4 tips for a stronger overhead press

written by Philip Stefanov  |  NOVEMBER 22, 2022

The overhead press is a great movement that offers numerous benefits. Unfortunately, working up to heavy weights can feel impossible, especially if you’ve been stuck.

To that end, I’ve dedicated this week’s newsletter to 4 tips that have helped me make steady progress with the overhead press.

Let’s review.

1. Do The Exercise More Frequently

Research shows that training frequency is vital for strength gain (1). This makes sense because the more frequently we do an exercise, the better we get at it, and the more we improve our neuromuscular efficiency.

In other words, if you want to build a solid overhead press, you must do it more frequently. As a rule of thumb, you should train it two to three times per week, always resting for at least 48 hours between sessions.

For example:

Monday - overhead press
Wednesday - overhead press
Friday - overhead press

2. Experiment With Variations

Okay, you’ve decided to overhead press three times per week. Now what? Well, one option is to go in and train the variation you want to improve. For most people, that’s the standing barbell press.

But aside from training the primary lift, you should experiment with variations. For example:

  • Standing barbell shoulder press
  • Seated dumbbell shoulder press
  • Standing push-press

Doing so is a great way to keep your training fresh and vary the training stress to reduce the risk of overuse injuries.

Here’s what it might look like inside a training week:

  • Monday - Standing barbell shoulder press (4 sets)
  • Wednesday - Seated dumbbell shoulder press (3 sets)
  • Friday - Standing push-press (4 sets)

Aside from doing various activities, you should train with different loads. Doing so will further vary the training stress, allowing you to create more mechanical tension and metabolic stress, which are crucial factors for hypertrophy (2).

For example, you can do heavy sets of 5 to 8 reps on the standing barbell press, but you can do 8 to 10 reps on the standing push-press and 10 to 15 reps on seated dumbbell presses.

For example:

  • Monday - Standing barbell shoulder press (4 sets, 5 to 8 reps)
  • Wednesday - Seated dumbbell shoulder press (3 sets, 10 to 15 reps)
  • Friday - Standing push-press (4 sets, 8 to 10 reps)

3. Press the Bar in a Straight Vertical Line

A solid overhead shoulder press is possible when you get the barbell from point A to B in the shortest and most efficient path, which is a straight line.

Aside from moving the weight through a shorter range of motion, you maintain the strong position you create at the start of the set.

A common mistake is pressing the barbell forward and up to go around the head. Doing so lengthens the range of motion and brings the weight away from the center of gravity.

The simple fix is to get your head back as you initiate each rep. Press the barbell straight up and simultaneously bring your head back, tucking your chin.

Keep the barbell over your center of gravity and press it in a straight line. You’d be surprised how big of an impact this simple fix can have.

4. Set Yourself Up For Success

Working out is not about moving weights from points A to B for the sake of completing reps and sets. Building muscle and getting stronger is about training with proper technique, engaging the correct muscles, and putting yourself in the best possible position for success.

To get the most out of each set, you need to take the time to set yourself up. Here’s how that looks for the overhead shoulder press:

  • Tighten your upper back and bring your chest out
  • Screw your body into the barbell to create a tight upper-body position
  • Imagine that you’re trying to bend the bar with your bare hands, similar to how you would prepare for a bench press
  • Squeeze your glutes to ensure your pelvis remains in a stable position and doesn’t tilt forward, which typically results in a lower back arch
  • Brace your abs before unracking the barbell to stabilize your upper body and pelvis

Once you unrack the bar, take a step back to clear enough room, assume the proper stance (feet shoulder-width apart), and breathe into your belly.

Taking five to ten seconds to set yourself up before each set is valuable. You’ll find yourself in a much stabler and more confident position to press overhead.

Thank you for taking the time. Until next week,


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