Before pressing, adequate shoulder and thoracic mobility is essential to preventing injury. We’ve talked about thoracic mobility plenty in the previous weeks (back squats and front squats) so I won’t drag them out further.
For shoulder mobility, I particularly like trigger point work. I’ve had most success with clients lying on their side with the arm closest to the ground reaching overhead. Have a look at the diagram for the particular point (you’ll know when you find it!).
[You can do this with a foam roller too - just like in the picture. I find, however, that the trigger ball is more aggressive and gives slightly better results.]
Starting To Press
Pressing technique is beyond the scope of this article. All I want to say on technique is that a standard overhead press comes from the top of the chest/sternum with elbows slightly in front of the bar and pointing forwards, not underneath or pointing outwards (as in a traditional dumbbell press.)
I like using higher reps with light weight – groove the technique and acclimatise the shoulders to going overhead for repetitions. Slow and steady progression is particularly important for shoulder work – in my experience the shoulders tend to be more vulnerable than other major joints.
Strengthening the Overhead Shoulder Press
Firstly, press. Simple. Mix the reps between low (5 or less) and high (10+). It can take more reps for shoulders to lay down some muscle tissue than with other areas of the body.
Secondly, supplement with a few of these exercises:
- Kettlebell press: I like these best because the weight is racked in front of the body just like the barbell in an overhead press. These can also be done seated or standing (seated makes the core have to work extra hard because the glutes are rendered ineffective.) Single and double arm varieties are both acceptable.
- Push press: The push press, with its extra assistance from the knees and hips, teaches you to deal with heavier weights. Good form on a press is essential before moving to the push press (it tends to magnify any faults in your press.) Try using the push press for reps, where between each rep you control the weight eccentrically back to the rack position (negative reps.)
- Turkish get ups: great for overhead stability and lockout strength.
Exercises Not To Use
These are exercises I wouldn’t use to boost press numbers. It’s not that they’re bad exercises – just not for boosting the overhead press:
- Dumbbell overhead press: The weight typically comes from outside and in line with the shoulder joint, rather than from in front of the shoulder as a barbell does.
- Handstand push ups: Again, with your back to the wall, the elbows tend to flare out to the side rather than to the front of the body. The range of motion is also significantly shorter when working off the floor.
[You could successfully argue that free handstand pressing or handstand pressing with the chest facing the wall are more useful for overhead pressing due to the difference in body angle and elbow position.]
Try These Out…
See how you go with these exercises and keep tabs on your pressing numbers. Just make sure your shoulders remain pain free – if they start to get sore, reduce your pressing volume for a week or two (that usually does the trick – anything more serious then get the doc to do his or her thing!)