Often forgotten, the overhead press can do wonders for your core stability – essential in football where your core is under near constant exertion through changes of direction and sudden impacts.
The overlooked compound lift of the fundamental four, the Overhead Press is a lift that crosses the lines between strength training and power training.
Unique to the other three compound movements, the overhead press utilizes only the deltoids and triceps as levers whilst the remainder of your body acts as a stabilizer. It’s the only compound movement that requires you to fully extend the weight overhead; arguably the most difficult to progress in terms of the weight lifted due to the lack of muscles contracting and the concept of the lift itself.
This is why many athletes either leave the overhead press entirely, or simply use it as an accessory lift to engage their shoulders for the bench press. For many gridiron players, efficiently executing the overhead press regularly will build strength, power and mobility in your shoulders; for the majority, that’s your meal ticket, hence the priority to develop them should be high.
Here are my tips towards making the most out of the overhead press.
Legs Straight and Feet together.
A common mistake I find in regular gym goers when attempting the overhead press is that they will compensate their inability to fully stabilize themselves by putting one foot in front of the other (i.e. a static jerk press) or use some leg drive by bending their knees and extending them when pressing (i.e. a push press). A key concept of the strict overhead press is to control your posture whilst pressing the bar overhead. The stricter your posture, the more core stabilization is taking place.
Know your start and finish points.
You start the press with the bar firmly planted at the very top of your chest, ideally in line with your scapula bone that runs across your shoulders. This starting position will fully engage your front and medial deltoids for they will be fully extended to start the movement and will have to work to their maximum ability to cleanly press the bar overhead.
The width of your hands should be just outside of your shoulders. This will be a both a natural hand width to press upwards from, but will also enable you to press without putting excessive stress on your wrists. Have your hands too far outside and your wrists will pronate, resulting in them slanting inside and causing pain. Alternatively, have your hands too narrow and your wrists will supinate, when your wrists slanting away from each other and causing pain.
An important element to remember with the overhead press is to keep your forearms perpendicular to the floor. Having a hand width just outside of your shoulders will enable this to happen; firm, straight wrists are a vital component of applying full stability through your forearms and providing force into your triceps.
Lean your back…back! And slant your hips forward.
The big mistake a lot of people make with the overhead press is hyperextending their back when pressing. This take a part of the load off of your shoulders when pressing but will apply a lot of pressure on your lower back. To avoid this, slant your hips forward, as if you were tilting your pelvis away from you. This will make sure your lower back does not hyperextend. You will find that having the slightest bend in the knee (as suspension) will help when doing this.
Whilst pivoting your hips forward, lean your neutral spine back slightly before pressing the weight. Not only will this align your entire spine to avoid any additional pressure, but perfectly leads to a key cue, which is…
Move your body around the bar, not bar around the body!
The bar should always press upwards in a straight line. You will achieve maximum force of a given weight when doing this. By leaning back just before you press will open a window of space for the bar to press straight up. If you didn’t do this, then bar may potentially uppercut you in the nose! Doing this will keep the bar path across your mid-foot.
Open the window and see what’s outside!
My favorite cue for the overhead press. Now that we have leant back and maintain a straight back, and began pressing upwards with perpendicular forearms with strict posture, we can shift our torso forward to complete the overhead press.
Imagine when you are overhead pressing, you are opening a window. Once you have opened that window high enough (which will be just after the bar moves beyond your forehead), move your torso and head forward, as if you were to look outside of this window. This will maintain efficient balance and stabilization of your whole body, as your torso will be evenly split, directly below the bar. This will also begin to engage your rear deltoids for the final half of the press; as your torso moves forward and the bar still moves upwards, your rear deltoids will brace and contract as if you are pressing behind you. Thus, the overhead press becomes a complete shoulder exercise with all three heads fully engaged and activated.
Progress will be very slow.
Because you are engaging the least amount of muscles in terms of the movement itself compared to the other three compound movements, this will convincingly be your lightest lift out of the four. Therefore, each weight increase will have a greater percentage and impact towards potential rep maxes. For example, a 5kg jump on the squat may not sound like a lot, but will be a significant jump on the military press.
A great target for any athlete would be the work towards a one-rep max on the overhead press or your own bodyweight. Take it from me, it’s easier said than done.
Shoulders Regime example:
- 5 x 5 Standing Barbell Overhead Press (build up weight using 2-3 warm up sets until finding a solid 5×5 weight) (do not increase weight by more than 5kg per set)
- 5 x 8 reps Barbell Upright rows (hands in line with shoulders, pull up and flare elbows out and away) (start with 30kg and build up)
- 4 x 8reps Dumbbell Seated Shoulder Press (start with 16kg dumbbells and slowly build up)
- 5 x 10 reps Barbell Bicep Curls (start with 5kg per side of a short straight barbell and build up if needed)
- Stairclimber 30 second intervals between single step and double steps (walk two steps at a time); first minute as warm up to build speed to level 8. Increase speed every 2 minutes. Aim for 6-8 minutes before cool down.