The Intelligent & Relentless Pursuit of Muscle™

Nailing the Overhead Press

07/11/14
Christian-overhead-press

Here's what you need to know...

•  Using a thumbless grip on overhead pressing allows for a better path of the bar by bringing it in closer to the centerline of the body. It's also easier on the shoulders and wrists.

•  Start with a shoulder-width grip. As a visual cue, rotate your hands back towards your delts. If your thumb grazes the outside of them, you've got it right.

•  Contract your glutes, abs, and quads when you press. The more tension you have throughout the body, the stronger you'll be.

•  Activate the biceps on the eccentric portion of the press. When you lower the bar, think about doing a sort of hammer curl towards your face/ears.

•  Press with a purpose. That means press with violence and hate. Try to think about throwing it through the ceiling.

Lots of guys these days shit on any form of seated press, but I'm not sure why. The entire purpose of pressing overhead is simply to build bigger and stronger shoulders. Whether you're seated or standing doesn't really matter unless you're a competitive strongman and it applies directly to how you compete. Otherwise, take full advantage of every kind of overhead variation. Anyone who presses 300-plus pounds overhead for reps, seated or standing, is going to have big, strong shoulders.

For our purpose here however, we're going to stick with the standing overhead press, since so many guys have incorporated it into their routine and use it as a primary bench press support movement.


Technical Cues

Before we get into the programming part of the routine, let's address a few technical issues that can help with your press.

False grip: This means not having the thumb around the bar. You'll feel much stronger with a thumbless grip. There are several theories about this, but in my experience it allows for a better path of the bar by bringing it in slightly closer to the centerline of the body. The thumbless grip is also easier on the shoulders in general and more kind to the wrists.

Proper grip-width: I do my pressing with a relatively close grip and my shoulders constantly thank me for it by not aching anymore. Not only that, but I've found that because my grip is similar across all of my pressing movements, the carryover from each one is far more significant. Start with a shoulder-width grip, or at least in that range. As a visual cue, rotate your hands back towards your delts. If your thumb grazes the outside of them, you're sitting pretty.

Keep the body tight: Contract your ass, abs, and quads when you press. When I was doing a lot of hard Klokov presses, aka snatch-grip presses, my quads would cramp so badly I'd have to walk around for a few minutes afterwards to get them to relax. Remember, the more tension you have throughout the body, the stronger you'll be, so even tension in the legs and glutes will transfer to a stronger overhead press. Simply pointing your toes slightly out allows the glutes to contract harder.

Activate the biceps on the eccentric portion: This is a fairly nebulous concept, but I'll do my best to explain it. When you lower the bar, think about doing a sort of hammer curl towards your face and ears. This helps to distribute the load of the bar across a greater area, and again creates more tension. More tension, more strength. Once you get this technique down, your overhead press (and pressing in general) will increase. The biceps also stabilize the elbow joint, so activating them helps as you lower the bar.


Head Through, or Not?

One common cue for pressing overhead is to get your "head through" the bar as it clears your head. Think about pushing your head forward through the "window" created by your arms. A lot of lifters, including Olympic lifters, adhere to this and it allows them to press heavier weights. However, when I tried to push my head through I always felt as if I lost tension in the movement. When I simply pressed the bar straight overhead without pushing my head through, I felt much stronger and more stable. My suggestion is to try both methods and see which one you feel it puts you in a stronger position.


Develop the Muscles Involved in the Press

This one seems obvious, but a lot of people don't put much thought into actually developing the muscles required to press, i.e., the anterior delts, traps, and the triceps. In the program below, I hit all those areas with support work consisting of the following:

Plate Front Raise: To build the anterior delts. Done for high reps with a 25-pound plate.
Lateral Raise: Standing with dumbbells.
Bent-Over Lateral: To keep balance throughout the shoulders.
Upright Row: To develop the traps.
Incline Press: To develop the upper pecs and triceps. Use the same grip you use for standing press.
Standing or Seated Triceps French Press: To strengthen and develop the triceps.

But for developing the press itself, you will of course have to perform the press!


The Overhead Press Specialization Program

The program below put 20 pounds on my overhead press in 6 weeks, which, at the stage of the game I'm in, is pretty good. Keep in mind the percentages listed below should be based on your current best overhead press, not what you did as a PR six months ago.

Week 1


Shoulder Training Day 1

  Exercise Weight Sets Reps
A Standing Press Empty Bar
45%
60%
65%
70%
75%
65%
1
1
1
1
1
1
3
20
5
4
3
2
1
5
B 25-pound Plate Raise   1 100*
C Upright Row   4 8
D Triceps French Press   4 8

* nonstop

Shoulder Training Day 2

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Incline Press – 350 method 3 50
350 method: Try to get a total of 50 reps in 3 sets, using the same weight. When you can reach 50 total reps, increase the weight by 5% the next time out.
B Lateral Raise 4* 12
C Bent-Over Lateral 4* 12

* use the same weight for all 4 sets

Week 2


Shoulder Training Day 1

  Exercise Weight Sets Reps
A Standing Press Empty Bar
50%
60%
70%
75%
80%
70%
55%
1
1
1
1
1
1
3
2
20
5
4
3
2
1
5
8
B 25-pound Plate Raise   1 100*
C Upright Row   4 8
D Triceps French Press   4 8

* nonstop

Shoulder Training Day 2

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Incline Press – 350 method 3 50
350 method: Try to get a total of 50 reps in 3 sets, using the same weight. When you can reach 50 total reps, increase the weight by 5% the next time out.
B Lateral Raise 4* 12
C Bent-Over Lateral 4* 12

* use the same weight for all 4 sets

Week 3


Shoulder Training Day 1

  Exercise Weight Sets Reps
A Standing Press Empty Bar
50%
60%
70%
75%
80%
75%
65%
1
1
1
1
1
1
3
2
20
5
4
3
2
1
3
5
B 25-pound Plate Raise   1 100*
C Upright Row   4 8
D Triceps French Press   4 8

* nonstop

Shoulder Training Day 2

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Incline Press – 350 method 3 50
350 method: Try to get a total of 50 reps in 3 sets, using the same weight. When you can reach 50 total reps, increase the weight by 5% the next time out.
B Lateral Raise 4* 12
C Bent-Over Lateral 4* 12

* use the same weight for all 4 sets

Week 4


  Exercise Weight Sets Reps
A Standing Press Empty Bar
50%
60%
70%
75%
85%
75%
65%
1
1
1
1
1
1
3
2
20
5
4
3
2
1
3
5
B 25-pound Plate Raise   1 100*
C Upright Row   4 8
D Triceps French Press   4 8

* nonstop

Shoulder Training Day 2

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Incline Press – 350 method 3 50
350 method: Try to get a total of 50 reps in 3 sets, using the same weight. When you can reach 50 total reps, increase the weight by 5% the next time out.
B Lateral Raise 4* 12
C Bent-Over Lateral 4* 12

* use the same weight for all 4 sets

Week 5


Shoulder Training Day 1

  Exercise Weight Sets Reps
A Standing Press Empty Bar
60%
70%
80%
85%
90%
80%
70%
1
1
1
1
1
1
3
2
20
5
4
3
2
1
3
5
B 25-pound Plate Raise   1 100*
C Upright Row   4 8
D Triceps French Press   4 8

* nonstop

Shoulder Training Day 2

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Incline Press – 350 method 3 50
350 method: Try to get a total of 50 reps in 3 sets, using the same weight. When you can reach 50 total reps, increase the weight by 5% the next time out.
B Lateral Raise 4* 12
C Bent-Over Lateral 4* 12

* use the same weight for all 4 sets

Week 6


Shoulder Training Day 1

  Exercise Weight Sets Reps
A Standing Press Empty Bar
60%
70%
80%
85%
95%
80%
70%
1
1
1
1
1
1
3
3
20
5
4
3
2
1
3
5
B 25-pound Plate Raise   1 100*
C Upright Row   4 8
D Triceps French Press   4 8

* nonstop

Shoulder Training Day 2

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Incline Press – 350 method 3 50
350 method: Try to get a total of 50 reps in 3 sets, using the same weight. When you can reach 50 total reps, increase the weight by 5% the next time out.
B Lateral Raise 4* 12
C Bent-Over Lateral 4* 12

* use the same weight for all 4 sets

Week 7 - Testing

On week 7, take most of the week off and then come back and work up to a nice new single. Simply beat your previous max by a few pounds and then go for something bigger.


Final Notes

You might have noticed the program stays relatively light the first few weeks. This is basically a peaking program and it'll work tremendously well if you don't get overzealous in programming. In other words, don't do your calculations based on a one-rep max that you want to hit; program it with something you know you can hit but will still be fairly difficult.

As far as the support work, start relatively light and add weight each week there as well. All of the rep work is to give you a bit of hypertrophy and strength in the stabilizing groups. If upright rows bother your shoulders, replace them with "armpit rows" where you grab a couple of dumbbells and row them up your sides towards your sweaty pits.

Lastly, you want to press with a purpose. That means press with violence and hate. Try to think about throwing it through the ceiling. Pressing slowly has no place in the world of developing maximal strength.

07/11/14