Brutal and simple, the overhead press is a serious strength building movement. It requires full-body tension and a strong upper-body effort. It also has a high badass quotient—making those that do it well rad as hell.
But overhead pressing isn’t for everyone. Some of us just don’t have the necessary raw materials to do it safely. That’s ok—no one’s judging you and we’re not trying to piss in your Quaker oats.
If you’re in the shoulders group, you won’t be overhead pressing during the program. But you may be able to overhead press in the future. So, without further ado, here’s how to overhead press like a Viking warlord.
What’s an overhead press?
The overhead press is a barbell exercise done standing that requires the trainee to press the bar from the racked position on the shoulders to the lock out position with the arms fully extended and the bar directly overhead.
The Basic Overhead Press: What to Look For
While the overhead press is simple display of brute strength, it’s not without nuance.
Let’s think success first and bullet point a good overhead press:
- The legs and hips are extended and rigid throughout the set
- The core is tight and spine remains neutral throughout the set
- Elbows remain directly under the barbell, or implement being pressed
- Bar, or implement, is pressed from racked position to directly overhead
- Arms finish parallel with ears
Here’s a bad overhead press:
- The legs and/or hips bend at all during the set
- The core is flaccid and/or the spine flexes or extends during set
- Elbows get in front of or behind the bar
- Implement finishes in a position forward of directly overhead
- Arms finish forward of ears
Overhead Press Cueing
A solid overhead press begins with a simple cueing mantra: T. D. L.
T = Tall and Tight
D = Drive
L = Lock
Tall and Tight
Overhead press tall and tight parallels deadlift tall and tight: we’re getting long through the spine—staying neutral—and creating tension throughout the core with a hard brace of the abs and glutes.
Drive implies driving the bar from the rack toward lockout while also driving the feet into the floor. This two-way drive imparts force into the bar while creating full-body tension necessary for a strong pressing platform.
Lock is our finishing cue. If you’ve locked it means that you’ve pressed the bar directly overhead and finished with your arms parallel to your ears, elbows extended. If you’re pressing an implement other than a barbell, say a dumbbell or kettlebell, lock means elbow extended and arm(s) parallel to ear(s).
Set the bar up in the rack so it’s even with your collarbone, or slightly lower. Torque your elbows under the bar while bracing your core and keeping your hips and knees slightly bent. Your hands grasp the bar at shoulder width. Lift the bar out of the rack by maintaining upper-body position and extending the hips and knees. Take one step back with each leg and extend the hips and knees rigidly. You’re now a bad motherfucker that’s ready to press.
Grip: A Caveat
Normally we don’t condone false gripping, but the overhead press is a different animal.
Let’s quickly define a false grip so we’re on the same page. A false grip doesn’t wrap the thumbs around the bar.
Gasp! So we’re saying it’s ok to press overhead with a false grip. Yep.
False gripping the overhead barbell press puts less stress on the shoulders. You can gain greater range of motion without asking as much from the shoulders. This means you can rack the bar across the front of your shoulders without as much consequence. We do ask, however, that if you’re going to take a normal grip, and wrap your thumbs, that you rack the bar with your elbows at ninety degrees, or just slightly below. We’ll explain further in the coaching video.
Overhead Press Lesson Video