When you see an object on the ground, your initial testosterone fuelled primordial instinct is to lift it above your head. To clarify what I mean by an overhead press - a bar, taken out of a rack, pressed to overhead lockout, while standing, with a narrow grip and no kind of push pressing (leg assistance). With this in mind, why is it that there is a serious lack of any kind of heavy overhead work in most gyms today? Struggling to lift 40% of your bench press over your head in a strict press indicates an incredible imbalance in muscular function between anterior and posterior muscles and also leaves you primed for a shoulder injury that sadly won't be prevented by a sophomoric obsession with curls.
A strong press these days has become an oddity, something rarely seen, the overhead press declined greatly in popularity after it's removal from the Olympics as the athletic merit of a strong press quickly became irrelevent. A guy with horribly proportioned weak shoulders and a general lack of gains? Your weight room is more than likely full of them.
Why should you overhead press with a barbell? Here's a few reasons -
- Balances anterior/posterior deltoid development, this will prevent a lot of bench press related injuries and shoulder issues. If your press is weak (under 50% of your bench press) it would be an idea to replace your bench press sets with press sets, your bench won't stagnate and your pecs won't fall off so don't worry.
- Incredible tricep strength builder, if you're a weak presser but have a strong bench, expect your bench to shoot up with the addition of overhead presses.
- Involves the whole body, when you're standing with a heavy weight locked out above your head your entire body is under compressive tension. While it may be seen as a shoulder exercise, learning to press heavy weights will make your whole body that much more stable from neck to toe. This again carries over very well to things like the bench press.
Do not confuse it with a seated press/dumbbell press/some kind of machine though, they are very different exercises with very different contributions from different muscle groups!
So now you're convinced that you should man up and lift heavy things above your head, here are 5 tips that will help you along your way -
1. PUSH THE BAR STRAIGHT UP
Many people will have a tendency to either overextend their hips or curl the bar around their face, the bar should be incredibly close to touching your face (once you've hit yourself once you won't do it again, trust me). Both of these result in the bar being away from the centre of gravity (the middle of your foot). This results in a leverage force being applied to the bar which again makes it harder to lift and results in you lifting less weight. “A” has the correct position, “B” shows hyperextension and a lot of stress being placed on the lumbar spine. The line through the bodies indicate where the center of gravity lies.
2. KEEP YOUR CHEST UP
If your chest is not up, your upper back is not tight, if your upper back is not tight, you cannot press properly. It sounds simple enough, and it is, if your upper back is not engaged your ability to press heavy will be greatly diminished.
3. SETUP BY MOVING UNDER THE BAR
As in, don't have the bar set too far down on the rack, unrack the bar in a tight posistion. Don't push press the bar out of the rack, you will lose stability doing so. Saying this, it's ok to slightly take the bar out with your legs (a few cm), but if you're having to bend under the bar to take it then you're not going to be in a stable position from the get-go and the bar should be set higher.
4. FLAT SHOES
If you're working out in shoes with an air padded base, take them off and do it bare foot. If your gym does not allow you to work out bare foot for your sets, find a new gym. Solid base shoes are fine. The reason for this? The air will absorb some of your force production, a good press is pushed through the heels and if some of this force is being absorbed by empty space then your muscles are going to have to work harder to make up for this resulting in you lifting less weight. This also applies to squats/deadlifts/any lift where your feet are in contact with the ground!
5. TENSE GLUTES/QUADS
By tensing your quads and glutes not only are you making the whole kinetic chain more stable, you're firing up the spinal erectors and greatly lessening the chance of hyperextending your back. You can see this by simply standing up, tensing your quads/glutes and trying to lean forward/back, it's incredibly difficult and it puts you in a very stable position to press from.
With these things in mind and your reacquaintance with your long lost love of putting things over your head, man up and get under a bar next time you train your shoulders.