When people talk about their favourite lifts and exercises in the gym, generally they tend to focus on slightly more conventional and generic exercises such as your standard barbell bench presses, squats, and deadlifts. Whilst those, and indeed pretty much any other viable exercise for that matter, are all incredibly beneficial, there is often an exercise that is overlooked in terms of functionality, and enjoyment and satisfaction too for that matter, and that exercise is the overhead press. There are many different variations of overhead press, each one benefitting you in a slightly different way and working a slightly different muscle group to the last. The main issue that most people tend to have with overhead pressing however, is struggling with the exercise itself. People seem to think that in order to be able to overhead press large amounts of weight, you need to be huge jacked up beasts that are insanely strong. In reality however, whilst strength is still important, to a degree at least, it is mainly all about form and technique with this exercise. You can be the strongest pound for pound guy, or gal, in the entire world but if your form for this particular exercise isn’t right, you may as well not bother. One of the main benefits of overhead pressing, is that not only is it a fantastic exercise for adding muscle mass to the shoulders, it is also a very safe exercise that puts much less stress on your vulnerable rotator cuff, making it popular amongst lifters looking to add size to their deltoids, without running the risk of a painful and debilitating injury. If your overhead press is lacking however, here are a few simple tips that will quickly help rectify that in no time at all.
Use your core
It’s amazing how many guys you will see in the gym, loading up the barbell with heavy plates, arching their backs, hoisting the bar up into the air, and wobbling and flopping about all over the place, barely able to get the bar above their heads, never mind being able to lock their arms out. In order for your lift to be successful and beneficial, you need to use your core, which means activating your abdominal muscles and using them to your advantage. Before you have the bar above your head, you should brace your core and squeeze your abs, which in turn will help you to generate power from all other major muscle groups, because as we know, our core, is well, our core, and it is the foundation from which our entire bodies are built. Focus on using your core to help you generate your power and before you know it, you’ll be pressing more weight above your head, in the safest most effective of manners.
Get your grip right
Again, people always seem to think that overhead pressing is about pure power and brute strength, when in reality, strength is secondary to proper form and technique. Your grip for example, plays a vital role in determining how much weight you will be able to press, yet despite this, most overhead pressers tend to make the same mistakes over and over again, especially in regards to their grip. Most lifters will adopt a grip that is much too wide, going far wider than shoulder-width apart. Ok, a wider grip means less range of motion so you don’t have to lock your arms out as far, but even so, this is not the way to overhead press effectively. The problem here is that you can’t tuck your elbows close to your ribcage, which is what you should be doing, and which is what you can do with a slightly narrower grip. Basically, to get your grip perfect, adopt a grip which is just under shoulder-width. Next, keep your elbows tucked in as close to your body as possible, and focus on keeping as still as you possibly can.
Keep your head back
Another common mistake that pressers tend to make on this exercise, is to lift their heads and chins into the air during this lift, so that rather than looking dead ahead, their eyes will instead now be looking into the air. People often point their noses into the air as they’re worried the bar will hit them in the chins if they keep their heads still. The problem here is that it makes you slightly loop the barbell forward, which then makes the lift far less effective. Instead, what you should be doing is rather than looking up and pointing your chin in the air, is to slightly retract your head backwards, just like you would if you were making silly faces and trying to give yourself a double chin. This will allow you to press the bar directly up into the air so that it passes your whole head on the way up and down, keeping it balanced, centred and on the most effective range of motion possible.
Use your quads
For some pressing exercises, you will want to isolate your shoulders and primarily use them to generate the power but in other exercises you will need to generate additional power from your quads to get the bar up over your head, this is especially apparent during Olympic lifts such as clean and jerks. Try to keep your body tall, bring your knees forward, and focus on really generating additional power from your quads, and you’ll be amazed by just how much additional power you can generate from your quads. Remember, your quadriceps muscles are the largest muscles in your entire body, so if you use them correctly, the amount of explosive power output they can generate will be pretty astonishing. Another top tip for using your quads is to actually build them up and work on them more than usual during your leg work. The bigger and stronger they are, the more power they will help you generate and the more weight you will be able to press over your head as a result.