This November, Let’s Work on Our Overhead Press.

It’s been a while since we did exercise-specific fitness tasks, but now it’s time. This November we’re going to really get to know the overhead press, a lift in which you stand with a barbell at arm’s length above you. When you do it right, it feels good, but in some respects it is difficult, so let’s do it together.

What I need?

For an overhead barbell press – often referred to as an OHP or simply “press” – you need a barbell. If you don’t have one, you can still do this exercise with dumbbells or weights in each hand or one hand at a time.

You want your feet to be stable, so take your sneakers off. I usually press in chucks because they are flat and strong, or in my squat shoes , which is fine too. Some people prefer to walk barefoot; that’s okay too (if allowed by the gym rules).

When the weight gets heavy, a belt and a pair of wrists may come in handy, but that’s a personal preference. I am saying that if you are using your wrists when bench pressing, use them here. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, it’s okay. Do not worry about it.

How to push

If this is your first time learning the overhead press, you’d better find a personal trainer or watch a video than read my description of it. So I would recommend something likethis video from Alan Thrall , which shows you how to set up what is the correct shape and how to fix common mistakes.

But in short: you either lift the bar from the rack, or “remove” it from the floor. You hold it at chest level with your forearms vertical underneath, supporting it like pillars. And then you straighten your arms to press it over your head.

In a strict press, the legs are straight all the time. In the push press, you bend your knees at the very beginning, giving the bar some strength to make it move. With this extra help, you will be able to push your abs more than your abs. Don’t let these two movements merge together! If you have a tight abs, keep your knees straight. If you push, push, push for a specific purpose.

Why is it difficult

There are two things about this exercise that make it difficult for beginners to keep experienced lifters on their toes.

First, your head is in the way. At the beginning, the bar is in front of your shoulders; after all, it’s right on your shoulders. This means the bar should run diagonally across your forehead.

Moving the barbell around your head is ineffective; you need to move your head away from the bar. And the way to actually do it is to tilt your entire torso back a little, keeping it taut all the time. If your abs and glutes are sore after a day of heavy pressing, you are probably doing something right.

Another problem is that the bench press is a weak lift compared to the squat, bench press, and deadlift. It simply engages the smaller muscles. This means that you shouldn’t expect huge numbers at first, and your progress may seem insanely slow over time.

However, stick to it. You may need more volume (more sets per week) to progress into OHP than other exercises. It can also be convenient to use tiny weight plates to add a few pounds at a time as you get stronger. Likewise, if you are unable to lift a full-length barbell when you begin this exercise, start with dumbbells and gradually work your way up.

Whether you’re new to OHP or want to give it more attention this month, give this lift a try and let us know in the comments how it works for you. (I do the axle press, cleared of the ground on each set, and follow the sets and reps of this infamous supposedly Russian squat program. I may interrupt a little, and this is one of my favorite exercises. You.)


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