Back to Basics

Back to Basics series – Technique advise desgined from the ground up to make your better – The overhead pres




  • Start with your hands slightly outside your shoulders.
  • Initiate the lift by tensing your whole body, waving forward onto your forefoot (without raising your calfs) and pressing with your shoulders and hands explosively.
  • Press the bar back and get your head through
  • Try and start each rep with good form bouncing the bar rep to rep will not add up to a big max.



Strict press, military press, standing press, barbell shoulder press, overhead press…  just a number of names that the overhead press goes under in various programmes and forums.  The overhead press used to be one of the core disciplines in weightlifting during the clean and press event it was later taken out of weightlifting due to the excessive lean that athletes were taking to allow them to press heavier weights.

The overhead press is no longer a competitive lift in any of the strength sports although it has made a slight comeback forming one of the three main lifts in the crossfit total.  A lot of internet gurus hold a candle for the overhead press as a more “functional” pushing strength exercise because it’s the hipster version of bench press.

What the overhead press does offer is a great strength stimulus for the delts and triceps that can be a non fatiguing option in a powerlifter’s programme.  For a strongman it offers the brute strength required to press awkward implements overhead for when a push press comes out of the correct line and needs to be pressed back into the correct position.  For weightlifting it offers a stimulus to build stronger shoulders and to help to make the lifter more confident overhead knowing that they have the upper body strength required to safely secure jerks or snatches.

For a sports or general strength trainer it normally forms one of the key basic barbell lifts in their programme and often gets touted as being the one true test of upper body strength to rule them all.  For the strength coaches who don’t like the taste of crack pipe it is a great upper body push variation to build shoulder and tricep strength.

overhead press grip

Step one gripping the bar.

Typically you should take a grip just outside of your shoulder width if your stand with your eye line centred on the bar and then reach out with both arms straight at the level of the bar where you grab the bar is usually the correct grip width for your body shape.

You want to grip the bar with a first with your knuckles facing to the ceiling and your elbows directly under the bar.  Bunch your elbows in towards each other and stick your lats out before you start the press.



Step two starting the press

A common error with the overhead press is that people try to make it a shoulder isolation exercise thinking of using their arms only to lift the bar.  It is extremely hard to overcome the initial inertial of the bar with only your arms since they have such little relative mass (well some arms do anyway).  To begin the press tense your whole body like you are going to explode up into a push press shift your weight slightly forward onto your forefoot and then press the bar up and back towards your head as hard as you can.

You’re not trying to come up onto the ball of your foot, you’re just waving your weight forward slightly and then exploding into the press with your arms and shoulder together.  If you get the timing correct the first part of the lift from the shoulder to about mouth level should feel very easy.

lock out

Step three moving towards lock out.

Once you have gotten past the initial portion of the lift you will hit the sticking point, this will be slightly lower or higher for different lifters but chances are you will hit it at just above eye level when you feel this happen the intuitive notion is to lean back and try and continue with the stronger muscles of the chest.  This is completely the wrong strategy!

When you feel the bar starting to slow you must try as hard as you can to push the back towards the crown of your head.  As you are pressing the bar backwards your should be pushing your head forwards in between your shoulders this will put the bar under your center of mass much quicker which will put you in a much stronger position.

As soon as you get the bar back into the center line it will become instantly much easier even a maximal lift or a rep that is on the brink of failure will feel secure you will know you have it, it just might take a while to get to lock out!

The reason you don’t want to lean back into the lift is although you will use the stronger muscles of the chest to help the press you will be keeping the bar out in front of centre (a terrible idea in any lifting activity!) and you will be putting an inordinate amount of pressure on your lower back (also a bad idea!).  This is one of the primary reason a lot of people with poor technique or shoulder mobility will swear by a belt because of the amount of pressure put through the lower back when leaning back trying to press the bar in that position.

Step Four Bringing the bar down.

When bringing the bar down you want to pretty much mirror the line of travel it took on the way up, try as you can to pull your scapula back together and “row” the bar back down through your elbows this will give you greater control of the bar on the way down.  It is good practice to try and not rely too much on rebounding the bar back up using the elastic energy of the bar coming down to make the bottom portion of the lift easier, this is equivocal to bouncing a bench press whilst it makes repping weights easier it will not really build the strength required to lift a maximal load.

Try and set each rep up from the same “dead stop” position trying to master the technique of tensing your body and using it to push into the bar in one movement, like a push press with no legs!  The better you get at this initial part of the lift the better you are going to be at maxing and utalising the rep work you are doing to build an impressive overhead press.

Extra tips

  • Press 2-3x in a week if your goal is to get a big overhead press your not going to get a lot better at something pressing once a week.
  • Lift for volume using reps in the 70-80% range as the weights begin to get easy just move your working weights up 2.5kg – 5kg (5-10 lbs).
  • The best assistance lift for overhead press is more overhead press failing that close grip bench press has a better carry over due to the larger involvement of triceps.
  • Lots of shoulder, back and tricep assistance/bodybuilding work will help with a big strict press as the old saying goes it’s hard to shoot a cannon out of a canoe.  GET FUCKING YOKED….


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