In case anybody gives a fuck, here’s a couple of tricks that I have learned over the years to increase your overhead press:
Assistance Exercises to Improve Overhead Press:
- Seated Barbell/ Dumbbell Overhead Press (develops anterior and medial delts, grip, triceps, and shoulder stabilizers to assist with pressing strength and hypertrophy of the shoulders)
- Incline Bench Press (develops upper chest and shoulder stability
- Handstand Push-ups (develops forearms, neck and cervical spine, core, and constant time-under tension on shoulders under limited range of motion. Translates to increased balance, core stability, lactic threshold, and better drive in the press, an overlooked aspect of the lift)
- Dumbbell Side Lateral Raises (develops medial delts to assist with pressing strength and hypertrophy of the shoulders)
- Plate Front-Raises (develops anterior delts for shoulder hypertrophy and conditioning)
- Klokov Presses (develops ability to engage the quads, glutes, and core while using weaker grip width (snatch grip), and generate more power output when driving through the press aka making it harder so the “real thing” is easier)
- Cuban Presses (develops Rear, medial and anterior delts, traps, rhomboids, and shoulder stabilizers. Also increases external rotational strength of the shoulder, and mind-muscle connection, for maximal stability, activation, and structural integrity of the joint when applied to the actual press)
- Barbell Shrugs (develops grip, upper traps, and surrounding neck muscles for optimal cervical spine stability during the Overhead Press)
- Triceps Exercises (Skull crushers, cable pushdowns, Tricep kickbacks, develops maximal pressing and driving force from beginning of movement-to-lockout)
- Core Strength exercises.. eg. GHD back extensions, Planks, Oblique Exercises (a weak core is the cause of many a’failed Overhead Presses, aside from inability to retract the scapulas correct, as well as chest/lat mobility)
- Scapular-Retraction exercises (Eg. Slow-Tempo Rear-Delt Flies with a resistance band, Face Pulls, and Crossover Symmetry - Develops scapular health for healthier shoulders and spine/ injury prevention, as well as scapular positioning for maximal power output during the Overhead Press. Weak scapular retraction is one of the two main causes of a weak Overhead Press)
- Chest, Anterior Delt, and Lat mobility exercises (better positioning, more stability, better power output, better lifts)
Mental Cues of the Overhead Press:
The key to a stronger Overhead Press is a combination of strength, positioning, and speed. You want to initiate the standing overhead press by first setting your grip width (A solid and common grip width for the overhead press is to grip the bar just-outside-of-your-shoulder-width), and utilizing a “false grip” around the bar (not having your thumbs wrapped around the bar. This allows for better muscle activation in shoulders, increased pressing strength and wrist angle more optimal for maximal power output, as well as maintenance of shoulder and wrist health in the long term). Now that you have your grip width set, and using a “false-grip”, while holding this position, you want to retract your scapulas (by pulling your shoulders back, and down). Now that your grip is set, scapulas are retracted, you now want to brace your core, keeping a neutral spine. You should be rock-solid and stable. Now that your grip is set, maintaining a neutral spine, you now want to take a deep breath, pulling into your diaphragm, hold it, and brace your core. You are now ready to engage the press.
As you engage the overhead press, the first thing you want to do is to maintain a neutral spine, scapulas retracted, core braced, while simultaneously flexing your quads, glutes, and core. This will allow you to create as much tension in your body as possible, which will translate into increased power output, because you can now increase the force you apply as you drive through the bar. With a neutral spine, scapulas retracted, core braced, while simultaneously flexing your quads, glutes, and core, you want to drive through the bar to lockout, maintaining constant tension on your delts, and spine completely vertical to the floor (without leaning back). Keeping a neutral spine, scapulas retracted, core braced, while simultaneously flexing your quads, glutes, and core, as you drive through the bar to lockout. Once you reach full lockout, maintaining a neutral spine, scapulas retracted, core braced, while simultaneously flexing your quads, glutes, and core, you want to feel as if you are as immovable as you were in your “set-up” position. Once in the lockout position, maintaining an immovable frame of neutral spine, scapulas retracted, core braced, while simultaneously flexing your quads, glutes, and core, you now want to reverse-engineer the everything you did for the concentric portion of the lift now for the eccentric portion of the lift (negative). This means neutral spine, scapulas retracted, core braced, while simultaneously flexing your quads, glutes, and core from lockout, slowly lowering the bar using triceps keeping constant tension in the anterior delts, as the bar lowers, to the starting position or “bottom” of the press.
Reasons you may be failing and how to improve:
Positioning, timing, and speed, are important factors in the Overhead Press, but you also want the strength to be able to do so under maximal load. As with all kinetic chains, there is always a weak point and the overhead press is no exception. If you struggle with producing enough force to create the inertia to move the bar at all off the chest/ starting position, your shoulders, upper chest, triceps, and core may be weak. If you struggle with getting the bar past the “sticking point” (half-way point on the concentric portion of the lift), your shoulders, triceps, and core may be weak. If you are all over the place and not “solid” or steady throughout any portion of the overhead press, you probably have a weak core need to strengthen that to improve. Also, keep in mind that doing lat, chest and anterior Delt mobility, having a solid and well-practiced “set-up” position consisting of optimal grip width for you, neutral spine, constant scapular retraction, and driving through the bar by flexing your quads, glutes and core throughout the entire press - will basically guarantee you lift more weight, because instead of wasting energy by fighting to stay in proper position, you’ll instead be in proper position and using all of that energy to focus on maximal power output through the kinetic chain. Again, these are common points where guys hit plateaus, and how they can overcome them with the overhead press. Will post again next week with the Olympic Lifts.