A Guide to the Perfect Overhead Press

In this video, we teach you how to press in a step-by-step tutorial. Learn how to overhead press with proper technique and form.

About the Press

The press, also known as the overhead press, strict press or military press, is performed while standing up and involves shoving a heavy weight up over your head. The press trains a very important group of posterior shoulder musculature known as the rotator cuff. These muscles include the subscapularis, supraspinatus, infraspinatus and teres minor. The press also trains the triceps, deltoids and trapezius muscles. The rotator cuff muscles are crucial to shoulder health and are often neglected since the majority of upper body work performed in the gym trains the chest and arms.

It is a common misnomer that the press causes shoulder impingement, which is when the rotator cuff muscles get trapped between the head of the humerus and coracoid and acromion processes. However, this does not happen during a properly performed press (keep reading to learn why).

“Shoving a heavy weight up over your head” sounds like a simple exercise, but there is a proper way to learn how to press.

Grip, Wrist, Elbows

Take a grip on the bar that is more narrow than the squat grip – it should produce perfectly vertical forearms. In order to achieve straight wrists, place the webbing of your forefingers and thumbs on the barbell, rotate the forefingers towards each other and thumbs down, and then wrap your fingers around the bar. As you walk under the bar, push your elbows forward and up while keeping your wrists straight. You will notice the bar sits deep in the heel of the palm, not up in the fingers. When viewed from the side, your elbows should be slightly in front of the barbell, as this produces the most efficient position to press from.

The Strict Press

If you are older, a complete beginner, or have other flexibility issues, start with the strict press. First, you’ll learn the proper start position – let’s build on the set up we learned above. Once your grip is correct, stand up with the bar and walk out of the rack. Pull your elbows in and up, take a big deep breath and shove the bar up and back over your head. At the top, you will shrug your traps up, like you’re trying to cover your ears. Pull your triceps up to get full elbow extension. This shrug is absolutely crucial, because this prevents shoulder impingement, which we discussed earlier. Shrugging the trapezius muscles will clear the rotator cuff muscles of any possible soft tissue impingement.

Additionally, at the lockout, the straight vertical line from the barbell through your shoulder joint, hip joint, and down to the midfoot on the floor.

Now that you’ve learned the setup, start position and lockout position, let’s put it all together. Take your grip, unrack the bar, step back, take a deep breath and shrug the bar up to the lockout. Bring it back down, take a new breath and perform another rep.

Stop neglecting your posterior deltoids – and start pressing!

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