How to Overhead Press Correctly & Safely

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INTRODUCTION

The overhead press is a critical movement that strengthens and ingrains the ability to maintain a stable shoulder position when reaching overhead. This movement serves as a great pre-habilitation exercise to maintain healthy shoulders. It strengthens the shoulders and arm muscles while teaching core stability.

 

OVERHEAD PRESS FORM VIDEO

 

BENEFITS OF THE OVERHEAD PRESS

  • Teaches you to maintain a stable shoulder position when reaching overhead
  • Improves the mobility of the shoulder joint while encouraging the thoracic range of motion
  • Strengthens of all three heads of the shoulder muscles and triceps, while teaching core stability which improves lean muscle mass and fat burning

MUSCLES WORKED DURING THE OVERHEAD PRESS

  • Anterior Deltoids
  • Medial Deltoids
  • Triceps
  • Abs/Core
  • Glutes

PERFORMING THE OVERHEAD PRESS WITH GOOD TECHNIQUE

  • Approach a barbell that is set up in a power rack at the mid-chest (above the nipple) level
  • Alternatively, if you do not have a rack, you can pick up a barbell from the floor (this becomes difficult as the weight gets heavier)
  • Set your grip on the bar just outside of shoulder width with your thumbs wrapped around the bar
  • Dive underneath the bar and position it on your anterior shoulder muscles with your elbows slightly in front of the bar when looking from the side

  • Stand up to the weight and take up to three steps back to position your feet just outside of shoulder width

  • Begin the movement by taking a big breath, holding it in and squeezing your glute muscles
  • This point is necessary to ensure spinal stability
  • Start pressing the weight overhead and tuck your chin back to avoid hitting it with the bar on the way up
  • Press the bar directly overhead in as straight a line as possible
  • Once the bar clears the top of your head, bring your head and thoracic spine forward to allow the bar path to continue straight directly over your midline

  • We should be able to draw a straight line from the barbell down to the middle of your foot
  • Keep your glutes squeezed and core engaged the entire time
  • Reverse the movement by again tucking your chin to let the barbell travel in a straight line back down
  • Bring the weight all the way back down to your shoulders

COMMON OVERHEAD PRESS MISTAKES

PRESSING THE BAR IN FRONT OF YOUR BODY

  • Not pressing the bar directly over your midline places your shoulder joint in a compromised position and it does not adequately train all three shoulder heads
  • Check your starting position and press directly in a straight line

NOT KEEPING YOUR ELBOWS IN FRONT OF THE BAR

  • This mistake will automatically create the first mistake as well
  • This is a technical issue that will not allow you to apply a direct upward force on the barbell
  • Keeping your elbows back will increase the chance of the bar going out in front of you

EXCESSIVELY ARCHING THE BACK TO INITIATE THE MOVEMENT

  • This technical issue usually occurs when the weight is too heavy
  • Arching your back places a large strain on the lumbar spine increasing the risk of injury
  • Maintain your glutes squeezed throughout the movement and remain upright

NOT PERFORMING A FULL RANGE OF MOTION

  • Bring the barbell all the way down back to your anterior deltoid to activate all of the motor units of these large muscle groups

OVERHEAD PRESS VARIATIONS

 

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Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM CPTs, health & fitness experts, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a site dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals. Their advice has been featured on KevinMD, The Doctor Weighs In, My Fitness Pal, Reader's Digest, Livestrong, and The Active Times. Learn more about them here.

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