Re-Enter the Barbell Overhead Press
by Jesse Seal and James Bullock

Barbell Overhead Press

What is the one thing you don't see enough of at your local gym?

If thought to yourself, "People doing the barbell overhead press and variations," then you are already way ahead of most! Even some of the people who do this movement look like they're asking for some sort of shoulder or back injury by ignoring proper technique.

There are many reasons people don't utilize the overhead press. Perhaps they were lead to believe it was dangerous, or they don't believe it'll bring any more value to their training program. Maybe it's as simple as not knowing how, because nobody took the time to show them.

Regardless of the reasons, few things in this world are as impressive as lifting a massive amount of weight over your head. There are many 500 pound squatters, benchers, and dead lifters. I am willing to bet the amount of people at any given time in history that have ever pressed 500 pounds overhead is less than a few.

Want to know more about the barbell overhead press? Then let’s get to it!

Is It Safe?

While lifting heavy weight overhead may intimidate those who have never done it, you can take comfort in knowing that you will NEVER get stuck under the bar like you will with some other lifts. If it gets too heavy, you can simply drop the weight in front of you. DO NOT lower or attempt to rack the weight if you fail halfway up. Unless the weight is low, you could injure yourself. Unfortunately at most big box gyms, you can’t just dump the bar when you need to, so be mindful in moving up in weight from set to set.

We suggest you invest in some bumper plates if you intend on going heavy and possibly dropping the weight. Bumper plates are made of composite rubber which absorbs the impact of the drop, saving the floor and any locking mechanisms you have to hold your plates in place.

Will It Add Value To My Program?

The barbell overhead press is a superior movement; yes, even MORE important than the coveted bench press. The overhead press activates the entire body, making it one of the best lifts you can perform. While your shoulders, upper back, chest, and arms are pressing the weight overhead, your core, glutes, and legs stabilize your body.

Furthermore, compared to the bench press, which primarily works the chest and anterior deltoids, the overhead press works the entire shoulder more evenly. Spending too much time on the bench press without training the overhead press can chronically shorten the subscapularis, a rotator cuff muscle which internally rotates the shoulder.

This shortening can, of course, lead to a shoulder injury. In fact, many structural imbalances can occur when only focusing on one movement pattern. However, the overhead press can significantly improve the bench press, which we will get into soon.

What is the Proper Lifting Technique?

I'm going to hand this one over to James Bullock. He's going to explain proper lifting technique for the strict overhead press and the push press in the video below.


How Does It Increase My Bench Press?

Overhead pressing isn't just a shoulder exercise. Done properly, it's a full upper body movement (with push press adding a bit more of your lower body). While the shoulders are primarily trained in this movement, it takes the upper traps and the upper chest to propel the bar overhead and lock it out.

Performing a proper bench press requires scapular retraction, loading the back, and creating force by driving into the floor with your feet and driving the bar with your shoulders/arms. Given that barbell overhead pressing works a majority of these same muscle groups, its resulting strength easily transitions to the bench press.

While vertical pressing will increase your bench press if done properly, the bench press will not necessarily increase your barbell overhead press. If that were the case, most people would be able to press a decent amount vertically, given the amount of attention bench pressing gets in most training programs.

Many athletes who overhead press will include it in their program solely to increase their bench press. For those who enjoy pressing heavy weight over their head, there are ways to increase your vertical press, which will be discussed in a separate article.

If you're not overhead pressing, you're robbing yourself of strength and performance gains. Pressing overhead has numerous benefits, whether you're looking to improve your bench, improve your shoulder health, or simply improve your overall strength.


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About the Author

Jesse Seal is the assistance Combatives Instructor, and has been training in Combative Sciences since 2008. He has also been training and learning through Bullock's Irondom Performance Systems since 2010.

About the Author

James Bullock is the head coach for Irondom Performance Systems and Combative Sciences. He's written programs for athletes and non-athletes alike, including numerous world record holders in various sports. Combative Sciences was found in 1999 and is the culmination of decades of martial arts training. 

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