Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Fixing your overhead press

Yes, anyone who has read my shit knows I am a self professed natural at overhead pressing.  This is true.  I can remember repping with the 90's on seated db press when I was 17 and 170 fairly easily.  Since then I've done the 100's for 20+, cleaned and pressed 275 strict for a triple, regularly do press behind the neck with 225x10 easily, and the same for clean and press.  I can manage most of these lifts without doing them very often.

Sometimes I go months at a time without overhead pressing, rather opting to incline press and some close grips once a month.  That's about it.  When I do try and overhead press, it's like humping your ex-girl again.  You know where all the good spots are, and exactly what's going down.

So how the hell could I speak technically about overhead pressing?  Well, that's a good question.  I will give it a shot though, and explain why overhead pressing feels natural to me, and what happens when I do press some shit overhead.

Notice I say overhead pressing.  Not jumping under a god damn bar like some kind of circus monkey.  Jumping under a bar, is not putting weights overhead to me.  This is an area where I am sometimes met with resistance by other strength fuckers and such, but I care not.  Snatches and jerks are snatches and jerks.  To me, putting weights overhead signifies that you pressed that shit overhead.  Again, this is just my opinion.  I admire the shit out of Olympic lifting, mainly because I suck at it, and have a huge man crush on Klokov.  

So you will find no Oly lift hate here.  However, to me, putting weights overhead in PC land is all about pressing it over your head.  Not jumping under it.

To add fuel to this fire, I am not a fan of push presses.  Again, this hurts some peoples vaginas but I don't care.  It's generally the guys that push press a lot but can't strict press a lot that get mad about this.  In other words, they hate for me to crush on their ego lift.

To me the point of overhead pressing is to either develop shoulder and overhead strength, or demonstrate it.  Push presses are like chest bounced bench presses, or maybe board presses.  Neither of these lifts really say how much you can strictly bench press, and push presses don't really say a god damn thing about how strong you are at overhead pressing.  I've known guys with 300+ pound push presses who could not strict press what 250.  Case closed.

So what does that leave us with?

Standing military press, either cleaned or off the rack.  Press behind the neck of various types, dumbbell pressing, machine and various apparatus pressing, like the Viking press.

I really wanna get one of these for my basement......before you tell me how to set this up in the rack, I'm joking


Go thumbless - 


I go thumbless on all of my pressing.  However for overhead work, especially on the military press, it makes EVERYONE press more.  I've never had a single person that pressed the same or less, after they switched to a thumbless grip for overhead work.  It's an immediate improvement.  This is because it move the bar just slightly closer in to your body, and in a much stronger path.  It sits in closer to the center line of your body, and gives you a better "shelf" to press off of.

For every one guy that says it didn't do anything for him, I will show you a liar who didn't try it.

Ok I'm overstating it for humor, however I'm not far off.  If you didn't get more out of military pressing thumbless, you did something wrong or are doing something wrong.

Squeezing your biceps -

One thing that most guys don't think about, or do, when they military press is to squeeze their biceps.  You can practice this as you read this.

Put your hands in front of you like you are doing a military press.  Now, curl your hands into you.  That grip, is where your hands should be on the bar when you press.  Squeezing the biceps, or allowing them to work in a more effective position as the antagonist in the movement.  Many guys just let their triceps sort of "hold" the weight isometrically.  This will make pushing the weight off of the bottom much harder, than if you get the biceps involved from the bottom portion of the press.  This might require a video later, so if this confuses you, I can always add one.

Use the proper grip - 

If you are wide in your military press, bring that grip in.  If you think you are wide, you are.  If you think you are narrow, you are probably just right.  Generally, your thumbs should line up just outside of your anterior delts.

As anyone can see via the Klokov press, the wider you get on a military press the more difficult the press is going to be.  So get the grip in closer if you have a wide grip.  The only exception here might be those t-rex armed guys who do so well pressing naturally, then it doesn't matter as much.

If you are doing press behind the neck however, you need to get your grip out wider.  Not as wide as the Klokov press, however the PBN CAN fuck your shoulders up if you try to do them with a "parallel" grip (forearms straight up from the ground when you are at the bottom of the press).

Your forearms should basically be at a 45 degree angle on the press behind the neck.  Try to think about pushing your hands up in to the corners of the room.

Do singles, doubles, and triples to the front, 8+ to the side and rear - 

For the standing military press, I have found that most guys, myself included, respond really well to singles, doubles, and triples in regards to making that lift move fast.  It doesn't mean I don't knock out a rep set of 10 now and then.  However, if you are talking about really building your top poundage for military pressing, stick with sets in the 1-3 rep range.

When it comes to dumbbell pressing and behind the neck pressing, I have found that moderate and high reps seem to progress faster than lower reps.  Your mileage may vary in this regard, but this is what I have noticed.

Press more often - 

If your overhead work is really in the shitter, press twice a week overhead.  The shoulders seem to have a very fast recovery time, so pound those fuckers into dust twice a week.  1 heavy day pressing to the front, and the second day pressing more moderately from the side and rear.

Learn how to stabilize -

If you are off balance pressing, it means you have a problem stabilizing in your back and glutes.  This is not a STRENGTH issue.  This is a technique issue.  No different than guys not knowing how to setup on bench.  Squeeze the fuck out of your glutes when you press overhead and see what happens.  That's right.  Your ass should be pinned to the floor because your erectors and upperback will kick in like a mule hopped up on crank.  

These are some of the things that could help you out.  I also want to add that ultimately, for most guys, big pressing is something that just comes over time and consistency.  The lower body responds fast to squats and leg work, but pressing can be a long struggle for some guys.

Remember, big picture.  If you press it, it will come.  The weight, I mean.  













47 comments:

  1. Good article man, just what I needed as I seem to be fairly good at benching and squatting, but my shoulder development and overhead pressing has always been lackluster. It just sucks for us "non-natural overhead pressers" because my weight progresses very fast on bench and squats, but I seem to only be able to put up granny weight over my head, oh well, stop bitching and start pressing I guess.
    P.S. I assumed all strength athletes have a man crush on Klokov.

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  2. Great article Paul, I think this should really help me out with my overhead pressing. Quick question what are you thoughts on thick bar training or use of things like fat gripz to increase grip strength along with forearm strength and size?

    Thanks

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  3. How would you organize pressing twice with a single bench session? Monday/wednesday Presses, Friday benching? Or bench on Wednesday and Press on Monday/Friday?

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    1. Just bench after one of the overhead sessions.

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    2. I'm new to this and following the starting strength program. Is there anything wrong with doing the bench and overhead presses 3 days a week? Typical program has them alternating.

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    3. Let me add, just make sure you do a TON of pulling work to keep things balanced.

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  4. +1 on pressing overhead 2+ times a week. Brought my military up by 20lbs or so in about 6 weeks just by upping the frequency and training in various rep ranges. It's not hard guys. Just put in the time and program properly. Thanks for the article Paul..the bicep tip was especially interesting to me.

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  5. I have a super shitty military press, and I've tried many set/rep schemes to improve it. So far, I've had the best luck with doing ladders with 1-3 reps (do 1/2/3/1/2/3/1/2/3, increase weight next week if you get all reps).

    Recently, I've been incorporating dumbbell OHPs into my routine. I haven't seen any carryover to my military press, but I have been able to improve my dumbbell OHP even while cutting. (Just last night, I pressed a pair of dumbbells overhead 6 times whereas before my cut I could only do them for a shaky single.) Usually I use the standard 3x10 set/rep scheme for them.

    I just bring this up as another data point for what you pointed out -- my military only improved significantly on 1-3 reps, while my dumbbell presses responded better to high volume.

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    1. Not to sound like an expert on anything, but I found that increasing my PBN (and doing it standing obviously) for moderate reps (working up to a set of 12, increase weight when you hit 12) along with a 50% set afterward really helped move my clean & press.

      DB presses are alright but I haven't really found much carryover to it. Guess it's like Paul says, lifting is very movement specific.

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    2. Dumbbells tend to work well for balancing everything out. Getting into a locked in position over and over again with shoulder pressing can lead to problems. Uni-lateral/dumbbell work is always a good thing.

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  6. Paul, for novices or other guys that aren't very strong, "...if your overhead work is really in the shitter..." might seem like it automatically applies. Maybe throw out some guidelines or pointers for how to decide if it's time to focus more on pressing than other lifts?

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    1. There isn't a guideline for it. More like "I need to be stronger at overhead pressing". You know if you really suck there. I knew from a young age that overhead pressing felt natural.

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  7. awsome article paul.i dont know about others but i gonna bookmark this

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  8. Wasn't sure where to post this question. Comments and advice on crossfitters trying to gain/keep size on. Comment on crossfit in general?

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    1. I think we/I have touched on crossfit like 100000 times now. Use the custom search bar, dawg.

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  9. I'm prolly just retarded, but a video showing that biceps trick would be helpful for me.

    Can't wait for your book!

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  10. I've been using ladders of 1,2,3, and 4 reps for the past 2 weeks and I think my poundages for the press must have jumped 20lbs for the Klokov Press. It works!

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  11. Probably a dumb question, but when you say you do all pressing thumbless, does that include any of the behind the neck stuff?

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    Replies
    1. Klokov is the only press I use a thumb around grip.

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    2. Thank you for the response oh blessed beauty.

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    3. You guys are acting bananas today.

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    4. Have you heard of Fitocracy? Jamie joined a while back but didn't seem that thrilled with it. Basically an online workout log/facebook for lifters and other fitness people.

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  12. BB.com people leaking in with their lingo.

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  13. paul do you prefer the military stance or split stand while pressing ?

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  14. Sort of off-topic, but all pressing has come to a grading halt for me as a result of elbow tendonitis.

    Nearly three weeks out of the gym and my elbows are still shit.

    I'm assuming rest is all I can do for it?

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    Replies
    1. Lots of curls........elbow sleeves. Search function.

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  15. Hey Paul, what about seated overhead presses? Do they have any use for increasing your standing or they are too different as moves?

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    Replies
    1. I train seated presses differently. Moderate rep ranges.

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    2. Why if i may ask? Personal preference or....?

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    3. Just tends to respond better...similar to incline.

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  16. Saying overhead work should only be strict pressing seems a bit hasty and reminds me of those who won't call the deadlift a pull because the arms don't bend and scapula retract. I mean, on a snatch or jerk you're still using the muscles which put the weight overhead even if they only do so in a locked position. Some similar, but fewer, things can be said for lifts like get-ups and bent presses as being overhead work. Either way, not to imply in any way that they are a substitute for simply pressing.

    Shame that weightlifting is only snatch/c&j now. With the press, it was the perfect trio of lifts.

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    1. I think the press was eventually taken out because assholes started leaning back so god damn far in it.

      And what I wrote is, saying "putting weights overhead" shouldn't include shit like the jerk and snatch. Strict pressing a weight OVERHEAD, isn't the same as jumping under it to get it there. Just my opinion.

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  17. Hey,

    My shoulder hurts when I press heavy sets. The more often I press, the more it hurts. The funny thing is, I can bench no problem. Is this imbalance problems, or are my shoulders not meant for pressing overhead? BTW, I mainly oly lift.

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    1. You Oly lift and overhead pressing hurts? Wow. That's weird.

      You may need to do some cuff work.

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    2. Explain cuff work.

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    3. Rotator cuff work. Do some external rotation work.

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    4. Hey , same deal. I was oly lifting for a while (im one of those dicks whose push press is nearly double his strict press) and when I started pressing it was murder on my shoulders! (and pathetically weak)

      Bench was fine, press aggravated them. I found a wider grip way easier on my shoulders, working on bringing it in.

      I think a lot of it is just because in oly you never train the bottom end, off the chest, just using your shoulders.

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  18. Paul, thanks for such a great article. I've long been pushing the athletes (collegiate and HS club rowers) to include more overhead pressing, and many of them hit a major wall about 9-10 months into our strength training program. I'm forwarding this program to them and incorporating some of these ideas into my own training.

    Quick question if you don't mind answering it -- I've found that push-presses tax my shoulders far less than strict presses and behind-the-neck-presses, and I can go far heavier on them for doubles and triples. Would I be hindering my progress if I did pressing work on Monday/Friday and some push-presses for heavy triples on Wednesdays after my bench work?

    Cheers, and thanks for consistently putting out such high quality blog posts/training logs,

    J

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  19. I put these tips into practice today and hit a huge PR in my military press. Thanks, glad I found this blog.

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  20. Hey Paul,

    Good post on overhead pressing. Personally, my lifting is mainly focused on deadlifts and bench-pressing, but I will tell you one thing---when I neglect my overhead pressing, my bench gets shot to hell and I will experience extreme discomfort in my shoulders. The more I overhead press, the better everything feels in sync. So, the value of overhead pressing is quite essential. (and you're definitely spot-on with doing a lot of rows n shit to balance things out)

    Personally, I find that overhead pressing via push-pressing or strict pressing with a barbell fking wrecks my shoulders in the worst way. I usually overhead press my keg and am the boss at it. I suspect its the nuetral grip which makes it all good for me. Hell, If i had a strongman log...I'd be pressing that effing thing from morning to night, haha. That thumbless tip may be worth trying.

    Paul, One thing that i love doing and find that helps my bench tremendously is 1-arm dumbbell Pressing Isometrics. I'd just pick a heavy dumbell and press it overhead and hold it for a minute. I probably do about 10 sets. It forces you to lock everything in together, toughens the ligaments, and gets a shitload of blood pumping in there. That's my 2 cents anyhow.

    Good post, dude.

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  21. Nice article. How highly do you regard behind the neck pressing? Obviously there's a lot of negativity towards BTN pressing on the internet yet there are tons of successful lifters out there in all realms who use and praise BTN presses. I've been experimenting with BTN pressing and it seems to work the entire deltoids better than front presses which for me really focuses on the front delts. I already frequently bench and incline press. I'm considering alternating front and BTN presses or just swapping front presses completely with BTN presses for a while. Any thoughts?

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    1. I love PBN. And I think they are a superior shoulder builder than the front press. They are only dangerous if you have neglected shoulder flexibility work to the point where you shouldn't be benching either.

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  22. What about grip width on bradford presses?

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