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Principles for Improving the Overhead Press

Some quick thoughts today on the Overhead Press. Some of these I have shared with you before, but they have been spread out all over the site and you might not have seen them. Hopefully these will help you improve at the overhead press.

How to Improve on the Overhead Lifts

1. Work the Overhead Lifts Regularly

Make sure you are doing some form of overhead lifting in your program on a regular basis, provided you are healthy enough for it, meaning you have no injuries that could get compounded or aggravated by doing the lifts. I like to overhead lift at least once a week, and sometimes I will get in two workouts within a 7-day period.

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2. Use Many Different Types of Overhead Lifts

Do not do only one type of overhead lift. Even if your main goal is to improve in one specific type of overhead lifting, other types of overhead lifting will serve to strengthen individual portions of the movement pattern as well as give your body a chance to work in different ways and not get beaten up by the same training stimulus all the time.

The reason I point this out is because in my personal experience if I do only Barbell Military Press week in and week out, my workouts seem to get stale and improvement is slower in coming. However if I mix in several different types of pressing as well as overhead lifts using different implements and speeds, then I see better results, like I have been throughout this year.

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3. Practice Tension Management

I have used the term Radiant Tension here on this site many times. Gross Tension throughout your body can help you lift more weight. However, some people go overboard with tension. Tension is a skill that must be learned and constantly improved, just like they tell you with your driving skills. To get started with this, try squeezing the barbell or dumbbell handles harder than normal from the time the barbell/log is at your shoulders until the point the implement passes your forearm. You may have to squeeze very hard at first in order to feel the effects of radiant tension, but later on you will understand when you have to squeeze harder than others.

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4. Improve Movement Quality

There are many more people out there to go into a full discussion on movement quality, assessment, and correction than me. However, I know enough about it to tell you that if your body can’t move right, you can’t get as strong as you want to. I have seen eye-opening results this year after I finally admitted to myself that I had to start improving my movement abilities. As soon as I put emphasis on this, my numbers started improving faster than I ever could have expected.

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5. Incorporate Heavy Dumbbells

The biggest change in my overhead lifting practices has been the inclusion of heavy dumbbells in my training again. I haven’t had a set over 70-lbs in my gym since I built it, so I didn’t get that individual arm stimulus. Dumbbells make each arm work individually. You don’t get that same synergy effect with dumbbells that you get from a barbell, log or stone. Since it is somewhat tougher to press heavy dumbbells, when you go back to barbells, you should see some pretty good improvement.

Those 5 points are the main points I have worked on for years and many of them are key factors I have been using recently. To illustrate how much these points have helped me, check out the video below, where I recently pressed two 100-lb dumbbells for a set of 3, the first time ever.

100-lb Dumbbell Military Press X 3

To recap the first 7 months of 2012, until earlier this year, the best I was doing was high-rep sets of 50’s. In February, shortly after beginning to work on my poor movement demons, I was able to get 3 sets of 10 with 70’s, and eventually I began testing myself on the 100’s, and I have gradually worked up in reps with them.

If you are looking for more information on Overhead Lifting, make sure to check out the links to other posts here on the site. If you need to bring up your Overhead Lifting Strength for the sport of Strongman, then check out our Introduction to Strongman DVD. The Log Press, one of the most awesome tests of overhead strength, requires excellent technique, and if you don’t know it, you will never reach your full potential and be completely competitive in competition.

Look for more info on Improving Overhead Lifting coming up in the future here at Make sure to subscribe to the newsletter for more lifting tips and updates.

All the best in your training,


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