Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Overhead Pressing Conundrum

Before I start writing on this, let's get this out of the way.

I'm good naturally, at overhead pressing.  I've done a strict overhead clean and press of 275x3.  225x10 on many occasions, both standing and behind the neck.  I've done the 120 pound dumbbell's for 12+ on a bunch of occasions.  Other than the 275 triple though, I can't tell you what all my bests are because the truth is, I don't give a shit.

Standing, seated, behind the neck, it doesn't matter.  This lift has always come easier to me than any other.  Most people are good at a lift, and exploit that shit like Johnnie Cochran exploited the legal system.

I'm quite the opposite.  I hate shit I am naturally good at, and get bored with.  I love to do shit I am not good at. Like deadlifting.  So with the overhead stuff, I never kept track of all my PR's because I didn't and don't care about them.  I'd like to hit 315 strict overhead at around 250 but if I don't, oh well.

Let me also add in that "overhead work" is not jumping under a fucking bar to me.  That's something else.  Overhead work and overhead pressing means you pressed the fucking bar over your head.  You didn't jump under it.  Talking about what a strong overhead guy you are when you're really just jumping under the bar is being a transvestite

With that said, I will talk a little about why I think overhead work is easier for me, and some things I have done to improve it while I did care about overhead pressing.


  • Always press the barbell with a thumbless grip.  I can't believe it when I still see people overhead pressing with their thumb around the bar.  When you wrap your thumb around the bar, the bar gets more out in front of you.  When you go thumbless, the bar gets closer to your center of gravity.  Giving you a better power path.  
  • Do all kinds of pressing.  Do clean and press, seated press, db press both seated and standing, viking press, and even machine pressing.  The point is to get your shoulders strong regardless of the leverages allowed or not allowed by your torso.  
  • Be aware of upperback work.  Unlike the bullshit that perpetuates the internet about needing lat work for a bigger bench (this is also full fucking retard), you do need to be aware that your upperback plays a huge role in overhead work.  Your traps and rhomboids do a lot of work to stabilize the shoulder girdle, and your lower back works as the foundation where you are pressing from.  If you don't think so, do standing overhead work with a sore or fatigued lower back and see how shitty you press.  Also, the easier your clean is, the easier the press will be.  This is a fact.
  • Work your rear delts a lot.  That is, unless you want to look like a fucking hunchback.  Guys that do too much benching and overhead work at the expense of their rear delts always end up with lat syndrome, and the palms of their hands usually face them.  This is an injury waiting to happen.  Don't be one of these assclowns.
  •  Bring your grip in.  The wider the grip the harder it is to get off the bottom.  Yes, the lockout becomes easier, but not much.  Remember that weight gain isn't as huge a factor in overhead pressing as say, the bench.  So you want to rocket that shit off the bottom as fast as possible, past the sticking point before lockout.  
  • On the contrast, for pressing behind the neck, take your grip out WIIIIDDDEEE.  If you press behind the neck wide, your shoulders should be fine.  Here is another myth, that press behind the neck is bad for your shoulders.  Bull and shit.  If you can't do press behind the neck your shoulders are already fucked up.  What's funny is, one of the exercises used to rehab shitty shoulders is shoulder dislocates.  Well the motion isn't a lot different than what you do in a press behind the neck.  The reason lots of guys can't do press behind the neck is because their rotators are tight.  PBN will let you know if you need to take care of this problem.  
  • Overhead twice a week.  The shoulders can take a lot of work.  There are a million ways to program for this.  One heavy day and one light day, or two heavy days but with different movements.  
  • Use the incline bench.  Lots of strongmen love the incline bench and there is a reason for this.  Think of it like an overloaded overhead press.  My incline is usually not very far behind my bench.  This is also why I think I am a naturally good overhead presser.  I promise you if you improve your incline your overhead press will go up.  
  • Do standing french presses.  This was my staple in my younger years but my elbows can't handle it now.  Not because of this exercises, but just because my elbows are old and fucked up.  These also have a nice direct carryover to the standing overhead press.  
  • Get good at cleaning and pressing heavy ass singles, doubles, and triples.  I personally think that more than any other movement, reps generate less progress for the overhead standing press than any other lift I do.  When I've done 225 for reps easily it was during times when I was pushing the heavy singles or triples up.  Doing standing press for like 12-15 reps isn't even like the same movement.  

Lastly, be patient.  For some guys the overhead press goes up agonizingly slow.  If that's you, just prioritize it for a while (6+ months) and go from there.  Slow and steady wins the race.


  1. Great advice. I'll put it into practice for the next few months and report the results.

  2. High reps dont work to me on presses. Tried big-15 on bench press and get stuck on 12 reps for weeks (cant increase to 13 reps and so on). Also, the overwarmups are geting very hard. Maybe lower reps (5-8) are better for me, so 5/3/1 can be a good alternative.
    Also, in squats the overwarmup taked all my energy. My legs have bad endurance for reps, and now I do progressive singles instead of the 5/4/3/2/1.
    Nice blog, I hope you do great and get 1800 total. Whit some work and nice shoulders 500 lbs bench presses will come for you!!

  3. Sounds like you are programming too high. The overwarm up should not be taking all the energy or strength out of you. You're most def overestimating what you are capable of in the programming.

    Peel the weights back and try again. It DOES work.

  4. PC, you're the fucking man, dude. Awesome post. Definitely what I was looking for.

    "I personally think that more than any other movement, reps generate less progress for the overhead standing press than any other lift I do."

    This has been my experience as well. Thank you for spelling it out for me.

    The rest of the post is useful, of course, I just wanted to point that one thing out.

    Also, your point about benching in another post--how you went back to benching, but just did it every other week, working up to a heavyish single:

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but it's like you're BUILDING strength with other exercises, but DISPLAYING that strength with the bench press. No?

    Again, you're the man. Thanks.

  5. Charlie - I am def not the man, but thanks for the props.

    For my bench that was by necessity. Because of my elbows and shoulders I cannot bench as often as I'd like or with as much volume. Nevertheless it worked very well, and I think anyone can use it to increase their bench. I am also lucky enough that whenever my incline goes up, so does my bench. They seem to respond to each other quite well for some reason.

  6. Im the same as you, more built for pressing and i naturally suck at deadlifting, yet the biggest goal for me is a big deadlift because deadlifting is the best lift of all imo.

    Any specific exercises you recomend for rear delts? My only equipment is a couple of light dumbells (20-35 lbs), a rack, barbell, and lots of plates.

    Thanks for the awesome post as always.


  7. Bent laterals, pendlay rows are good as are any row really and that kills a few birds with 1 stone.

  8. Awesome. Been doing yates rows but ill start throwing in some bent lats here and there. Thanks again.


  9. Anonymous from the second post.
    I first calculed my 1RM whit the formula on big-15, then did one cycle whit amazing results.
    Then, In the second cycle, the overwarmup get to heavy because of the improved and new 1 Rm. Maybe the 1rm formula dont work's well for me.
    Or should I work like the 5/3/1, even if my 1RM improves 10-20 lbs in the first cycle, only ads 5 lbs for the second...
    Thank's for the atention.

  10. Giovanni - You don't have to plug in a higher 1RM on the second round. You can always try to beat previous rep PR's. Remember the over-warm up is JUST a warm up. The back-off sets should be HIGH in reps.

  11. So, for example:
    X is my 1 RM
    Week 1:5/4/3/2/1% of X+ 12 reps back of %X
    Week 2: " "+ 13 reps back of %X
    Week 3: " " 10 reps (back of weigth heavier than previous week)
    Week 4: 11 reps....
    Week 5:8 reps...
    Week 6: 9 reps...
    Now, in the next round, what I do:
    1. Take the new heavier max from the week 6 and start the next round, whit will put heavier overwarmup and back of sets:
    2. Ad less in the 1Rm than my true new 1RM;
    3.keep the weigth and the overwarmup the same, but try to beat the reps on the back off sets like this:
    W1: 13 reps
    W2: 14
    The problem whit option 3 is that whit time the overwarmup will get very ligth, so the question is When and how much should I increase the 1RM max to run the cycle.
    Thank's for you patience and help, I really want to run it rigth.

  12. The overwarm-up is SUPPOSED to be very light. It is not a "single". It's to make the back off feel/be easier.

    The overwarm up single should NEVER be heavy. The big-15 is not about increasing 1RM strength.

  13. Paul,

    I'm one that the thumbless grip does not work for in the Military Press at all. Tried because Wendler said the same thing, but it just through me off. I used to do all presses like that but now I simply can't. Only thing I can think of is when I missed a clean one time with 295lbs and it ran both of my elbows into my knees and sprang both wrists, probably near broke them. My wrists don't seem to have been the same since.

    But all other points are dead on. I got my best results mixing heavy singles and sets of 5. I hate higher reps and don't think it equates out to heavier lifts like it does in other lifts although I do have a goal of BWx10 reps regardless if it don't do an thing for the top end. Hold on, I do think it has one good benefit. When you go those higher reps, it teaches you to really tighten and stabilize all the key areas important to heavy pressing. When i get to around 8 reps my body wants to start acting like a noodle. You have to really lock yourself in when things get loose.

    Jeff Roark

  14. Paul, maybe a silly question, but I have to ask somebody:

    I had already been doing overhead BB extensions on Press day. For simplicity, I had been just stripping most of the weight off the bar after my press sets, and doing the triceps sets in the same spot. Usually this is on squat stands, but sometimes at a power rack, just depending on what was available when I set up to Press.

    The french presses were killing my wrists, however I noticed the gym had a full-length EZ bar. I started using that instead this last week, and it feels much better on my wrists. The only problem is that now that I'm switching bars out, I kind of feel like a douche doing EZ bar extensions at a rack or other squat station. Is this the same thing as curling in the rack? It would be kind of a pain in the ass to set this up somewhere else in the gym because of the bar length and various factors related to they gym's set-up, but I don't want to be the turd in the puch bowl here.

    On the other hand, would I be losing anything by just going to a DB/Curl area and using the smaller EZ bars for this movement?

  15. I only do the french presses with the EZ bar for the same reason. Easier on the wrists. Take care of your joints.

    Do em seated or standing. If you just feel so douchy you can't stand it, do em seated. That way at least you're not standing in the rack to do french presses.

    Tho I find it odd there isn't anyplace at all to stand in the gym to do these.

  16. It's a big basement gym and most of the headroom is in the Rack/Platform area. Everywhere else there's tons of pipe and ductwork running everywhere that you have to watch out for when you try to put anything overhead while standing. No big deal with DB's, but with a full length bar it gets dicey up there.

    Thanks for your comments. I'll just do them seated and/or with the short bar over in the DB area.

  17. thx for this post. i am getting pissed about my press and i think this is what i needed. i am gonna hit it twice a week for a while and see what happens.