you to grip slightly wider or narrower, it’s something you have to experiment with over time.

Forearms

Like the bench press, the forearms should be to be vertical  from the front and side angle. Look in the mirror to make sure your arms are vertical.

Having vertical forearms will help you get a vertical bar path. Keep in mind that your forearms don’t have to be ‘perfectly’ vertical. A slight deviation of pointing in or out is fine if you find that it works better for you.

Do Them Strict

The overhead press uses a strict technique with a full range of movement. If you create momentum by pushing off with your legs, the exercise becomes a push press. It’s where you use momentum to start the bar up, skipping most of the starting range.

The full range is important because it hits all the required muscles in your upper body in the right way. This is how you create optimal growth over the long term.

Don’t get greedy, choose the work weight wisely so that your last set of presses don’t turn into push presses.

While push presses can be great for an intermediate, they should be done separately. Either after your overhead press or on another day altogether.

Tracking Progress Precisely

Strict technique lets you track progress accurately. Once momentum gets involved, you have no idea how much you have actually progressed.

Accurate tracking lets you know exactly when progress stalled so that you can deal with it without wasting additional time.

Tip #2 Elbows In Front of The Bar To Activate Lats

Check out the elbow placement in the picture below:

Overhead Press Tips Elbows

Notice that the elbows are a little in front of the bar. This will help recruit your lats and also give you more leverage by bringing the bar path closer to your body .

Tip #3 Use your Abs, Bend at the Hips, Save Your Lower Back

At the start of the overhead press, you need to lean back slightly to get your head of the way. To lean back, bend at the hips while keeping the knees locked. Your low back should not bend, this is bad for your spine.

If you can get this right, it will not only protect your lower back but it will also give you more leverage to lift heavier weights. It works sort of like a bow and arrow, here is what I mean:

Overhead Press Form Stance

I drew in the red line to show how it’s like a bow. Picture form Starting Strength.

The little circle at the hip highlights where to bend while keeping the low back straight.

To get a feel for this, put your hands on your ass while standing. Use your hands to push your hips forward slightly while keeping your low back straight. I imagine that the area between my shoulders and hips is one solid piece that can’t be bent, the hips are hinges and it’s the only place that can bend to let me lean back.

To achieve this, you need to squeeze your glutes and brace your abs.

Brace the abs by drawing a deep breath into your stomach and tightening your abs as you push the bar. It’s like if you had to brace your abs against someone punching you in the gut.

Tip #4: Weaknesses and Assistance Work

You don’t need much assistance as a beginner. But as you keep progressing and the weight gets heavier, you may notice that you’re weak at the top or bottom of the movement.

If you’re weak at the bottom, you may have weak lats. If you’re weak at the top, struggling to lock out, you may have weak triceps.

Make sure you’re doing pull-ups/chin-ups and consider adding tricep extensions to the end of your workout if you need it. Chin ups and pull ups are great for beginners, just make sure that your calories are ramped up before adding them to your routine, do 3 sets to failure.

Exercises that isolate a muscle should be worked with higher reps, use 3×10 for tricep extensions at the end of your workout.

Tip #5: Partial Reps

Another way to deal with weaknesses are partial reps. Beginners don’t need it to progress and it can be harmful if you try to do heavy partial reps as a beginner. The lack of proper muscle development and faulty recruitment pattern increases the risk of getting you injured. When you got your technique tight and stopped making progress with everything else, add these in.

If you’re weak at the bottom, use some light dumbbells and only do the first half of the movement and try to recruit your lats. Try these light using a higher rep range first, like 3×10. Once you get a better feel for the exercise and become more confidence, you can raise the weight gradually till it’s heavy.

If you’re weak at the top, try adding in 2 sets of push presses after your overhead press or bench press, these are best done with a heavy weight. You should have a good overhead press technique if you’re doing push presses heavy.

All of this is performed standing just like the regular overhead press.

Coaching the Press

If you want a visual demonstration, check out this video of Mark Rippetoe coaching a bunch of people to press properly. All of the trainees in this video already have experience in the overhead press, the coaching is more of a tune up. Quite a bit of emphasis put on correctly bending at the hips.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Uls October 15, 2013 at 9:07 am

Hi Yuan!
The information was very helpful!
Thank you for your site 🙂

Reply

Yuan October 17, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Thanks for checking out my blog!

Reply

raul hdez October 25, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Wow three years without progres in this now, you just show me the best way to do it , tanks

Reply

Yuan November 6, 2013 at 6:19 pm

Enjoy making new progress 🙂

Reply

vaishakh February 21, 2014 at 8:40 am

The information was very helpful. I flare out my elbows while pushing the weight overhead.I do this no matter how i hard I try to concentrate. Do you know any tips that can help me with this? Thanks.

Reply

Yuan February 21, 2014 at 8:34 pm

Can you do it properly with the empty bar?

Reply

chandru June 5, 2014 at 12:13 pm

During my lifts my knee should be slightly bend or locked position.. pls answer me… i use to bend my knees while OHP

Reply

Yuan June 5, 2014 at 6:25 pm

Your knees should not bend during a strict press.

Reply

billddrummer July 29, 2014 at 3:22 am

Thanks for the tips!

Have been doing Stronglifts 5 x 5 and seen real steady gains on all the lifts except for my press.

Weak abs, not bending at the hips, and not squeezing my glutes seem to be the biggest sticking points for me.

Will deload 10% this week and try these suggestions.

Great advice!

Reply

Aleksander October 7, 2014 at 4:14 pm

Great explanation, love the blog!

I was just wondering….some people say to squeeze your glutes and lock your knees.
That do you thin of this technique?

Thanks

Reply

Yuan October 7, 2014 at 6:55 pm

You definitely need the glutes to lean back properly. If you bend the knees, it will no longer be a strict press.

Reply

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